Crispy Baked Latkes with Cranberry Applesauce

We are equal-opportunity holiday cooks. We don't discriminate against holidays based on religious affiliation, season, Hallmark-saturation, or any other means of bias. Has food, will celebrate.

Given this policy and the fact that we've been celebrating Hanukkah anyway by opening presents (thanks Mommy, thanks Hanukkah Dog), we thought it would be shameful if we didn't make a solid effort at frying up some shredded potato.

Neither of us had cooked latkes without parentnal guidance before, so we spent some time reviewing recipes and conceptualizing the perfect potato pancake. If you are an experienced latke eater, you know that when cooked poorly, latkes taste both burnt and raw, flavorless and oily. When cooked well, however, they taste both fluffy and crisp, savory and light. Among foods, there are few things worse than a bad latke, and few things better than a great one. We decided that our safest and healthiest bet would be searing the latkes quickly in a bit of oil to give them a strong latke flavor, but then baking them to crispy perfection in the oven. We knew that this would mean making our latkes thin, and working quickly. Also, we knew that since the latkes wouldn't have much time to cook in the oil, we needed a recipe that ensured our pancakes would hold together well. We chose this one with matzo meal from Smitten Kitchen, and I've reposted our baked, modified version below.

For toppings, we decided go festive with a barely modified cranberry applesauce from Epicurious that was unbelievably easy to make (30 minutes, tops), and absolutely delicious. Sour cream is a must, and though we chose scallions mainly for color contrast, they added a great flavor as well.

Latke Ingredients (makes about 50 laktes):

10 golden russet potatoes
5 onions
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
5 tbsp matzo meal
5 eggs
7 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp pepper
oil for frying (we used Smart Balance oil, which blends canola and olive oil)

Latke Instructions:
Line a large baking sheet with paper towels and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400. Peel the potatoes. In a food processor or with a grater, shred the potatoes and onions, and transfer them to a colander. Squeeze dry. Wait two minutes, and squeeze dry again. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add flour, matzo meal, eggs, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Pour about 1-2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan, and turn the heat on high. When the oil is hot, drop teaspoon-sized balls of latke mixture into the pan, and press to flatten with the back of a spoon. Cook latkes for about 1 minute on each side, until the outside is lightly browned, then transfer to the baking sheet. When you have enough latkes to fill a baking sheet, press a paper towel on the top side of the latkes as well to soak up extra oil, then remove the paper towels and assemble latkes on the sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes on each side, until crispy. Repeat (adding oil to the pan as necessary) until you've used up the mixture, we made about three batches.

Cranberry Applesauce Ingredients (makes about 6-7 cups):
7 large fuji apples (about 5 pounds), peeled, cored and chopped
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 cinnamon sticks
6-inch strip of lemon zest, finely chopped

Cranberry Apple Sauce Instructions:
Cook everything together in a large pot for about 25 minutes on moderate hat, until the apples are very soft. Remove the cinammon sticks and mash the mixture together with a potato-masher until it is as mushy as you want it. Serve warm or cool.