I was attracted by the name. Kartoffelpuffer. I may not have known exactly what they were to begin with, but reports of people willing to queue for them were bound to get my attention.
It turns out that there was no great mystery to it. As far as I could discern, these German potato pancakes were simply a seasoned mixture of grated raw potato, grated onion and egg, fried in a generous amount of oil. A reaffirmation of the irresistible draw of fried potato goodness.
Reading recipes for kartoffelpuffer, they did, on paper at least, seem almost indistinguishable from Jewish latkes, those potato pancakes often slathered with apple sauce and sour cream and traditionally eaten during Hannukah.
The canon of potato recipes is, of course, littered with endless small variations on the potato pancake theme. As you move between countries and cultures, flour, egg and onion play different supporting roles and the potato itself may enter the fray raw, pre-cooked or, in the case of boxty, sometimes both.
And even though I made what could legitimately be called either kartoffelpuffer or latkes today, using what seems to be a fairly standard formula, I have no doubt that people who have been making these for years will tell me what they do differently. For that, people, I am all ears.
Kartoffelpuffer / Latkes
The one thing I figured out having made these, is that there is no real escape from the fact that you need to use a lot of oil, because they won’t fry in the same way without. A Jewish friend refers to his annual bout of latke-making somewhat affectionately as “grease fest” and now I know why.
These pancakes do not have to be greasy, however. Keep the potatoes dry enough and the oil hot enough and you should end up with a nicely crispy result. Most recipes call for the onion to be grated, though I imagine that very finely chopped onion would do the trick too. To check your seasoning, you can fry one small pancake first and taste to see if the rest of the mixture needs more salt or pepper.
- 450g potatoes, preferably a floury / starchy variety
- half a medium-sized onion (about 75g), grated coarsely or very finely chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 0.5 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- a few tblsp plain flour or matzoh meal
- plenty of vegetable oil for frying
You’ll also need:
- A grater (or food processor with grater attachment) for grating the potatoes and onions, a clean tea cloth for squeezing dry the potatoes and a large frying pan.
- Scrub the potatoes and peel or leave unpeeled as you prefer. Grate coarsely and wrap the grated potatoes in a clean tea towel or other clean cloth. Wring the tea towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
- Mix the grated potatoes with the grated onion, beaten egg, salt and a few twists of black pepper. If the mixture seems a little wet, add a spoon or two of flour or matzoh meal to absorb the excess.
- Place your frying pan over a high heat and add about a 0.5cm depth of oil. Allow it to heat for a few minutes. To check whether it is hot enough, drop in a small piece of the potato mixture. If it sizzles straight away, then you can start frying, though if the oil starts smoking at all, remove from the heat for a minute or two and lower the heat a little.
- Take a heaped tblsp of the potato mixture, drop into the oil and flatten out as much as you can using the back of a spoon. If you have more room in your pan, add another 2-3 pancakes, but don’t crowd the pan too much.
- Fry the pancakes for a couple of minutes on each side, until crispy and golden. Remove, drain on kitchen paper and either eat straight away (accompaniments of sour cream and apple sauce would be traditional) or keep warm in a low oven while you fry the rest. You may need to replenish the oil in your pan if the level starts running low after the first few batches.
- This a fairly traditional rendition of which the variations are legion. You could add garlic and/or herbs of your choosing or leave out the onion and make a pancake that’s as good served sweet as savoury.
- Makes around 15 pancakes bearing whatever name you prefer to use.