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The Latke Conundrum

The Latke Conundrum
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  • The Latke Conundrum

    Post #1 - March 20th, 2006, 11:36 am
    Post #1 - March 20th, 2006, 11:36 am Post #1 - March 20th, 2006, 11:36 am
    Last night, having leftover corned beef, I decided to make reubens. And having reubens, I decided to try to make latkes, or as we called them in Kansas, potato pancakes.

    Actually, we didn't call them anything in Kansas, since we didn't eat them, even though my German forebears undoubtedly made something similar. But I don't have a genetic memory of how to make such things, so instead I spent two seconds to find this recipe which came with the RST seal of approval as it is by Claudia Roden. And so I made latkes.

    And ended up with hash browns, slightly bound by egg.

    Seriously, these things bore only the slightest resemblance to the thing they make at Manny's, say. Why am that? Did the Cuisinart cut the taters too coarsely? That seems to be the case, I had sticks rather than a potato cake. Do I need the potato flour or some other binding agent beyond the egg? What makes the difference between my eggy hash browns and Manny's actual pancake, emphasis on cake?
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  • Post #2 - March 20th, 2006, 11:56 am
    Post #2 - March 20th, 2006, 11:56 am Post #2 - March 20th, 2006, 11:56 am
    The key in my family's latke recipe is how you grate them. Always on the smallest side of the box grater, never in a food processor.

    How did you grate the potatoes?

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #3 - March 20th, 2006, 11:58 am
    Post #3 - March 20th, 2006, 11:58 am Post #3 - March 20th, 2006, 11:58 am
    Food processor, as I say they came out pretty big.
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  • Post #4 - March 20th, 2006, 12:10 pm
    Post #4 - March 20th, 2006, 12:10 pm Post #4 - March 20th, 2006, 12:10 pm
    Mike G wrote:Food processor, as I say they came out pretty big.


    Some here may disagree with me, but food processor = hash browns, hand grating = latkes. When you grate on the small side of the box grater, you get an actual batter, rather than just shredded potatoes.

    My latkes aren't as cake-y as Manny's, but I think that's due to a minimal amount of flour that I use.

    My Grandma's Latkes:

    1) Peel potatoes
    2) Grate potatoes on small side of the box grater
    3) Skim off as much water as possible from bowl of batter
    4) Add eggs and flour. There is no exact formula here, but I usually go with an egg for every 4 potatoes. Flour is also added by sight. When I ask her how much flour, she always answers, "you can stop adding when it looks like you have enough." :roll:
    5) Fry in oil. She uses vegetable oil, I prefer peanut oil.

    She never added onions. When I ask why, she answers, "because I want my latkes to taste like potatoes, not onions." I can live with that answer, I don't add onions.

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #5 - March 20th, 2006, 12:12 pm
    Post #5 - March 20th, 2006, 12:12 pm Post #5 - March 20th, 2006, 12:12 pm
    Mike, if you search here, you'll see a few other latke recipes, but there are a few general rules:
    1) If you're using a food processor, put a portion of the shredded spuds back in with the steel blade to chop them more finely.
    2) Drain the heck out of the shreds, liquid is the enemy of browning
    3) Add about a tablespoon or two of flour or matzoh meal (potato flour would probably work) per pound of potatoes.
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  • Post #6 - March 20th, 2006, 12:27 pm
    Post #6 - March 20th, 2006, 12:27 pm Post #6 - March 20th, 2006, 12:27 pm
    I use a food processor, but I don't shred them. I use the steel knife. Cut the peeled spuds and onions into chunks, then process with on-off pulses until most of the mixture resembles something like oatmeal. There may still be a few large chunks. Remove them, dump out the rest and try again.

    This process gets you more or less the consistency you'd get grating on the finest side of a box grater, sans shreds of fingernail, bits of skin and drops of blood. (Yes, I know, the blood makes it taste better....)

    Here's my family's recipe. I make these fairly thin.

