Kleine and Astarpungar for Chanukah: Sufganiyot’s Icelandic Cousins

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Kleine. Photo by Matthew White

The more I travel and see the world, the more I see how connected we humans are. This is especially true when it comes to food.

Whether it be adafina-curry-tagine-birria or kebab-satay-doner-souvlaki or knish-dumpling-ravioli-empanada-pierogi, or sufganiyot-zeppole-churro-beignet-kliene, as in the case of today’s recipes, cultures and ethnicities across the world share many culinary commonalities.

Food brings people together, anchors celebrations and carries on traditions. This is front and center in Jewish culture and is shared with other cultures around the globe.
As we look to Chanukah with the tradition of frying foods in oil in observance of the miracle, I considered where I have traveled in the last year. I was reminded of my Icelandic tour guide, Oddi, a former baker, who shared two of his favorite recipes with me.


Kleinur date back centuries to a time when ovens were not common in Iceland, and cooking was done over open flames. These mildly sweet fried donuts are eaten throughout the day with coffee or tea or as an after-school snack. The recipe below was Oddi’s grandmother’s version, which he used in his bakery.

The second, “love balls,” are similar to kleinur in that they are fried dough, but they contain raisins and are round. Both reminded me a bit of sufganiyot: although they are not yeast-based and not jelly-filled, they certainly give a nod to the Chanukah tradition to “eat the fat.”

Amma’s Kleinur
Makes about 2 dozen kleinur

Amma is the Icelandic word for grandmother, and Oddi recalled joyous times in his Amma’s kitchen learning to make her famous kleinur (the plural for “kleine.”)

2½ cups flour
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
½ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cardamom
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup plain yogurt
1 egg
Vegetable oil for frying (about 1 liter)

Combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder, then add the butter. Blend it in a Cuisinart or by hand with a pastry cutter or using two knives until the mixture is holding together and crumbly. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Pour the dough onto a floured surface, knead it until uniform and divide into 2 or 3 equal parts. Start with 1 ball of dough; roll it out to a thickness of about ¼ inch.
Cut the dough into strips approximately 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide. Cut a hole in the middle of each strip and pull one end through the hole — essentially tie a knot with the dough. Set the knotted kleinur on the floured surface and heat the oil to about 340 degrees F.

Working in batches, fry the kleinur, turning once, until they are golden brown and cooked through.

Remove them from the oil, drain them on paper towels and enjoy.

These will keep for 2 days or so in an airtight container but are best eaten soon after they are cooked.

Oddi’s Love Balls
Makes about 24 love balls

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon lemon extract or 1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup raisins
1 liter vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients well.

Heat the oil in a pot to 340 degrees F.

Drop the dough by tablespoons into the oil and cook until golden brown on all sides. Turn over a few times to ensure even cooking; the love balls will cook for about 4 minutes total.
Remove the balls from the oil, and drain them on paper towels.

Keri White is a Philadelphia-based freelance food writer.

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