Latkes are more of a phenomenon than a dish for me: once a year, I gorge on latkes, going way past the uncomfortably full stage, and then abstain completely for the other 364 days. I associate more happy memories with latkes than probably any other food in the world and they’d be the centerpiece of my last meal on earth, but it’s a one-night-a-year treat. It’s not that having a plate of latkes in, say, June would be sacrilegious or even just wrong; but the thought of doing so would never even cross my mind. Latkes are sacred. Latkes, for me, are Hanukkah.
And, yes, when I say ‘latkes’, I mean ‘my mom’s latkes’. There’s no exception. No substitutes. You may swear that your zadie or bubby or great-aunt Ethel makes the world’s best latkes, and I’ll politely abstain. All latkes are not fried equally.
To be perfectly honest, your great-aunt Ethel’s latkes may be just as good as my mom’s; they may even be better (not a chance). But when I bite into one of my mom’s latkes, the best moments of every Hanukkah past sweep over me: dinner with my cousins; the waffle blocks that were all I wanted in 1988; beating my dad at dreidle; the reflection of the menorah’s candles against the snow outside the window on the last night of Hanukkah. It’s not nostalgia, it’s being there, the sights, sounds, smells of holidays gone by as real and tangible as they ever were. That’s something your bubby’s latkes can’t do for me.
This recipe originated with my grandfather, Carl Mayle, who passed away in February at the age of 98. I have foggy memories of watching him peel potatoes over the kitchen sink, but much stronger are memories of making these, from a very young age, with my mother. Making latkes with my mom is one of my earliest memories, in or out of the kitchen: as a toddler, it was my proud duty to sprinkle in the matzoh meal and salt; as I grew older, she let me share more of the process. Now, if I'm home for Hanukkah, we make latkes together, side by side. Perhaps frying potato cakes is a strange way to form a mother-daughter bond, but it's worked for us. The tasty results don't hurt.
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe looks very familiar, until you get to the baking powder. What an addition! The potatoes are suspended in batter, light, chewy and crispy, really wonderful, almost fritter-like. I think these latkes are better than my grandmother's. I am now waiting for lightening to strike. - MrsWheelbarrow —The Editors
Grate the potatoes and onions and drain well (you can do this by hand, or in a food processor with the grater attachment).
Combine potatoes and onions in a large bowl. Combine flour, matzoh meal, baking powder, salt, and pepper in another bowl; stir dry ingredients into potatoes and onions. Stir in the beaten eggs.
Heat about 1/2 inch of oil to moderately high heat in a skillet or electric fry pan. Using a large slotted spoon, scoop up some of the latke batter and press it firmly into the spoon to drain off any excess liquid. Pat the latke into a roughly even thickness and roundness, and gently slide into the oil.
Repeat another 2 to 3 times, being careful that the latkes do not overcrowd the pan or touch each other. Fry, about 5 minutes or until golden-brown on the underside; flip and fry, about 5 minutes, on the 2nd side. Remove to a cooling rack set over a thick mat of newspaper or towels, to catch any dripping oil.
Repeat the process, occasionally stirring the latke batter to keep it from separating. Serve latkes right away with applesauce and/or sour cream and sugar, or keep warm in a 200° F oven on a baking sheet.