The Genius Hack That Turns a Freezer Staple Into Perfect Potato Pancakes

Just in time for Hanukkah, this trick for little latkes will save you time and effort.

Hanukkah may be the festival of lights, but we really know what the holiday is about: fried food. In celebration of that fated oil that lit the menorah for eight nights rather than the one it was supposed to last, Hanukkah is all about oil. Sufganiyot, fluffy jam-filled doughnuts, are a popular pick on Hanukkah but the food most synonymous with the holiday has got to be latkes: fried potato pancakes typically served up with applesauce, sour cream, or both.

Here's the thing: I hate frying. It takes up a lot of time and space, and the oil gets everywhere; its splattering coats every surface of your stove, and the smell permeates your hair, your clothes, and your kitchen. Not to mention, latkes take other work — there's shredding and soaking potatoes, then wringing out the water and forming loads of little pancakes. All in all, I dread making latkes on Hanukkah, but I adore eating them. It's quite the cook's conundrum.

When I saw a photo of perfectly golden little latkes with the caption, "You don't want to know about my instant mini latke hack...", in my daily Instagram scroll, I immediately thought to myself, Oh yes I do. The post was from freelance pastry chef and recipe developer, Zoë Kanan. I reached out to Zoë and got all the details on her genius hack for what may be the easiest latkes ever.

How to Make Easy "Lil' Latkes"

These potato pancakes started with a brain blast in the freezer aisle. Kanan saw something she'd never seen before: Ore Ida Onion Tater Tots. Upon investigating the ingredients, she figured they would be a better swap for latkes than the typical frozen hash browns. After some testing and finagling, she cracked the code for how to turn these tater tots into crispy, adorable mini latkes.

First, par-cook the tater tots in an air fryer and oven at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 10 minutes. This helps them form a "shell" and hold their shape for the second fry. Then — inspired by the internet-loved smashed potatoes — Kanan takes the back of a measuring cup and lightly flattens them. You don't want them too thin or they'll become more potato chip than pancake — aim for about 1/2-inch thick.

Then fry them a second time to get them that picture-perfect golden brown color. In a couple of tablespoons of oil or schmaltz (chicken fat), shallow fry the latkes for 1 to 2 minutes per side or until golden brown.

If you, like me, want to avoid frying at all costs, you can also complete the second fry in the air fryer, too. Since they contain oil from their pre-freeze flash fry in the factory, they should get crisped up all the same. If you go the air fryer route all the way, cook at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for another 5 or so minutes per side, taking care not to crowd your air fryer. Leaving space between them helps ensure each side gets airflow, meaning they crisp up evenly.

Either way season with salt and pepper when they come out of their second fry. Then top however you like! Kanan likes a combination of sour cream and apple butter, with its more concentrated flavor than the typical apple sauce.

Mini latke potato pancakes topped with sour cream and apple butter
Zoë Kanan

Typical frozen potato pancakes just don't stack up to homemade; often overly processed with unnecessary add-ins, they more closely resemble a fried mashed potato cake than a golden nest of shredded potato pieces. But these are on another level. Crispy, light, and well seasoned with discernible pieces of potato, these find the perfect middle ground between homemade and well, semi-homemade.

Whether you're celebrating Hanukkah or just looking for an easy cocktail or holiday party pass-around appetizer, these mini potato pancakes, aka "totkes" will surely do the trick.

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