Sfinj: Gilad family from Los Angeles make Moroccan donuts

Who are we?

Shelly Gilad

Born in 1974 in Be’er Sheva, Shelly is a culinary producer, illustrator and former graphic designer. She owns the blog “Shelly’s humble kitchen” in which she documents her family’s life through recipes and memories. Shelly was 12 when her parents divorced and she and her mother moved to North Tel Aviv: “We were the only Moroccan family in the building, and I was embarrassed of my mother ‘s food and the smells from our kitchen that enveloped the entire building” she recalls. “I too wanted to warm up ready-made schnitzels in the microwave, like my new girlfriends from the neighborhood, but mother said ‘over my dead body’.” Years later, after completing her military service, shelly moved to New York and it was only then that dhe grew homesick and began recreating her mother and grandmother’s delicacies in the kitchen.

Dan Gilad

Born in Jerusalem in 1969. Dan is an animation expert (Motion Graphic), director, producer and video editor. Dan was 5 years old when his parents divorced and he and his mother moved to the United States, where he grew up. “As a child, back in Israel, I can still remember the cold bean soup my grandfather, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia, cooked, the lecho, a Hungarian pepper stew, which I still really like to this day, and the noodles served to the table mixed with poppy seeds or ground nuts and sugar.”

And the children:


17 years old, is a 12th grade Hollywood High School student in Los Angeles. Leo is a big fan of sushi, Vietnamese pho and pizza but he will always favor his mother’s Moroccan bean soup, which Shelly describes as ‘the Moroccan version of a chili con carne’; a simple red- hot, Slow- cooked, homemade soup.


13 years old, is a Walter Reed High School student in Los Angeles. His parents testify that he has a well-developed sense of taste: “Alex is willing to try everything,” says his father, Dan, and “he would never miss an opportunity to have Uni (sea urchin).” Alex loves snacks and teases his mother for refusing to have them into the house: “I eat junk food!” he tells her mischievously.


Where was the photo taken?

The kitchen is the most important place in our home” Shelly says. “It is around the dining table that we sit and talk. Twice a day, every day, at lunch and dinner, that we share a meal and spend time together.” In recent years, the Gilad family has been living in Los Angeles. They returned to the United States following a stay in Spain’s Palma de Mallorca and Tel Aviv. “We almost always eat at home and rarely go out to restaurants,” says Dan, and Shelly adds: “at the end of practically every meal the children hug me and say ‘Mom, thank you’. And I am always very much moved by it.”

Our family kitchen

A healthy diet is very important to the Gilads. “Mother always made sure we ate healthy and she often quoted Maimonides who said things like “man shall not eat his stomach full'” says Shelly. “we also eat healthy and only have unprocessed, fresh organic food. We also bake our own bread if there isn’t a good bakery near where we live, and no snacks are allowed in the house, to Alex’s displeasure.”

In addition to using only fresh organic ingredients, the family’s kitchen reflects the family members’ nomadic lifestyle. “Everywhere we went we took with us something delicious, as a souvenir; from Israel we adopted the Moroccan delicacies and the abundant use of fresh vegetables and fruits, we picked up bagels and so much more from New York and Los Angeles introduced us to a plethora of Asian cuisines. The kitchen is my creative space. In fact, I’m like my grandmother, Mama, with the addition of an Instagram account and a Sony camera”, Shelly jokes.

Sfinj – Moroccan donuts

“This is the most delicious donut in the world,” says Shelly with a wide smile. “A good Sfinj needs to be light and airy just like a cloud in the sky. It is made completely by hand: you touch the dough, pinch and caress it. For me, it is a meditation that brings back memories. When I make Sfinj, I can feel Grandma Mama by my side again”. Sfinj originates from North Africa; deep-fried, yeast-risen dough rings dipped in honey or coated in powdered sugar. “Because we have lived in so many places, my version of Sfinj is a bit Swedish, seasoned with cardamom, and a bit Canadian, because during Hanukkah I serve it with maple syrup and a few flakes of salt” says Shelly.

Ingredients for 25 donuts

7½ cups (1kg) unbleached all-purpose flour

1.8 oz. (50 grams) fresh baker’s yeast or 4 teaspoons dry active yeast

⅔ cups coconut or cane sugar

2 teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

3⅓ cups (800 ml) lukewarm water

1 cup vegetable oil in a small bowl, for dipping hands while working with the dough

Vegetable oil, for deep frying

Plant-based syrup such as maple, agave or honey, For dipping or drizzling

  1. Place the flour and yeast in an extra-large bowl (the dough will rise and double its size). If using baker’s fresh yeast, crumble it with your hands into the bowl. Add sugar, salt and cardamom and mix the ingredients with your hand.
  2. Pour the water and stir with your hand 5 – 10 minutes. The dough should be very soft and sticky, but don’t be tempted to add flour.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place overnight in the fridge. Alternatively, place in a warm place (just over room temperature – but not too warm) and let rise until it doubles in size, about 1½ – 2 hours.
  4. When the dough has proofed, dip a wooden spoon in oil and give it a quick stir for 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.
  5. Fill enough oil for deep frying in a wide deep pot (about 3″ deep) and place over a medium high flame. To check if the oil is at the right temperature, put a small piece of carrot in the pan. If there are no bubbles around the carrot, then the oil is not hot enough yet. If the carrot turns brown in less than 15 seconds, then the oil is too hot.)
  6. When you’re ready to fry, dip your hands in oil. Pull up a handful-size dough with one hand and, using your other hand, pinch it off. Hold the dough with both hands, and punch a hole through the middle with your fingers. It sounds complicated but it’s really easy and fun. Stretch the dough a bit to form a ring, then gently slide into the hot oil. Add as many rings as you can fit but make sure you have enough room to flip them over.
  7. Fry the sfinj until the bottom is golden brown, then, using a stainless-steel slotted spoon, flip them over and fry for about 2 more minutes.
  8. While the sfinj are frying, place a paper towel on a large flat plate. When the sfinj are done, remove them from the pan and place on the paper towel. Prepare a second batch with the remaining dough.
  9. Drizzle the syrup over the fried sfinj. The sfinj should be enjoyed immediately, still fresh and warm, but its best to let them cool for a few minutes before take a bite.


(Edited by Ofer Vardi, family photo by Matt Klapner, Food photography by Shelly Gilad)