Friday, December 18, 2009

Lemony Snicket's Christmas Latke

Aaaaaaaaaaaand, we're back!  My many and varied apologies for the huge lags between posts - but finals and projects and starting to work and Christmas shopping... Well, you know how being busy can be.  Now, on with the show.

Hanukkah, oh how little I know ye.  How little a lot of us do.  And that's the point of The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket.  As the book begins, we meet a potato latke (a potato pancake usually made at Hanukkah) as he is being fried in oil - the traditional method of preparation.  As the title suggests, the latke is screaming, and he jumps out the window to escape.  Unfortunately for him, leaving the safety of the kitchen means that he has left the safety of the Hanukkah celebration, and he finds himself in a Christmas-centric world, where nobody - rather, nothing - understands him. 

AAAAAAAAAUGH!  No, he's not a big hash brown! AAAAAAAAAUGH!  No, he shouldn't be served with a Christmas ham!  AAAAAAAAAUGH!  No, he doesn't want to smell like peppermints like the candy canes do!  AAAAAAAAAUGH!  No, he doesn't want somebody to write a carol about him!  He eventully finds his way into a Hanukkah celebration and stops screaming finally - as he is being eaten.  A somewhat happy ending.

The book serves as a reminder to those who know the story (and a primer for those who don't) that Hanukkah is not "Jewish Christmas."  It has its own traditions and symbols, and gifts aren't a huge part of the celebration for most Jewish families.  Also, since the book is a Lemony Snicket, it is pretty darn awesome. 

Now, here's my story: I grew up in a town with a fairly large Jewish population, so every December in elementary school, my classmates' mothers would come to school and tell us the story of the holiday.  I loved Hanukkah day at school! Not because of the storytime, or the gelt, or that we'd spend half a class playing dreidel, though that was all fun.  No, I loved those days because the class moms would bring in potato latkes.  I'm fairly sure that none of those moms will ever read this blog, but just in case they do - thank you for the latkes!!  I tried once or twice to make them by myself, but I'd never been able to make them taste right, until I tried the recipe I'm sharing with you now.

This recipe is Steven Gold's recipe, that won the James Beard Foundation's Third Annual Latke Lover's Cook-Off in 1997.  I made these yesterday with my friend and guest-chef Theone, who not only did a bulk of the work, but let me use her kitchen AND her camera!  Theone, you are awesome.

These latkes are different from the more traditional grated potatoes because you use the food processor to make the batter, which is then more pancakey and less hashbrowny, and fully delicious.  Latkes are traditionally served with applesauce or sour cream. 

Latkes Who Can't Stop Screaming
2 large russet potatoes (about 1 lb.)
1 medium onion (about 1/2 lb.)
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
4 tbsp. self-rising cake flour OR 4 tbsp. all-purpose flour with 1/2 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. kosher salt
Vegetable oil for frying (about 3/4 a cup)
Sour cream or applesauce (optional)

1.  Thoroughly wash the potatoes and cut them into quarters.  Peel the onion and cut that into quarters, too.  Using a food processor with a coarse shredding disk, shred the potatoes and the onion (this will turn the onion to mush and the potato into long strands).  Put them into a clean bowl.
2. Put the chopping blade into the food processor, and put the potatoes and onions through the machine again, pulsing 4 or 5 times, until the potatoes are finely chopped.  Add the egg and pulse until the mixture is combined.
3. Put this entire mixture in a large mixing bowl, and add the flour and salt, mixing until the flour disappears.  Meanwhile, set a medium saute pan over medium-high heat and pour in enough oil to cover the bottom of it about 1/4 inch deep.  The oil is hot enough when a drop of batter sizzles as it enters the pan.
4. Once the oil is hot, spoon the batter into the pan to your desired latke size - I think we used about 2 tbsp. per latke.  Flatten and shape the batter quickly with the back of a spoon. 
5. When the edges of the latkes are golden brown and crisp, flip them over.  Cook until the second side is brown, then remove to paper towels to drain.  If you're making a large batch, you can keep them in a warm oven until you're ready to serve. Otherwise, eat and enjoy!

As I said earlier, latkes are traditionally served with applesauce or sour cream.  Ours, as you can see from the photo, were eaten with a very tasty sour cream, as dinner, though they are traditioanlly a side dish.

My friends, we have a slight issue.  You see, while Christmas food references in children's literature are wide and varied, the only Hanukkah books I can find with food in them feature latkes!  I know that Sufganiot (jelly donuts!) are also traditionl Hanukkah food, and I'm trying to find a good book that features them, but if anyone has any suggestions - please let me know!!


  1. Are there any in the fridge?

  2. Latkes don't keep well. You have to eat them when they're hot.