In honor of Hanukkah beginning earlier this week, and an all-around appreciation for starch and fried things, Manhattan-based event planning company Great Performances hosted its annual Latke Fest, touted as the “only festival celebrating latkes in NYC!” This year marks the sixth time well-known restaurants throughout the city came to compete for the title of the ultimate latke. The event also benefits The Sylvia Center, with each year’s proceeds supporting the Center’s mission to inspire healthy eating and cooking amongst young people and their families. (Yes, yes, there’s a slight irony of frying potatoes in gallons of oil to in effect promote good food choices but I’m pretty sure nobody is complaining.) I had never attended before, and I thought there was logically only one person to ask to come with me: Shannon.
“I know this is Latke Fest but…I can’t eat any more latkes. I have been eating, and testing and frying latkes since October!” This is how Shannon greeted me when we met in front of the Metropolitan Pavilion. About 2.5 seconds later, we were both at The Plaza Hotel’s table enjoying latkes with red wine braised oxtail, horseradish sunchoke and crispy kale. And so our tour-de-latke began.
It was a packed house (albeit with ample space to move around), of people and potatoes, and, as one sign warned, also some pork. Chefs and their culinary accomplices together dished over twenty different kinds of potato pancakes. Before we had walked two feet to the next station, we had already made some observations.
First, the idea of a “crispy latke” might be a challenge in this cooking/serving environment. More often than not we ate delicious but let’s call them “softer” pancakes. Second, we were immediately perplexed by the presence of forks. But looking around the room it was evident that there were two kinds of Latke Fest people: those who used forks, and those who, well, just shoved the latkes in their mouths. We were definitely “shovers.”
Which brings me to another thought shared by Shannon: things seemed rather civilized. Nobody was elbowing each other or plowing through the crowd to get to a table like when it’s schmorg time at a bar mitzvah. Shannon was sure we would witness at least one semi-brawl over a station’s last latke.
Or, as it turns out, a donut. Or babka. Or a biyali. There were lots of latkes, but also other foods and beverages. Final observation: the grand tradition of offering tangential Jewish foods at the same time in one place was proudly being kept alive here: “Welcome to Latke Fest, have a biyali!” (Dough brought big puffy strawberry-cheesecake and passion fruit filled “sufganiyot;” there was shiny gooey babka from Bread’s Bakery; and a table of beautiful bialys and bread shaped like menorahs from Hot Bread Kitchen.)
Though, to be fair, as Shannon pointed out, isn’t everyone always in the mood for babka? And, I would add, even a donut? In anticipation of being in such a mood later that evening, we had a very brief but serious discussion about trying to sneak extra donuts into our bags. For our husbands. Definitely for our husbands, and definitely not for us (yeah, for us).
I can’t imagine we were the only ones who tried this. But what I also would have liked to smuggle to the outside world was another of Print’s sweet potato & chestnut latke in duck fat. I actively do not like chestnuts, but various layers of fat probably helped the cause. For Shannon, it was Shelsky’s sweet potato and schmaltz-fried latkes with chopped liver that made all her latke dreams come true.
After at least five more latkes (most of them not bite size), two cocktails, and several instagram photos we were stuffed. Drunk off oil and carbohydrates. Latke Fest, a success? As we made our way out of the Pavilion, Shannon said “I should have worn my maternity jeans…” So I think that means, yes, a successful evening.
Latke Fest Epilogue:
The official winners were coincidentally also some of our favorites: both Print and Shelsky’s took home wins for their latkes, Judges and People’s Choice respectively. (Mae Mae Cafe also tied for Judge’s Choice).
An honorable mention that your kosher bubby might not approve of: Mokbar’s pork latke with kimchi crema. The cool spicy cabbage was super nice against the perfectly crisp potato.
The pleasant surprise of the evening: Benchmark’s French onion soup latke with gruyere, Beef gelée & beef carpaccio. It was one of the last latkes we tried and was also one of the least appealing latkes. Nevertheless we were both wowed by the flavor despite our initial hesitation over the beef gelée & beef carpaccio. It truly tasted like a bite of french onion soup.
I have long considered myself somewhat a latke expert, with several varieties under my belt, and never a single latke leftover when serving to my friends and family. That is until I had the chance to spend time with Michelin Star Chef Bill Telepan and Pastry Chef Larissa Raphael of the acclaimed New York City restaurant Telepan last week.
