We Tried 8 Different Methods for Making Latkes and Found Crispy-Outside, Fluffy-Inside Perfection (2024)

Stephanie Ganz

Stephanie Ganz

Once a professional chef (in the lifetime before kids), Stephanie Ganz has written for Bon Appetit, Eater, BUST, and Virginia Living and is a regular contributor to Richmond Magazine. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, two girls, and one excellent cat. Follow her online: @salganz (Instagram) and @onioncloute (Twitter).

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published Dec 14, 2022

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We Tried 8 Different Methods for Making Latkes and Found Crispy-Outside, Fluffy-Inside Perfection (1)

There are a few foods that, if I were in an eating contest with them, I think I could win. Latkes are one of those foods. Maybe it’s because I usually only eat them once a year. Or maybe it’s because, when topped with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives, they’re my idea of a perfect food.

Each year, I pick one night of Hanukkah and invite friends over to witness the miracle of the oil in real time with a big latke-focused feast. I fry up dozens, storing them in a warm oven and switching out platters until the last potato pancake is gone. I serve them with sour cream, lox, smoked whitefish, caviar if I’m feeling fancy, and, begrudgingly, applesauce for those who need it. (Fine if this is you, but I’ve got very specific opinions on the issue, and we’ll have to just leave it at that.)

So when Kitchn tapped me to compare eight different methods for making latkes, I was enthusiastically on board — for research, for science, and for an incredibly delicious Hanukkah party to come!

So, What Is the Best Way to Make Crispy Latkes?

After trying eight different approaches to making latkes, I found that adding baking powder yielded the best results — a perfectly crispy exterior with a fluffy interior that surpassed all of the others. This is an example of a small change that makes a big difference, and after years of making latkes the same way, I’m excited to up my game this Hanukkah with this new trick.

For this showdown, I needed a standard recipe, so I chose this easy, classic latke recipe. It uses Idaho potatoes that have been shredded in a food processor with an onion, plus egg, matzo meal, salt, and pepper. The latkes are fried in vegetable oil (or a mix of vegetable oil and schmaltz, but for this trial, I went with just oil) in a pan on the stove for about four minutes on each side, over medium-high heat.

The tests: I tested these recipes over the course of a week, using the same stove, pan, and ingredients except in the cases where those were the factors I was testing. I tried a sample (or two, or three … ) from each batch after allowing them to rest for about five minutes.

Ratings: This trial was primarily about achieving the perfect latke texture, which, admittedly, is a bit subjective. My goal was to discover the method that could give me latkes that were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I was looking for latkes that browned evenly without getting too crunchy, with thoroughly cooked potatoes throughout.

Latke Method: Cook in Air Fryer

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Rating: 2/10

About this method: I used the base latke recipe, but instead of pan-frying, I air fried them in a . I sprayed each one on the top and bottom with a bit of pan spray, and then cooked four at a time to make sure there was plenty of room for the air to circulate around the latkes. I set the timer to 15 minutes. When the timer went off, the latkes were still extremely blonde, so I gave them another five minutes. After 20 minutes total in the air fryer, I pulled the latkes for a taste test.

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Results: I was hopeful that the air fryer would be its own Hanukkah miracle, giving me a way to make crispy latkes without standing over the stove, but this wasn’t the case. These latkes never really crisped up in a satisfying way. They were pale in the middle with a few extra-crispy bits along the edges, reminding me of an important lesson: Hanukkah latkes are about the miracle of the oil, not the miracle of the air, and you need that oil to really get crispy-yet-fluffy latkes.

Latke Method: Shred Potatoes with a Box Grater

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 25 minutes
  • Rating: 7/10

About this method: This method follows the classic recipe exactly, except instead of shredding the potatoes and onions in a food processor like I usually do, I used my good old-fashioned box grater and did it by hand.

Results: The biggest difference with using a box grater instead of a food processor is the texture. The holes of my box grater render thin, flat shreds that are wider (but not thicker) than those from the grater attachment of the food processor. This makes them a little bit easier to form into latkes. On the other hand, it also results in latkes that are still crunchy but notquite ascrunchy as the food-processor-grated versions.

The taste is almost identical, but because so much latke enjoyment is texture-related, there is still a noticeable difference.

Otherwise, the box grater takes about a minute to wash and put away, making it a good choice when I’m only grating two potatoes for a small batch just for my family. (I don’t love cleaning the food processor.) However, it also adds a bit of time to the prep, as shredding by hand requires a few extra minutes and a bit of elbow grease.

Latke Method: Add Carrot to the Cooking Oil

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10

About this method: This is more of a general frying hack than a specific latke cooking method, but as she is the queen of Israeli food (at least in my mind), I trust whatever Adeena Sussman tells me to do. The idea is simple: Add a trimmed carrot to the oil while frying your latkes, following whichever recipe you prefer (in this case, the classic latke recipe). According to Sussman, “Not only does the carrot help regulate the oil temperature, but it also serves as a magnet, collecting tiny particles and keeping the oil more pristine and less prone to burning.”

Results: I have to admit that I couldn’t tell the difference between these latkes and the other pan-fried latkes I tested, but I think I know why: Because I was only frying a small amount of latkes at a time, my oil never had a chance to accumulate the little burnt bits that can result in a slightly acrid flavor. I can see how this old-fashioned hack could be useful when you’re dealing with large quantities, but for a small batch, you might as well save your carrot for a more delicious fate.

