Nothing signals Chanukah like latkes, those sometime addicting, sometime leaden potato pancakes fried in oil. A new book, edited by Emily Franklin titled, How To Spell Chanukah…And Other Holiday Dilemmas, contains a chapter: Chanukah Glutton by Tova Mirvis that captures the essence of the ruitual food.
From How To Spell Chanukah…And Other Holiday Dilemmas: Chanukah Glutton by Tova Mirvis:
In this holiday devoid of much ritual, the process of calling my grandmother for her [latke] recipe (which I then lose from year to year), and then hand-grating the potatoes and onions makes me feel like it’s Chanukah. But even though it’s her recipe, I’ve never been able to master the delicate lacy latkes my grandmother produces. Mine are thick and hefty, leaving an oil slick on the paper towels where they drain.
And it wouldn’t be a proper modern Chanukah without the guilt and the eternal question:
“Do you think I could bake the rest of these?”
But Mirvis quickly goes where all good Jews go:
But there’s no such thing as baked latkes. Well, technically there probably is. If there exists salmon gefilte fish, tricolored matzo balls, white-bean-and-lamb cholent, surely somewhere out there, in a gourmet low-fat kosher cookbook, is a recipe for baked latkes. But Chanukah commemorates not the miracle of the potato but the miracle of oil. Without an abundance of oil, doesn’t a potato pancake cease to be a latke, or at least to be one that is relevant to Chanukah?
I admit, coming to the same inevitable conclusion, we have tried baked latkes, sweet potato latkes, and other versions of latkes; but, truth be told, we always return to the fried in oil latke. So, this year we tried a compromise, the Easy-Does-It Latke recipe from King Arthur Flour (since Bubbie has never been a stellar latke maker), and it was so good I thought I’d share:
Easy Does It Latkes
Latkes, those salty/crunchy/smooth potato pancakes fried in oil, are a Chanukah staple. But to stand and fry them just 2 or 3 at once means time spent away from the holiday table. Thus these oven-fried latkes. Just flood a couple of rimmed cookie sheets with a thin layer of oil, deposit potato pancake batter, and bake for about 30 minutes, turning once. The result? Signature crunchy-smooth latkes, and more time spent with your family.
Yield: 18 latkes
- 1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, about 3 medium potatoes
- 1 medium onion
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
- vegetable oil, for frying
*Or substitute matzo meal, for Passover
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease two large cookie sheets with rims; we use 18″ x 13″ half-sheet pans.
- Grate or shred the potatoes fine, or medium-fine; no need to peel them first, though they should be washed. Some folks like smoother latkes (more finely grated), some crunchier (more coarsely grated). We like to use the fine shredding attachment on our test kitchen Cuisinart.
- Wrap the grated potatoes in a cotton dish towel (a flour sack towel works well), and twist the towel closed at the top. Bring the potatoes to the sink and squeeze them for all you’re worth, wringing as much liquid as possible from them.
- Shred or grate the onion finely. Don’t use the finest shredding disk of your food processor, as it will turn the onion to mush; the medium shredding disk is preferable.
- Combine the drained potatoes, onion, egg, salt, and flour in a bowl, stirring till everything is thoroughly mixed.
- Pour a thin layer of vegetable oil into each baking pan. It should be deep enough that when you tilt the pan, you can see it move; 1/8″ to 3/16″ is about right. We love peanut oil for frying, or plain vegetable oil. Beware of canola oil; some folks feel it gives food an off flavor when used for frying.
- For easier-to-clean pans, and slightly less greasy latkes, heat the pans in the oven briefly, to warm the oil. You can skip this step if dealing with a pan of hot oil makes you nervous. Drop the pancake batter onto the sheets by the 1/4- to 1/3-cupful. Space them far enough apart that you can easily get a spatula between them to flip them over, when the time comes.
- Bake the pancakes for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Remove the pans from the oven, turn them over, and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom.
- Remove from the oven, and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately, with applesauce and sour cream, if desired.
At one point in the chapter Mirvis asks the real metaphysical question on all Chanhuka revelers minds:
Where does that point of satisfaction lie? [Her answer] … Somewhere between rigid limits and orgiastic frenzies, somewhere between one latke and the to-remain-untold number that I consumed.
Latke photo from Shutterstock