Chef Bill Telepan isn’t Jewish, though his latkes might indicate otherwise. In truth, Bill grew up in suburban New Jersey eating potato pancakes every holiday season prepared by his Hungarian mother. He carries this tradition on with his own family, serving up a big Christmas breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes and, what else, latkes.
But he has also been serving up latkes at his restaurant for nearly ten years, and even won an award for his latkes at the Annual Latke Festival in New York City several years ago. He likes serving them two ways: plain with sour cream and homemade applesauce, or as an appetizer with smoked salmon and creme fraiche (a personal favorite).
So what can a Michelin Star chef teach a nice Jewish girl about frying latkes? Well, a lot. And it turns out I had been making a couple of mistakes.
Bill shared that you want to keep the natural potato starch in the mix, but also need to remove excess liquid. After mixing all the latke ingredients, he allows the mix to sit around 5-10 minutes. Then he drains it, mixes the eggs with the leftover potato starch, and adds that back into the potatoes.
Don’t squeeze out too much liquid: I had been squeezing out the liquid from my latke each time I formed a patty, but Bill told me you don’t want to do that, because then the latkes will be dry. Instead, lightly form a patty using your hands or a tablespoon to keep the moisture in, creating a fluffier and creamier latke.
Onion is key for Bill, who uses a ratio of 1 small onion to every 1 ½ lbs of russet potatoes. When I tried out this ratio over the weekend, my dad immediately said “wow, great onion flavor” so I guess Bill is really on to something.
Another key element is adding enough salt, both in the mix of the latkes, and then a small sprinkle after they come out of the hot oil. While 2 tsp of salt for 1 ½ lbs of potatoes may seem like a lot, Bill pointed out that potatoes really absorb the salt and need a little extra to bring out the flavor.
In my time at the restaurant I also had the chance to spend time with Pastry Chef Larissa Raphael, who has been serving up some of New York City’s best desserts for years, who decided to try her hand at serving Hanukkah jelly donuts this year for the first time.
You have probably had a jelly donut around Hanukkah time. And they are fine, I mean what is bad about fried dough. But what I loved about Larissa’s Hanukkah donuts is the balance of rich chocolate ganache and raspberry jam filling paired with delightfully light, bite-sized donut “holes.” After all eating several small donuts is way more fun than trying to stuff one enormous powder-sugar covered donut into your mouth.
If making donuts from scratch seems like a daunting task, Larissa shared that you can actually allow the dough to rise overnight in the fridge, a helpful tip for the busy home baker. No fancy oil for this frying: just plain old vegetable oil.
So now you can enjoy Michelin Star quality latkes and Hanukkah donuts all from the comfort of your own home.
Latkes and Hanukkah donuts will be available at Telepan from December 16th to 24th and are available both for take-out and in-house dining. Donuts will only be available for the dinner menu.
Chef Bill Telepan’s Potato Latkes, Yield: 6 latkes
1 ½ lbs of Idaho (russet) potatoes
1 small onion
2 Tbsp flour
2 tsp salt
Using the large hole on a box grater, grate potatoes and the onions into a mixing bowl.
Squeeze the grated potatoes and onion and save the water from the potatoes. After the water from the potatoes has settled, pour off the water and save the starch which settled to the bottom.
Beat the eggs and add them to the starch and combine well. Add the flour and salt and combine all.
Pan fry in a sauté pan in a generous amount of vegetable oil until golden brown and crispy on the outside, and cooking through on the inside.
For the dough:
2 cups + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 medium eggs
2 Tbsp milk
3 scant Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp fresh yeast or 2 tsp dry yeast
2 ¼ tsp salt
7 Tbsp slightly softened butter
For the chocolate ganache:
2 cups + 2 Tbsp bittersweet chocolate
1 cup + 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp heavy cream
Raspberry or strawberry jam
Mix yeast, milk, flour and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, on low speed until combined. Mix in sugar and salt.
Add butter and mix on medium speed until gluten is developed, around 10 minutes. Place dough onto a floured cookie sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow to rise to double in size. Another option is to place in refrigerator overnight.
Once the dough is doubled in size, put onto a floured surface and roll to ½ inch thick. Cut with cookie cutter (I use a 1 ½ inch round cutter) and place on a cookie sheet with parchment, or waxed paper, or lightly floured. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 20 minutes.
Heat your oil to 350. Fry the doughnuts for around 3 minutes. Break one open to check that 3 minutes is enough time and that middle is cooked through.
Roll in sugar. You can fill with chocolate or jam or both.
