Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees over Syrian-Greek forces. With only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the flame in the Temple for one day, the oil miraculously lasted for 8 days.
Now, families celebrate Chanukah (which begins at sundown this Sunday, Dec. 21) by lighting candles every night for 8 nights. And feasting on foods fried in oil, preferably olive oil to commemorate the oil used to fuel that long-ago Temple flame. Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) are classic Chanukah foods.
Meaning the Festival of Lights is definitely not the Festival of Lite.
But think of it this way: it’s your DUTY to eat fried foods during Chanukah. So you need no excuse whatsoever to indulge your passion for fried potatoes, a.k.a. latkes. Hopefully with sides of sour cream and applesauce, to complete the traditional holiday picture.
When you think potato pancakes, you probably think frying pan, sputtering oil, standing at the stove…
I thought, "Well, at least I can use my electric fry pan. It shouldn't be too messy." I was wrong. Next step: Plan B.
“I wonder… wouldn’t these fry in the oven, given enough oil on a baking sheet?" Hmmm... That would certainly eliminate the grease-slicked countertop and spattered appliances from traditional skillet frying.
“And if the pan was large enough, couldn’t the entire recipe of pancakes be cooked at once, and come out of the oven en masse, ready to feed everyone at the same time—thus eliminating the cook standing at the stove, back to the crowd, while everyone else makes merry?”
Yes, and yes.
The pancakes fried beautifully in the oven, cooking up golden brown and crisp in just about 30 minutes. Which gave me plenty of time to whip up a quick batch of homemade applesauce in the microwave.
Warm applesauce with latkes probably isn’t traditional, but the combination of mahogany-brown, crisp potatoes; freshly made cinnamon-scented applesauce, and rich sour cream is a beautiful tapestry of colors, textures, and flavors.
And a lovely celebration of the Festival of Lights.
Let's start with the basics: 3 russet (baking) potatoes, about 1 1/2 lb.; and a medium-sized onion. The potatoes don't need to be peeled; the onion does. Wash the potatoes (obviously).
For latkes that are soft and creamy inside, crunchy outside, choose the finest shredding disk of your food processor. Don't have a food processor? Use the finest shredding disk of your hand grater.
Here are the shredded potatoes. I put the onion through the same size shredding disk and it turned into purée; you can see a bit in the bottom right corner. In retrospect, I should have used the medium shredding disk for the onion, fine for the potatoes.
Place the shredded potatoes and onions in a dish cloth.
Wring as much liquid out of the vegetables as you can; you'll be surprised how much that actually is. Potatoes are juicier than you'd think.
Mix the vegetables with flour, egg, and salt.
It'll look like this.
Pretty unprepossessing. But trust me, this will turn into something wonderful.
Pour enough oil onto a baking sheet that when you tilt the sheet, the oil will actually move around. In other words, don't just coat with vegetable oil spray; pour a coating of oil onto the sheet probably 1/8” to 3/16” thick.
If you can be very watchful (we don't want any grease fires here), heat the pan with the oil in the oven for several minutes, to get it really hot. If you don't trust yourself, just work with the room-temperature pan and oil; the potatoes may absorb a bit more grease, and be marginally less crispy, but honestly, they're fine that way. I tried it both ways.
Dollop 2 1/2” to 3” patties onto the pan, pushing any stray bits of potato or onion into place. If you let them just hang out around the edges, they'll burn; so it pays to be neat here.
You'll probably need more than one baking sheet here. It's tempting to crowd the latkes onto one 18” x 13” sheet, but then it's difficult to flip them over, maneuvering in such close quarters. Once you've got all the latkes onto baking sheets, place them in a 400°F oven to bake till the bottoms are brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
While the latkes are baking, make your fresh applesauce. I'm using about 1 pound of apples here, which will yield about 2 cups of sauce. This is a good way to use up soft or bruised apples, by the way.
Core the apples, but don't peel them. I love this apple corer/wedger, by the way. Wish we sold it here at King Arthur! But you should be able to find one in a kitchen shop, or even a good hardware store.
Put the apples in a microwave-safe bowl, and cover with plastic.
Microwave for 3-4 minutes. I can't tell you specifically; microwaves vary a lot in power. When you remove the bowl from the microwave, the plastic will gradually plaster itself onto the apples. Let this happen, as the apples continue to soften a bit during this cool-down.
Remove the plastic to reveal very mushy apples.
I've added cinnamon sugar and boiled cider, plus a touch of salt. Feel free to use the sweetener of your choice (or not). If you're counting calories, Splenda works fine.
For chunky applesauce, use a potato masher to squash everything. For smooth applesauce, place the apples in a food processor, or blend with a hand-blender, till the sauce is as chunky as you like. The apple skins give the sauce rich color.
I like to leave some of the skin in bits, for texture.
Here it is: warm, flavorful, fresh applesauce.
Looks like those latkes are ready to turn over.
Perfect, eh? Another 10 minutes should brown the other side.
Drain on paper towels briefly; serve warm...
...with warm (or chilled) applesauce, and sour cream.
Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Easy-Does-It Latkes.
Buy vs. Bake
Buy: The Famous Kosher Restaurant, Aventura, FL: Potato Pancakes (3) served with applesauce OR sour cream, $6.99
Bake at home: Easy-Does-It Latkes (3) served with homemade applesauce AND sour cream, 63¢