This Popular Maghrebi Treat is Enjoyed Worldwide During Hanukkah

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Sfenj is a light doughnut made with just a handful of ingredients.

From the Arabic word safanj (sponge), sfenj is a light doughnut popular in Northwest Africa – the perfect breakfast treat or accompaniment to an afternoon coffee or Moroccan mint tea. The plain dough is fried crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside and then dusted with icing sugar or cinnamon sugar, or drizzled with honey or syrup.

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November 18, 2021

Why it’s eaten during Hanukkah
Outside of the Maghreb, sfenj is a holiday treat enjoyed by Sephardic Jews around the world during Hanukkah. Because the doughnuts are fried (just like latkes, another Jewish favourite), making them commemorates the oil that miraculously kept the lamps of the menorah in the Second Temple in Jerusalem burning for eight days.

Where it comes from
Sfenj is originally from Al‑Andalus, a former Muslim‑ruled area of Spain. It’s not clear when the treat first made its way to Africa, but it was likely before the 13th century, when it also spread to France, inspiring the beignet.

How it’s made
Recipes vary, but the main ingredients for sfenj are flour, yeast, salt, sugar and water – and oil for frying. Don’t forget the sweet topping; rose‑ or orange blossom‑infused syrup is particularly delightful.

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Where to get it
In Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, head to any souk, where you’ll find the doughnuts strung together with palm frond ribbons. In Canada, look for a Moroccan or Jewish restaurant, like Dr. Laffa in Toronto or Ad‑deyafa in Montreal.