To make the ganache: Melt chocolate in a medium bowl over a pot of boiling water. Set aside. Place cream in a pot and heat until boiling. Pour over chocolate and mix with whisk until combined.
Loaded baked potatoes have always intrigued me. There are tons of vegetarian versions to enjoy, but there is something about the classic version that always captured my attention: steaming hot with melted cheddar cheese, a big dollop of sour cream, and of course, crispy bacon on top.
So I decided to take the plunge, and turn my affection-from-afar for the loaded baked potato into a latke version. The classic potato latke got a makeover with some grated cheddar cheese and scallions, and then I topped it all with tangy sour cream, more scallions and bacon bits. Ok everyone, don’t get your panties in a twist. Not real bacon: the fake kind they sell in the salad dressing aisle.
Of course, what could be bad about this combination of ingredients? Pretty much nothing.
An unexpected surprise of this recipe? The red and green from the scallions and bacon bits create a little Chrismukkah action. So for those of you who might be from interfaith families, or just like getting into the red and green holiday spirit, this recipe has your name all over it.
8 medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 small onion
2 cups diced green onions (around 10)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup flour
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Pareve “bacon” bits
Using the shredding attachment of a food processor or a hand grater, coarsely great potatoes and onions. Place in a large bowl.
Add flour, eggs, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly until completely combined. Allow to sit 5-10 minutes. Drain excess liquid. Add grated cheddar cheese and half of the chopped scallions.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Using your hands or large spoon, make a latke patty and place in the pan. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove from pan and place on wire cooling rack placed on a baking sheet, which you can place in a warm oven until ready to serve.
Top latkes with sour cream, additional scallions and bacon bits.
Hanukkah would have to be my favorite time of year. I was born on the fifth night and I even got married on my birthday! No, I don’t usually get three presents, but I always felt lucky to be surrounded by so much mazal on my wedding day.
With so much to celebrate during the holiday I try to switch things up during all the frying. There’s only so many latkes and jelly donuts you can eat (ok, maybe not). Fried zucchini parmesan chips have become a family favorite, so this year, I decided to go sweet with a different type of fried veggie: delicata squash.
Delicata squash is such an easy squash to prepare because the peel is edible, so you can just slice and bake – or fry! To take the squash flavor a step further, I decided to make a pumpkin beer batter and I finish it off with a Greek yogurt dipping sauce, to honor the Hanukkah miracle, and the tradition of eating dairy during the holiday. I love how they look just like donuts, but you get to without quite as much guilt because, after all, you’re really getting in a serving of veggies.
1 delicata squash, seeds removed, thinly sliced into rings
1 cup flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
pinch of salt
1 12oz bottle of pumpkin beer
canola oil, for frying
For the cinnamon-scented powdered sugar:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
For the Greek yogurt dipping sauce:
1 6 oz container plain Greek-style yogurt
1 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp brown sugar
Add the flour, cornstarch, sugar, spices and salt to a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour in the beer and stir until a thick batter forms. It should be a little thicker than pancake batter. You'll need most of the bottle of beer (with about 1/2 cup left over).
Heat a few inches of oil in a saucepan to 350 degrees.
Dip the squash in the beer batter and place in the hot oil. Fry a few at a time until golden brown on one side, and then flip over to brown the other side.
Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and drain on paper towels.
To make the cinnamon-scented powdered sugar: Place the cinnamon and powdered sugar in a bowl and whisk until the cinnamon is completely incorporated.
To make the Greek yogurt dipping sauce: Add all the ingredients to a bowl and stir to combine.
Dust with cinnamon-scented powdered sugar and serve immediately or remove to a rack, to keep crisp and reserve for later. Serve with greek yogurt dipping sauce.
Ok guys, it’s go time. Hanukkah starts next Tuesday December 16th, so besides the latke frying and sufaniyot scarfing, better stock up on some gifts for your loved ones. And like always, we want to help with some of our top holiday picks.
The cookbook hoarders in your life will covet a copy of Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk To Marrakesh, by Janna Gur or Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, by Dorie Greenspan.
Donuts were never really my thing. That is, until I was pregnant a few years ago and my husband brought me to New York City’s famous Doughnut Plant where I sampled several amazing flavors, including their peanut butter & jelly variety. I was in love, and it wasn’t just the pregnancy hormones.
Check out my elated face.
So this year when I was thinking about something fun and sweet to make for Hanukkah, I knew I wanted to try my hand at making an Israeli-style sufganiya, but with a classic American flavor pairing. After all, who doesn’t love peanut butter and jelly?! And most importantly, I love it, and I loved making these donuts. They were so delicious I might have eaten two. (I did).