    Potato latkes

    6 medium potatoes
    1 small onion
    1 egg, slightly beaten
    3 tablespoons flour or matzo cake meal
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    Peanut oil for frying

    Peel the potatoes and onion and grate on the finest side of a box grater into a bowl. (To grate in a food processor, cut the potatoes and onion into chunks and process in small batches. Place in the bowl fitted with the steel blade, and process using on-off pulses, until the mixture is the right consistency.) Stir together. The mixture should resemble oatmeal or chunky applesauce.

    Let stand 10 minutes so the liquid rises to the top. Pour off the liquid. Stir in the eggs. Add the flour, salt, pepper and baking powder.

    Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet until very hot. Drop the potato mixture by spoonfuls into the oil. Don't crowd them. Flatten slightly with a spoon or spatula and brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately. 6 servings.
  • Post #7 - March 20th, 2006, 12:31 pm
    Post #7 - March 20th, 2006, 12:31 pm Post #7 - March 20th, 2006, 12:31 pm
    Now that you mention the baking powder, that's probably the ingredient that Mike might be looking for to give him the "Manny's" cake-y leavening.
  • Post #8 - March 20th, 2006, 12:38 pm
    Post #8 - March 20th, 2006, 12:38 pm Post #8 - March 20th, 2006, 12:38 pm
    Isn't there a copy of Manny's latke recipe on the wall there?

    In any case, one other thing about Manny's is their latkes are deep fried. That, also, probably helps with the texture Mike is looking for, since the outside isn't overly browned and crispy.
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  • Post #9 - March 20th, 2006, 12:46 pm
    Post #9 - March 20th, 2006, 12:46 pm Post #9 - March 20th, 2006, 12:46 pm
    eatchicago wrote:Now that you mention the baking powder, that's probably the ingredient that Mike might be looking for to give him the "Manny's" cake-y leavening.


    I think Manny's probably uses more flour. Mine aren't cake-y; the baking powder just makes them a little lighter. You can leave it out -- before kosher-for-Passover baking powder (which ought to be a contradiction in terms, but isn't), we used to make the Pesach version without it.

    By the way, the onion serves another role besides flavoring. Grating the potato and onion together helps to keep the potatoes from darkening.
  • Post #10 - March 20th, 2006, 1:01 pm
    Post #10 - March 20th, 2006, 1:01 pm Post #10 - March 20th, 2006, 1:01 pm
    Thanks for all the hints. I'm not necessarily trying to duplicate Manny's, but what I made is so far from that that I had to think there were some major differences in ingredients such as flour and baking soda. (Also, even without the deep frying the recipe I used seems to call for very little oil compared to ones above, making it much more like frying hash browns.) I'll try a couple of these and see how they come out.
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  • Post #11 - March 20th, 2006, 1:17 pm
    Post #11 - March 20th, 2006, 1:17 pm Post #11 - March 20th, 2006, 1:17 pm
    HI,

    Some years ago a Jewish friend advise me of her secret for grating the potatoes with a Cuisinart.

    Step 1: Grate the potatoes.

    Step 2: Collect grated potatoes, put them in the hopper again and grate them a second time.

    Instead of long threads you now have shorter of the 'right' consistency.

    I have made faux latkes once since learning her trick. I say 'faux' because I used Sweet Potatoes.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

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  • Post #12 - March 20th, 2006, 1:23 pm
    Post #12 - March 20th, 2006, 1:23 pm Post #12 - March 20th, 2006, 1:23 pm
    We've used the Cook's method successfully a couple of times. They do a coarse shredding first, then steel blade half the original potatoes +onions. Let everything sit in a sieve for a while, and decant the resulting liquid off the potato starch, which is then used in the recipe.

    As already pointed out, drying the mass is important, hence the draining stage.

    TODG made the apple puree from some fresh apples, which was an amazing treat.

    Geo
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  • Post #13 - March 20th, 2006, 2:15 pm
    Post #13 - March 20th, 2006, 2:15 pm Post #13 - March 20th, 2006, 2:15 pm
    Back in the days when I did Cuisinart demos I used Abby Mandel's (in the 80's she was the Cuisinart Guru writing many cookbooks on the subject)method for grating potatoes for latkes.