Latke Method: Swap in All-Purpose Flour for Matzo Meal

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10

About this method: Here, we’re using the standard recipe, but instead of 2 tablespoons of matzo meal, I used all-purpose flour. As in the standard recipe, you grate potatoes and onions; wring them dry with a cheesecloth tourniquet; mix them by hand with egg, flour, salt, and pepper; and then pan-fry in vegetable oil over medium-high heat for about four minutes per side.

Results: I was curious to see how all-purpose flour would compare to matzo meal, and the results surprised me — especially because before this I was team AP flour. What I found was that the latkes made with flour didn’t get quite as plump and fluffy inside as their matzo meal counterparts.

I learned that’s because the matzo meal actually expands a bit when it combines with the potatoes, onions, and egg, which results in a fluffy interior consistency. Overall, the flavor and crispiness are unchanged, so I could see why folks who don’t normally have matzo meal on hand would prefer to use flour. But I always have matzo hanging around, so I’ll be using it in my latkes from now on.

In her recipe, Patty Catalano shares a useful tip for working with matzo meal: “Matzo meal is coarser than dried breadcrumbs, so a key to including matzo in latke batter is to give the matzo a few minutes to absorb the liquid from the potato before frying.”

Latke Method: Bake in Oven

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10

About this method: For these baked latkes, I used the ingredients from the standard recipe, but with Rebecca Firsker’s oven-baked method, which calls for preheating the oven to 425°F and pouring a half cup of oil onto a sheet pan. Firsker then grates potatoes and onions and squeezes out all the liquid using a kitchen towel, similar to the cheesecloth tourniquet approach. Next, the recipe calls for putting the oiled sheet tray in the oven to preheat while mixing the drained potatoes and onions with matzo meal, egg, salt, and pepper.

After 10 minutes of preheating, Firsker removes the sheet pan from the oven and adds 8 latkes directly to the hot oil, smashing each latke with a fish spatula until it’s thin. The latkes bake for 25 minutes before getting flipped and baked for another 10 to 15 minutes and then drained on paper towels.

Results: It is no small feat to create a recipe for baked latkes that yields crispy-crunchy results, but Firsker has done it here, and I’m grateful to have this as an option. I could see how having my stovetop and a few minutes of my life back would be super helpful when I’m hosting a Hanukkah party, and cooking latkes in the oven is a great way to achieve that.

However, removing a hot sheet tray of oil from the oven is a bit tedious/dangerous, as is flipping them on said sheet tray after 20 minutes. It’s not impossible, but you’ve got to be very careful. I also noticed that my latkes got a little extra crispy on one side after the recommended 20 minutes, so I would suggest checking them after 15, just to be on the safe side. On paper, these also take the longest time to cook, but the cooking time is relatively inactive so you’re able to do other things while the latkes bake, which is handy.

Latke Method: Pan Fry

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Rating: 9/10

About this method: This is what I consider to be the “control” latke, as it follows the base recipe precisely. Scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes are shredded in a food processor with onions and then added to a bowl of cold water. The next step is to make a cheesecloth tourniquet to wring out every last drop of water (an essential move for crispiness). Next, the water is poured off, reserving the potato starch (the fine, white silt that the potatoes render while they’re in the water) that naturally accumulates at the bottom of the bowl. The potatoes, onions, and potato starch are then mixed with egg, matzo meal, salt, and pepper, by hand. The latkes are fried in a skillet with vegetable oil, about 4 minutes per side, and removed to drain on a sheet tray lined with paper towels.

Results: There is a reason this is a classic recipe, and that’s because it works perfectly. Using the cheesecloth to wring out the excess water is a particularly brilliant move that does indeed yield the crispy latkes I was looking for.

If I had to make one small quibble with this recipe it would be that you have to babysit the latkes the whole time they’re cooking, to adjust the heat and oil level to make sure the latkes are frying properly. I was able to get about five latkes in the skillet at one time, which meant I needed to fry three batches to get through the whole recipe. I stored the latkes on a cooling rack on a sheet tray in a warm oven while the rest were cooking, and that worked quite well at keeping them both warm and crispy.

Latke Method: Swap in Panko for Matzo Meal

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Rating: 9/10

About this method: For this method, I followed the classic latke recipe and swapped out matzo meal for 2 tablespoons of panko bread crumbs.

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Results: These were on par with the latkes that used matzo meal. I struggled to discern a difference between them. If I had to name one it might be that the matzo meal version is slightly fluffier, but I’d really have to split hairs to tell the difference. Blind-folded, I doubt I could tell them apart. So, if you have panko on hand but not matzo meal, consider it a perfectly acceptable one-to-one swap in this recipe.

Latke Method: Add Baking Powder

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Rating: 10/10

About this method: I used the standard latke recipe, but I added 2 teaspoons of baking powder to the bowl before hand-mixing, based on Melissa Clark’s classic potato latke recipe for the New York Times.

Results: This was a small change, but it had noticeable results. Specifically, the interior of these latkes were noticeably fluffier than the others. Adding the baking powder helped me achieve the goal of a crispy exterior (unchanged from the classic, pan-fried approach) but with the added benefit of a fluffier interior. For that reason, this was the highest-ranking method and the one I’ll be using for this year’s Hanukkah celebration.

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