If you have a peanut allergy in your family, you can swap out the peanut butter for almond butter, cashew butter or even sunflower butter. Instead of adding chopped peanuts to the top, add chopped salted almonds or cashews.
For the donuts:
1 ½ Tbsp dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
½ cup lukewarm water
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
½ tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp salt
Vegetable oil for frying
For the glaze:
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter (or other nut butter)
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup chopped, salted peanuts (or other salted nuts)
For the filling:
1 ½ cups raspberry jam
Combine yeast, 1 tsp sugar and water in a small bowl. Mix gently and allow to sit until top gets foamy, around 5-10 minutes.
In a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, add flour, sugar, eggs, butter, nutmeg and salt. Add yeast mixture and mix on low for 2 minutes. Increase speed and mix another 5 minutes. You can also do this by hand with a wooden spoon, which will take slightly longer.
Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise 2 1/2 -3 hours.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Using a round biscuit cutter or drinking glass, cut rounds. Place on a large plate, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise another 20 minutes.
While doughnuts are rising again, whisk the milk, peanut butter, powdered sugar and chopped peanuts together to make the glaze.
In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium heat until a thermometer reads around 370 degrees. Fry each round for around 30-40 seconds on each side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Immediately spoon peanut butter glaze over the top.
Fill a pastry bag with jam and cut tip. Using a wooden skewer or toothpick, make a hole in the side of each doughnut. Wiggle the toothpick around a bit to open up the inside of the doughnut. Fit the pastry bag into the hole, pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts.
Add an extra dot of jam on top if desired.
There’s just something about comfort food that always gets me excited to eat. Give me some mac n’ cheese, tuna casserole or a grilled cheese sandwich and I am good to go. Can you tell that I love dairy? Hanukkah, which is traditionally celebrated with oily and cheesy foods, really is the perfect holiday for me!
On Hanukkah we eat foods fried in oil to symbolize the oil that lasted eight days when the Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after their victory over the Greeks. The dairy is to celebrate Judith’s victory when she saved her village from the Babylonians. Basically, she served the General of the Babylonian army a basket of wine and salty cheese (the salt made him thirsty and got him very drunk). When he passed out, she beheaded him and scared away his army. It’s a bit graphic but definitely worth celebrating!
So now let’s get back to my comfort food, which really does tie in to Hanukkah beautifully. I decided that what this holiday really needed was a crispy latke fried in oil then sandwiched together with cheese. Sounds good, right?!? Jewish-American comfort food taken to the max.
2-3 large potatoes, peeled (2 cups grated)
3 Tbsp plain bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp light olive oil
5-10 slices cheddar cheese
Line a large bowl with a kitchen towel and line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels.
Peel and grate the potatoes and place them in the towel then squeeze out all of the liquid from the potatoes. Discard the liquid then place the dried potatoes in the bowl.
Stir in the egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper until combined.
In a heavy saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. To test if the oil/butter mixture is hot enough, drop a small piece of the potato mixture into the pan and if bubbles form around the edges, the oil is ready.
Carefully place two ¼ cup-sized scoops of the potato mixture in the pan and cook for two minutes, until the latkes are browning on the bottom.
Flip the latkes over carefully with a spatula and place 1-2 slices of cheddar cheese on one latke. Cook for one more minute then place the second latke on top of the cheese and press down. Cook for 30 seconds then flip over the grilled cheese latke sandwich, press down and cook for 30 more seconds.
Place the hot grilled cheese latkes on the paper towels to drain then repeat this process to make 3-4 more sandwiches.
Once the latkes have drained, it’s time to eat!
If you want to take these grilled cheese latkes to the next level, you can add avocado or spinach to the cheese while cooking or switch it up with your favorite cheese.
What do we love as much as Jewish food?
a) edible gifts
b) free cookbooks
c) Hanukkah presents
d) all of the above
For our Hanukkah 2014 giveaway we’re celebrating in three’s! For our grand prize winners, we’re teaming up with Soom Foods, a great new 3-sister kosher tahini startup, to share 3 delicious chocolate-sesame tahini sample packs with our readers.
I would like to say that this is the first time I have combined brisket and latkes into one recipe, but I would be lying. I just love finding ways to use brisket, like the brisket latkes I created last year and one of my newer creations: brisket-stuffed cabbage.
