Monday, 6 December 2010

Sourdough Sfenz for Hanukkah

As we were all together for Hanukkah, for the first time in a couple of years, I decided that this would be the year to to make Sfenz. Sfenz are a typical Libyan Hanukkah treat in my husband's family. I found a recipe here, which looked similar to the instructions that we had received from one of my husband's aunts last year, when we were in Israel for Hanukkah.

However, as I prefer to work with sourdough starter as opposed to commercial yeast, I decided to convert the recipe into a naturally leavened recipe. My conversion process is quite ad hoc and does not follow any particular method. In addition, as I am always keen to make recipes that little bit healthier (even if they are deep fried doughnuts!) and tastier, I used about 10% wholemeal flour instead of all white flour. Ideally, start the dough the day before you want Sfenz, though this could be sped up if you left the dough out in the warmth.

100g starter, ideally recently refreshed and active
250g water
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
350g white bread flour
50g wholemeal bread flour

Rapeseed oil to fry

1. Mix starter and water, until well combined. Add sugar and salt, mixing well. Finally, add both flours and mix well. I use Dan Lepard's method of kneading and as this dough is very wet and batter like, I don't actually knead it much. Instead, I used my hands to make sure it was all very well combined and then I left it to sit for 10 minutes before doing another short knead, followed by one more 10 minute rest and another knead/mix (the dough is very wet). Cover the bowl in a plastic bag with the handles tied tightly and put in the fridge.

2. The next day, take the dough out of the fridge. Heat the rapeseed oil in a small pot, I used about an inch or two of oil (deep frying scares me slightly, so I could probably have used more, but this worked just fine for me. As an aside, it turned out that deep frying was highly addictive and satisfying. Good thing Hanukkah only comes once a year.). At this point I also put a small piece of raw carrot into the oil. This is what my husband's aunts in Israel do and I didn't feel up to messing with whatever their technique was. I believe it is to stop the oil from burning/clean the oil...I have not yet found any evidence to back it up, but it seemed like a good use of a carrot, on the off chance that it does help! So in goes the carrot, much to my scientist husband's horror. When the oil is nice and hot (thermometer was not working, so not sure how hot it was), it is time to fry the Sfenz.

3. Typical Libyan Sfenz tends to be very wide and flat and thin, somewhat pancake shaped. However, as I only had a small pot of oil and was making lots of little ones for my daughter's preschool, mine ended up much smaller and fatter. I think this may also have been because my starter and dough was so active and so wet. However, the moistness of the dough meant moist and airy Sfenz, so worth it in my opinion, even if they were not 100% authentic Libyan Sfenz.

4. Keeping your hands wet helps to avoid the dough sticking to them; a bowl of water nearby is useful. Take small pieces at a time, I used pieces about the size of a walnut and tried to stretch them as thin and as flat as I could. Then drop each piece into the hot oil, which should sizzle up nicely. I did two or three at a time. If they stick to the bottom, the oil is probably not hot enough. Fry them until the bottom is a nice golden brown and flip over to fry the other side. As my dough was so active, they were bubbling up and growing in the hot oil.

5. When the Sfenz is all nicely brown, assuming it is thin enough, it should also mean that is it cooked inside. It is worth breaking open one or two of them, just to make sure they are cooking for long enough. Leave to rest on a piece of paper towel to absorb some of the oil and then finally, sprinkle caster sugar on top or dip pieces into sugar.

These are best eaten fresh and warm. I brought them into my daughter's preschool the next morning and they were not nearly as tasty as when freshly made.