Big Little Recipes

Latke Cookies Are a Hanukkah Miracle

This week's Big Little Recipe is a sweet spin on a salty favorite.

November 30, 2021

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Inspired by the column, the Big Little Recipes cookbook is available now. Like, right now.


Though latkes are inseparable from all the Hanukkahs of my life, the word itself is barely older than my grandmother. "Latke" nudged its way into the English language in 1927, thousands of years after the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.

“There’s nothing traditional about the contemporary American latke,” Yoni Appelbaum writes in The Atlantic. “Virtually every element of it is a lie.”

What is now a potato pancake fried in oil was once a buckwheat pancake fried in schmaltz. And what was once buckwheat pancake fried in schmaltz was once a cheese pancake fried in butter.

“The first Hanukkah latkes, which were made with ricotta cheese, date back to 13th-century Italy,” according to Leah Koenig. The word "latke," she explains, does not hinge on potatoes. “Instead, it’s derived from 'elaion,' the Greek word for olive oil, and is connected to the Hanukkah tradition of indulging in fried foods.”

Add all this up and I can’t help but disagree with the “nothing traditional” part. Because sure, modern American latkes are not the same as 13th-century Italian latkes. But I inherited them from my mom, who inherited them from her mom, who inherited them from her mom. If that isn’t tradition, what is?

There is, however, nothing traditional about latke cookies. Absolutely, utterly nothing. They are an optical illusion, the answer to the question that no one needed answered but here I am to answer anyway: What if latkes were cookies?

While the potato pancakes I grew up on are so savory, applesauce alongside is a sweet respite, latke cookies take an illegal U-turn. Like the original, they are mostly potatoes. But the rest of the ingredient list is inspired by another Jewish favorite born of Italian tradition, the coconut macaroon.

“An Italian cookie made of almonds, sugar, and egg whites...won the hearts of Jews way back in the day because they could be eaten on Passover,” Molly Yeh writes for 100 Most Jewish Foods. “After migrating to France in the 16th century, this cookie was eventually sandwichified and fancied up into the Parisian macaron that we know today. Elsewhere, including in the States, coconut was subbed in for nuts to make a sturdier, more shelf-stable cookie.”

Photo by Julia Gartland Prop Stylist: Alya Hameedi Food Stylist: Anna Billngskog

These cookies use neither Russets nor coconut. Instead? Crunchy potato chips—a whole bag of them, crushed by hand, then bound back together with condensed milk that caramelizes in the oven. As with classic latkes, eggs act as the mediator. But don’t worry, there’s no onion.

The result is crispy-edged, custardy-centered, deeply potato-y. Thanks to chips being fried to begin with, plus melted butter for good measure, the cookies evoke a similar thrill to state-fair funnel cake. Yet instead of a deep fryer, or even a deep skillet, all you need is a mixing bowl and sheet pan.

When I was texting my family about all of this, my brother couldn’t wait for the recipe to publish before making a batch and sending me a photo and exclamation point. Maybe these'll become a tradition along with latkes after all.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in November 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

5 Comments

Rochelle W. December 5, 2021
These are absolutely delicious! Couldn’t find any Ruffles, so bought a crinkle cut potato chip made with olive oil and sea salt. Used salted butter and while I initially worried they might be too salty, they absolutely weren’t at all. The contrasting flavors of the sweetened condensed milk and the salt of the chips were such a tasty treat. This recipe is definitely a ‘keeper’!!
 
TrainingAce December 5, 2021
I made these. They are unique and were well received. Additional salt immediately after baking makes a big difference. I could see riffing these a lot of different ways on both the savoury and sweet scales. Would love to include some pictures.
 
Paige W. December 3, 2021
Ummm... I am not going to call these cookies a "Hanukkah miracle." The flavor is best described as meh. My 8-year-old spit hers out. My husband and I finished a cookie (because who doesn't finish a cookie?) but agreed that they were weird, but not in a good way. My husband's first comment was, "They taste like a bland, savory cookie." That's not a rousing endorsement. We all agreed, they need more flavor. I will try dusting them with crushed, freeze-dried apples and see if that helps. I'm glad I tried them, they made for a fun Facebook share, but I'll stick with mandelbrot for a holiday cookie.
 
chava December 2, 2021
No. Seriously, no. Sounded intriguing. It's certainly easy. But it' sneither salty nor sweet, texture is neither crisp nor melting. I was really disappointed - but I guess, after being with you from the beginning, the time did have to come...
 
Elizabeth R. December 1, 2021
Is the butter really necessary ?