    Step 1 Shred the potatoes
    Step 2 Put the steel blade in the processor, return the potatoes and pulse to the desired grated appearance.

    You can do the onion in the processor with the steel blade and pulsing it.

    Drain and dry potatoes thoroughly.

    Proceed with remainder of recipe.

    Mike, sorry I don't have a written recipe but after using the above method for potatoes and onions I would add an egg and enough matzo meal to be able to form a pancake. I do not add baking powder but I know others do.

    Paulette
  • Post #14 - March 20th, 2006, 2:52 pm
    Post #14 - March 20th, 2006, 2:52 pm Post #14 - March 20th, 2006, 2:52 pm
    My mom does her latkes in the blender. It's not that she doesn't have a Cuisinart -- she does, although we laugh at her and call it the coleslaw maker because that's pretty much all she uses it for -- but since she finally stopped grating by hand, it seems to work best for her. I have yet to see her use a real recipe. She just starts dumping in potatoes, onions, matzah meal, salt and pepper until it looks right to her, throws them in a frying pan and they are the best latkes I've ever eaten.

    My parents were in retail and during December they were open every night of the week. The first year they owned their store, my mom made latkes in the back room one night during Chanukah. The customers didn't leave -- they just sat down and started eating with us. It's one of my favorite Chanukah latke memories.

    Suzy
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  • Post #15 - March 20th, 2006, 5:06 pm
    Post #15 - March 20th, 2006, 5:06 pm Post #15 - March 20th, 2006, 5:06 pm
    Geo wrote:As already pointed out, drying the mass is important, hence the draining stage.

    Well, it won't be dry. About like applesauce. You just want to pour off most of the standing liquid.

    Suzy's mom's blender method is the one my bubbe used when she gave up grating by hand, but I get more control over the texture with my Cuisinart. You don't want the potatoes too pureed. If you haven't done it before, you probably ought to grate a few spuds by hand on the old box grater just so you get a feel for the correct consistency.
  • Post #16 - March 20th, 2006, 6:10 pm
    Post #16 - March 20th, 2006, 6:10 pm Post #16 - March 20th, 2006, 6:10 pm
    LAZ--

    True enough, it won't be *dry*. : ) But it'll be drier (? dry-er, more dry?) than it was.

    What do you think about using the decanted potato starch? That struck me as a rather nice touch. It certainly worked: that stuff would glue a couple of tram cars together!

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)
  • Post #17 - March 20th, 2006, 6:58 pm
    Post #17 - March 20th, 2006, 6:58 pm Post #17 - March 20th, 2006, 6:58 pm
    My mother uses an ancient grinder that produces, to my taste, the best latkes ever. She also grinds onions with the potatoes and creates a perfectly balanced emulsion. Before grinding, she soaks the potatoes in water for about an hour (which wicks off some starch). The results are crisp, not gummy and very flavorful.

    The grinder is similar to a sausage grinder. They sell similar grinders as attachments for KitchenAid stand mixers.
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  • Post #18 - March 20th, 2006, 7:32 pm
    Post #18 - March 20th, 2006, 7:32 pm Post #18 - March 20th, 2006, 7:32 pm
    I will agree that there's a difference between hand and machine grating, but I think that they're pretty close to one another in texture.

    After all, you have quite a few other variables such as pouring off the starchy liquid, amount of matzo meal added, flour added (???) onions, and the egg issue.

    Recently, I saw an interesting recipe for latkes, and I don't remember where (but somehow I'm waiting for Rene G. to chime in). In this recipe, you combine equal amounts of boiled or baked potato (then riced or run through a food mill) with equal grated potato, before adding the usual components. Why am I thinking that this is the way Manny's does theirs? Is this the secret to the Manny's latke?

    :twisted:
  • Post #19 - March 22nd, 2006, 9:51 am
    Post #19 - March 22nd, 2006, 9:51 am Post #19 - March 22nd, 2006, 9:51 am
    Geo wrote:What do you think about using the decanted potato starch? That struck me as a rather nice touch. It certainly worked: that stuff would glue a couple of tram cars together!

