For probably no reason beyond proximity on the calendar, Hanukkah and Christmas tend to get lumped together. Traditionally, the holidays actually have little in common.
But one shared tradition — and one that has become even more so as lines have blurred — is the exchange of gifts. But with one important distinction. Whereas Christmas is celebrated on one day, Hanukkah stretches over eight. As a result, the gifts tend to be smaller. Treats and other food gifts are particularly popular during the Jewish festival of lights.
Favorite Hanukkah treats include chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil (called gelt), as well as cookies in the shapes of menorahs and dreidels often decorated in blue, white, silver or gold, common colors for the holiday. Also popular are rugelach, bite-sized crescent pastries filled with nuts, chocolate, marzipan or fruit preserves.
Giving — and consuming — yeasty jelly-filled doughnuts called sufganiyot, which are fried in the oil that is so symbolically important to Hanukkah, is a tradition with Israeli roots, but is becoming more popular in the U.S., says Laura Frankel, a food educator and executive chef at the Spertus Center for Jewish Learning and Culture in Chicago.
But she favors another — more American — Hanukkah tradition, the giving of pretzels that have been dipped in chocolate and other toppings.
The tradition of eating pretzels during the Jewish festival of lights is a relatively new one. The pretzels often are shaped to resemble Hanukkah symbols, such as menorahs and dreidels. This version from cookbook author Laura Frankel gives the tradition a deluxe twist with a coating of dark chocolate and a dusting of gold leaf (available at craft and baking supply shops).
Start to finish: 2 hours 15 minutes
1 1/2 cups warm (110 F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 packet active dry yeast
22 ounces (about 4 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup canola, vegetable or other neutral oil, plus extra for the pan
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon cool water
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Edible gold leaf
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, sugar and kosher salt. Sprinkle the yeast on top and allow to sit for 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to foam.
Add the flour and 1/4 cup of oil and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Increase speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a towel and allow to stand in a warm place and rise for 1 hour.
Once the dough has risen, heat the oven to 450 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush with the oil.
In an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan over medium-high heat, combine 10 cups of water and the baking soda. Bring to a boil.