Adir Michaeli Bakes Hanukkah Treats

Adir Michaeli Bakes Hanukkah Treats

Voice  |  December 9, 2019  |  By Amy Handelsman
Adir Michaeli has high hopes to become the neighborhood bakery.

Six months ago, on Division Street in Chinatown, Adir Michaeli found the perfect spot to open up his bakery, Michaeli. After leaving Breads Bakery (where his chocolate babka was a sensation), he had been looking to open his own business, walking the streets of the East Village (now unaffordable) and the Lower East Side, one of the hippest areas in New York, when he found an empty storefront with the right dimensions and one that met his very limited budget. Division Street is just beyond the LES, but its inclusion is fast approaching. And more and more people are stumbling upon Michaeli every day, on their way to being regulars. Adir Michaeli has high hopes to become the neighborhood bakery.

I stumbled upon it myself googling Jewish bakers to bring traditional honey cake to my hosts for Rosh Hashanah. Michaeli Bakery is a delightfully modern and airy space on a street chock-a-block with aging storefronts. Adir is from the outskirts of Tel Aviv and, like that cosmopolitan city, bakes an assortment of pastries that are a mix of traditions — Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi.

Our featured recipe for this Winter issue is the dough to make sfenj or sufganiyot, Hanukkah treats.

Sfenj, Arabic for sponge, is a Maghrebi donut, a light, spongy ring of dough fried in oil. It is eaten plain, sprinkled with sugar or soaked in honey. Sufganiyot are round jelly donuts, deep-fried, filled with jam or custard — Israelis use strawberry jam — then topped with powdered sugar.

Donuts are eaten on Hanukkah because they are fried in oil, commemorating the Hanukkah miracle, where oil that was supposed to light the lamp in the Temple in Jerusalem lasted eight days instead of one. Sufganiyot, a classic, was brought to Israel with the arrival of Europeans (the Germans have their Berliners; the Poles, their Paczkis; the Italians, their Cenci; French, their Beignets.)

Sfenjs are not just popular at Hanukkah, but other celebrations, most notably at weddings and Mimouna, the exuberant North African dinner held the day after Passover, marking the return of eating hametz (leavened bread).

Adir Michaeli claims everyone has a childhood memory of these fried goodies. His own is his mother’s refusal to hang laundry on the line outdoors during Hanukkah, lest their clothes reek of frying smells. “We would have to hang the wet clothes inside,” he says. Even now, when his staff prepares the seasonal sfenjs and sufganiyot, he recommends wearing the same old outfit every day.

Asked if there were a spiritual component to making these Hanukkah treats, Michaeli replied, “Religion and I are not best friends, but it’s always nice to give value and to know history and tradition. It’s the awareness and connection. There’s a reason why we make challah every Friday and only on Fridays.”

Michaeli Bakery | 115A Division Street, New York, NY 10002 | michaelibakery.com