Yoyos: A Tunisian Hanukkah Treat

Finding the right way to taste tradition.

When I ask my grandma how to recreate her recipes, I never get a straight answer.

How much flour? Depends on the crowd. How much oil? Depends on the water. How much sugar? Depends on the day. Depends on the occasion. Depends on the humidity. Depends on the hour. Depends on the season.

Depends mostly on your hands. How quickly you move, the way the dough feels between your fingers, how it sticks to your skin, how it rises and breathes, how it smells over time.

How much of this or that do I add?

Add until it feels right. And then if it doesn’t, add something else.

Until it feels right.

The only way to truly figure out one of my grandma’s recipes is by cooking with her. It’s not a matter of increments or ingredients, it’s a process of touching, handling, and balancing, in order to understand what feels right. Feeling it, finding it, hopefully recreating it.

I think of holiday evenings, the smell of foods and candles enhancing air quality and texture, the light of a particular hour gloriously coloring surfaces and corners, the eyes of guests sharing glimpses charged with spirit and mystery. There are no formulas for festiveness, no secret recipes for making an occasion special. The warmth, sadness, joy, or relaxation of a holiday must be experienced, touched, and grasped in order to be perpetuated, recreated, and shared. We long for the feeling of right, if only for just an evening, just a moment. And sometimes we know we’ve found it.

Below is a recipe for festive Tunisian doughnuts called yoyos. While these doughnuts are often flavored with orange blossom, this unique version centers on rosewater. In Jewish Tunisian kitchens, Hanukkah and Purim share food traditions because both holidays celebrate similar miracles of survival and celebration despite impossible odds. Yoyos can be eaten on either holiday. On Hanukkah, their golden fried perfection fits in with the miracle of the oil, and at Purim, their delectable sweetness symbolizes our hope for a delightful and satisfying Jewish future.

I hope you enjoy these sticky, floral, dense, and extremely decadent doughnuts post menorah lighting with a cup of warm tea and good company. I’ve tested the recipe so I know it works, but however you tweak it, I’m sure it will be exactly right!



  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons rose water
  • Zest of an orange
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups flour


  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2½ cups sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon rose water
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of honey


  • Oil for deep frying
  • Crushed pistachios or other desired toppings


  1. In a large bowl, add vegetable oil, sugar, vanilla, rose water, orange zest, baking powder and eggs. Stir or whisky together until mixture is homogeneous.
  2. Slowly incorporate the flour. When it becomes difficult to stir, use your hands to mix. Continue mixing and eventually kneading until dough is consistent and smooth. It should be relatively heavy and formable.
  3. Place dough to the side and allow it to rest at room temperature for an hour.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the syrup by combining water, sugar, lemon juice, rose water and honey in a saucepan.
  5. Simmer ingredients on a lower heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has a syrupy texture. Set aside.
  6. Once the dough has rested for an hour, create golf sized balls. Make a hole in the center of each ball using thumb and forefinger. The yoyos will expand when they are fried, so make sure the hole is slightly bigger than you imagine it should be, otherwise it will close up completely when fried.
  7. Heat enough oil to allow for each yoyo to be completely submerged in a large saucepan on a low to medium heat. The oil will take several minutes to warm up and will require adjusting throughout the frying process. Test to see if the oil is ready by dropping in a small piece of dough and checking to see if the oil simmers and bubbles around it. If you notice the yoyos are browning too fast, make sure and turn the heat down to avoid a raw inside and burnt outside.
  8. Drop the yoyos into the heated oil and fry for at least two minute on each side. Avoid overcrowding! Yoyos should not touch when swimming in the oil!
  9. Remove fried yoyos from the pan and place on a paper towel lined plate to cool.
  10. Once cooled, use a toothpick to poke tiny holes in each yoyo to ensure the syrup penetrates the dense dough.
  11. Dunk yoyos in the syrup making sure they are fully submerged.
  12. Remove from syrup and dust with crushed pistachios or other toppings of your choice.

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