Sufganiyot have come a long way since the days of the humble jam donut. But according to Israel’s most famous purveyor, it still has a place in our hearts.
In high school, I spent two Hanukkahs filling, glazing, decorating and selling donuts at Roladin, the bakery chain that’s become synonymous with the holiday. It was the best and tastiest job I ever had.
Fast forward a decade and a half and I’m interviewing Roladin CEO Noa Bachar Aharoni, who finds the above fact very funny.
I tell her that on my first day, up to my elbows in oil, I vowed never to eat a donut again, but that by the second I was happily devouring four or five per shift. It turns out I’m not alone.
“The Israeli market sells around 30 million donuts, and we of course have a substantial part in that,” Bachar Aharoni notes.
Unfortunately, she’s unable to provide hard cold facts on whether other people also eat as many donuts as humanly possible during the holiday. “We tried having research done but we didn’t get the figures,” she admits.
“But we have noticed that we have customers who have set themselves a goal to try out the whole collection. They come every day or two and taste different things, and tell us what they liked more and what they liked less. There are many families that buy a 12-pack and then begin sharing, cutting up the donuts and tasting a bit of everything.”
Passionfruit mascarpone, anyone?
Among the many, many flavors Roladin is set to sell this Hanukkah are some truly outlandish ones: think passionfruit mascarpone cream, coconut flakes and cherries; or vanilla cream, caramelized pecans, toffee sweets and whipped cream.
How are all these flavors concocted?
“The moment Hanukkah ends we begin working on next year’s holiday,” Bachar Aharoni explains.
“We get inspiration from French culinary and from different capitals across the globe,” she says. “We also of course incorporate flavors that Israelis love, although in recent years the flavors have become increasingly universal. Halva and pistachio, for example, are loved across the world.”
After Roladin’s chefs bake up dozens of flavors, the winners are chosen during a tasting meeting at the beginning of May.
In putting together their donut collection, the experts at Roladin keep in mind perennial favorites, new trends and how to harmoniously combine the two.
There’ll also always be a kid-friendly donut, which Bachar Aharoni calls “a happy, chocolatey donut,” as well as the traditional jam and dulce de leche (butterscotch) donuts, which amount to a whopping 40 percent of sales.
“We try to cater to as many tastes as possible,” Bachar Aharoni says. “We’re very diverse. There’ll always be very chocolatey flavors, but also flavors that go down the more sour-y route.”
According to Bachar Aharoni, Roladin hasn’t experienced any flavor flops.
“To be honest, all of the donuts are loved and sold, and there isn’t a particular flavor that didn’t work out. But there are always the stars. This year, for example, we’re already seeing that the pistachio is doing well.”
In fact, Roladin begins selling Hanukkah donuts two months before the holiday, so by the time the first candle is lit, they know their biggest hits.
“In September of every year, we open our donut school, which takes place in our central bakery in Kadima. All of our franchisers, workers and bakers come in very large numbers to our very strict training on how to work with the donuts at the highest level possible. And in October, right after Sukkot, we begin selling the donuts.”
Opening in London
Israeli tastes and habits have evolved since Roladin opened in 1989, Bachar Aharoni notes.
“It began with jam and dulce de leche and then evolved into pastry cream and chocolate. Roladin were among the first one some 33 years ago to introduce new flavors to the traditional donut. And then began the whole theme of decorations and the like,” she says.
“But the flavors were always diverse. We had a halva donut 18 years ago and a pistachio donut 15 years ago.”
Looking beyond Hanukkah, Bachar Aharoni notes that Roladin now has 99 stores in Israel and is set to open in London, where it will sell boutique donuts year-round.
As our interview comes to a close, Bachar Aharoni is faced with a piece of hard-hitting journalism: Given all the amazing donuts that her company sells, what is her personal favorite? Her answer is somewhat surprising.
“I really do love the jam donut,” she admits. “It really is tasty.”
Originally posted at israel21c.org