    Why would you want gluey latkes?
  • Post #20 - March 22nd, 2006, 11:18 am
    Post #20 - March 22nd, 2006, 11:18 am Post #20 - March 22nd, 2006, 11:18 am
    No, not the LATKES, it's the gluey TRAM CARS I'm interested in. Sheesh.

    In the miniscule amounts that remain after decanting, the potato starch tends to be quite a nice binder.

    It would take a an awful lot of the stuff to hold the tram cars together; but in principle, it would work. Really.

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)
  • Post #21 - October 29th, 2007, 6:42 pm
    Post #21 - October 29th, 2007, 6:42 pm Post #21 - October 29th, 2007, 6:42 pm
    Well, it's well over a year later, but just to prove that nothing posted here is wasted... to go with my homemade corned beef, I made latkes per LAZ's Cuisinart method above-- and they turned out great!

    Image
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  • Post #22 - October 31st, 2007, 7:50 am
    Post #22 - October 31st, 2007, 7:50 am Post #22 - October 31st, 2007, 7:50 am
    It's great to see this thread resurface, as I was just thinking about digging out the ol' latke recipe.
    Here's a tip I learned from my mother, 88 year-old ace latke jockey: water is the enemy of crisp latkes. So, after grating the potatoes, wrap them in a clean dish towel and thoroughly wring them out. This helps them crisp up nicely.
    An additional benefit of this method is that the fried latkes freeze really well. We make them a week or two ahead, wrap them in waxed paper and freeze them in Zip-loc bags. Heated up in a 350-degree oven, they taste like they were just made, but without the mess.
  • Post #23 - October 31st, 2007, 10:32 am
    Post #23 - October 31st, 2007, 10:32 am Post #23 - October 31st, 2007, 10:32 am
    Yes, the towel method works well. I can understand that one might want to soak the grated potatoes in water to wick away the starch, but all that extra water needs to be removed.

    Personally, I suffered through years of bad homemade latkes and hashed browns until I began the towel method. My wife can attest to my bouts of uncontrollable crying fits over pans of grey, glutenous blobs during the pre-towel method years. It wasn't pretty...
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  • Post #24 - October 31st, 2007, 11:07 am
    Post #24 - October 31st, 2007, 11:07 am Post #24 - October 31st, 2007, 11:07 am
    Keep in mind that you can only use this "towel method" if you are grating the potatoes on a larger side of a box grater. In my mind, these are hash browns and not latkes. (see my post above from last year)

    For those of us producing a batter rather than shredded potatoes, the "spoon method" for removing water, is required.

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #25 - November 8th, 2007, 11:07 pm
    Post #25 - November 8th, 2007, 11:07 pm Post #25 - November 8th, 2007, 11:07 pm
    Mike G wrote:Well, it's well over a year later, but just to prove that nothing posted here is wasted... to go with my homemade corned beef, I made latkes per LAZ's Cuisinart method above-- and they turned out great!

    Image

    Terrific photo, Mike, they look like the genuine article and it also illustrates another important point of latke making. Whether you believe in the miracle of Hanukkah or not, you can't skimp on the oil.
  • Post #26 - November 9th, 2007, 11:32 am
    Post #26 - November 9th, 2007, 11:32 am Post #26 - November 9th, 2007, 11:32 am
    If you go the grated route, you can salt the grated potatoes and let them sit before squeezing. It'll draw out a heck of a lot more water AND season them.
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  • Post #27 - November 10th, 2007, 12:32 am
    Post #27 - November 10th, 2007, 12:32 am Post #27 - November 10th, 2007, 12:32 am
    petermavrik wrote:If you go the grated route, you can salt the grated potatoes and let them sit before squeezing. It'll draw out a heck of a lot more water AND season them.


    I agree. I also find a blender does a better job than a food processor
    if not going the box grater route (still the best way).
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  • Post #28 - December 2nd, 2010, 1:22 am
    Post #28 - December 2nd, 2010, 1:22 am Post #28 - December 2nd, 2010, 1:22 am
    Potato latkes, from the Jewish Mother's Archive

    Happy Hanukkah!

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