Like so many great recipes, this one was created by accident. At a Hanukkah party several years ago I served potato latkes, pulled brisket and some homemade challah rolls. Pretty soon my friends ditched the rolls and started topping their latkes with the brisket. And a new star was born.
If you are asking yourself, “can I use my family’s beloved brisket recipe for this?” The answer is absolutely. As long as the recipe calls for a significant amount of liquid so that it has a bit of sauce to it, whatever recipe you fancy will work great.
You don’t have to stop with brisket as a topping for your latkes. You can make a “top your own latke” party this Hanukkah season, serving up grilled pastrami, pulled brisket, caramelized onions or any other fun topping you like. Watch as your guests get creative with their latkes. You can also shake it up by adding some sweet potato latkes or parsnip latkes into the mix.
For the brisket:
2-3 lb brisket
1 Tbsp salt
½ Tbsp freshly grated black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried parsley
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
1 can beer
1 can ginger ale
1 bottle red wine
4 oz tomato paste
4 medium carrots, cut into medium size pieces
2 onions, cut into quarters
For the latkes:
12 medium-large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 small onions, or 1 medium-large onion, cut into large chunks
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
¾ -1 cup flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ Tbsp salt
½ Tbsp pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
To make the brisket:
In a small bowl combine salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and parsley. Spread dry rub on both sides of brisket evenly. Preheat the oven to 300F degrees.
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or pot on medium high heat. Sear the brisket on both sides "until the smoke detector goes off." Remove meat and set aside.
Using the remaining oil and "good bits" on the bottom of the pan, sauté carrots and onions, scraping the bottom until the veggies are soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until thoroughly mixed.
Put the brisket back in the pan, and cover with the bottle of red wine, beer and ginger ale. Place the entire pot with brisket into the oven, and cook for at least 3-4 hours, until meat is completely tender.
When the meat is fork tender, remove the meat and set aside on a large cutting board.
Let the sludge rise to the top of the pot liquid and skim it off. Strain out the carrots and onions and using a food processor, blend them with 1-2 cups of the cooking liquid, then return the blended mixture to the rest of the liquid and simmer to reduce slightly.
On the cutting board using two forks, carefully shred the brisket into small strands. Add 1-2 cups of the pureed cooking liquid to the pulled brisket for additional moisture and flavor.
Serve in a large bowl and allow guests to top latkes, or spoon small amounts of brisket on each latke for a more elegant presentation.
To make the latkes:
Using the shredding attachment of a food processor or a hand grater, coarsely great potatoes, onions and garlic. Place in a large bowl.
Add flour, eggs, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly until completely combined. Allow to sit 5-10 minutes. Drain excess liquid.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Using your hands, make a small latke patty and squeeze out excess liquid again. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove from pan and place on wire cooling rack placed on a baking sheet, which you can place in a warm oven until ready to serve.
A few years ago my dear friend and fellow food-enthusiast Rachel traveled to the Czech Republic to explore her father’s family roots. While there she experienced some amazing native and Jewish-inspired food including a chicken schnitzel wrapped in potato pancakes.
STOP THE PRESSES.CHICKEN WRAPPED IN POTATO PANCAKES. YUM.
When I heard about latke-crusted chicken, I was enamored. In love. I had to recreate this masterpiece.
So as I was thinking about Passover and something new to make this year, it dawned on me that this chicken dish could easily be Passover-friendly. And while I don’t normally use matzo meal or potato starch in my Passover cooking, this recipe does require small amounts of both. But it’s so delicious, it’s worth it.
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 small yellow onion
¼ cup matzo meal (or flour)
2 tsp sea salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ cup potato starch (or flour)
2 eggs, beaten
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Oil for frying
Using a food processor fitted with the shredding disk or a hand-grater, shred potatoes and onion. Place in a large bowl. Add egg, matzo meal, salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Stir until combined. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Squeeze excess liquid out of potato latke mixture.
In a large pan, heat oil on medium-high heat.
Coat each chicken breast in potato starch, then beaten egg. Place thin layer of potato latke mixture on one side of chicken and place potato-side down in frying pan. Add additional layer of potato mixture on top of chicken while the first side is cooking.
Cook for around 4 minutes, or until potato side is golden brown and starting to crisp. Carefully flip to other side and cook another 3-4 minutes.
When both sides are golden brown, place pan into oven or place chicken onto a baking sheet and cook in oven 15 minutes or until cooked-through. This may vary depending on thickness of chicken.