Anyone who celebrates Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, knows that homemade applesauce is the perfect accompaniment for latkes, or potato pancakes.
Made from nothing but chopped apples simmered with a splash of apple juice or fresh-pressed cider, homemade applesauce is easy, quick, healthy, and delicious. We’ve yet to meet anyone, of any age, who isn’t charmed and comforted by a bowl of it, especially when it’s served still warm from the stove. It’s one of those versatile dishes that can be part of a morning’s breakfast (use it as an oatmeal topping, or stir it into a bowl of yogurt) as easily as it can finish off a meal at night. Best of all, it takes less than 10 minutes of hands-on prep time.
The applesauce is done when it can be beaten into a chunky mash with a wooden spoon; if you prefer a smoother purée, beat it with a whisk, or buzz it with an immersion (hand) blender until you get the texture you like. Plain applesauce is delicious on its own, of course, but you can dress it up a little by cooking the apples with a cinnamon stick or by adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice (a blend of sweet spices, predominantly cinnamon along with nutmeg, allspice, mace, and ginger). If you’re serving it alongside a savory entrée, you can add a little salt to balance the apples’ natural sweetness. If you prefer a sweeter applesauce, add a drizzle of pure maple syrup or honey. You can also add a handful of raisins or dried cranberries to the apples while they’re cooking.
Almost any apple (or mix of apples) can be used for applesauce; the only ones we’d avoid would be very firm, tart ones like Granny Smith, since they tend to keep their shape and resist breaking down into a comfy mash. Instead, use soft, sweet apples like McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Jonagold, Mutsu, Gala, Fuji, or Pink Lady. Making applesauce is also a good way to use up any bumped or bruised apples. Just cut out and discard any brown or softened spots and use the rest.
Fried food is a central part of the celebration of this Jewish winter holiday, and crunchy, golden potato pancakes are as much a part of the festivities as lighting the candles in the menorah.
Squeezing and draining the grated potatoes and onions helps remove the excess liquid that can lead to soggy latkes. (A potato ricer makes fast work of this, although hands work just fine, too.) Whisking the egg whites until stiff, then folding them in just before frying, makes the pancakes extra-light and crispy. We’ve also discovered an easy way to make gluten-free latkes: substitute potato starch for the usual matzo meal or flour. You can find potato starch and matzo meal in the kosher foods section of your supermarket; you can also find potato starch alongside other gluten-free products and flours.
A splash of apple juice or fresh-pressed apple cider boosts the flavor and keeps the apple chunks from scorching; you can substitute water if necessary.
3 pounds apples (about 6–8 apples), peeled, cored, and cut into rough chunks
¾–1 cup apple juice or nonalcoholic apple cider, as needed
1 cinnamon stick, optional
⅛ teaspoon salt, optional
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or honey, optional
- In a medium-size, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, combine apples and ¾ cup of the apple juice or cider. If desired, add a cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer.
- Reduce heat to low and partially cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. If mixture looks dry, add another ¼ cup of apple juice or cider, as needed.
- Cook another 5–10 minutes, until apples are very soft and mixture breaks down easily when stirred with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat. Remove and discard cinnamon stick.
- Using a wooden spoon, stir vigorously to make into a chunky purée. If you want a smoother texture, let apple mixture cool, then use an immersion (hand) blender to purée. If serving as an accompaniment to latkes, add ⅛ teaspoon salt. If you prefer a sweeter applesauce, add a small amount of maple syrup or honey to taste. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Makes approximately 3 cups. Prep time, 10 minutes; cook time, 40 minutes.
Potato Pancakes (Latkes)
Once grated, potatoes can oxidize quickly, turning the mixture an unappetizing gray color. Rather than double the recipe, it’s best to make each batch from start to finish. This will also keep the uncooked mixture from getting too soupy while it stands.
2½ pounds potatoes, well scrubbed but not peeled
1 large yellow onion, peeled
2 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons matzo meal, flour, or potato starch
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil or pure olive oil, for frying
Homemade applesauce, for serving
- Using the wide-holed side of a box grater, or the wide-holed grating disk on a food processor, grate the potatoes and onion. Scoop grated potatoes and onion into a colander suspended over a large bowl.
- Using your hands, vigorously squeeze and wring the potato mixture to remove liquid. Let drain for a few minutes. Lift up colander and pour off liquid in the bowl, reserving the layer of potato starch settled at the bottom.
- Scrape up the reserved potato starch to loosen it. Add the potato mixture and mix together with the starch. Add egg yolks; matzo meal, flour, or potato starch; salt; and plenty of black pepper. Mix well.
- Beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold egg whites into potato mixture.
- Heat ½ inch of vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan. Drop in a shred of potato; when it sizzles and bubbles, slide in as many large spoonfuls of potato mixture as you can without crowding. Fry over medium-high heat, turning once, until brown. Add more oil as necessary for subsequent batches.
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately, with applesauce.
Makes about 20 latkes. Prep time, 20 minutes; cook time, 20 minutes.
Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is the author of six books, including Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and Fun Food: Kids in the Kitchen (Williams-Sonoma). She writes frequently about seasonal cooking and holds a certificate in ecological horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz.