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  • Latkes bring people together at Hanukkah

  • At countless Hanukkah celebrations, latkes will be there.
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  • At countless Hanukkah celebrations, latkes will be there.
    These fried potato pancakes are among the symbolic holiday staples that bring Jewish people together during the eight-day Festival of Lights, which begins at sundown Saturday.
    Homemade or store-bought, topped or not, variations to these fried potato pancakes are endless.
    But most everyone agrees: Latkes should be crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle.
    Esther Kraft, 81, of Farmington Hills, Mich., has been making latkes for more than 50 years. She makes them the way her mother taught her and the way she taught her children and grandchildren to make them.
    "It's a lot of fun," Kraft says of making latkes with her family. "We laugh a lot, and we all work together to make them - and then eat them."
    Kraft sticks to a basic recipe. She uses russet potatoes because they don't have as much moisture as other varieties. An essential step in the process, she says, is placing the shredded potatoes in a tea towel and twisting it to squeeze out the excess moisture.
    "Using a dish cloth absorbs more water," Kraft says. "But you also don't want to make them too dry."
    Latkes are a simple mixture of peeled and shredded potato mixed with grated onion, eggs and some flour to bind it all together. Spooned into hot oil, latkes are flattened and then fried. The oil represents the miracle that occurred in the Second Century B.C., when a one-day supply of oil left for the Jerusalem temple's eternal light lasted eight days.
    Kraft's daughter Helayne Kaplan, 55, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., says making latkes together turns the chore into a fun activity during which family memories are made.
    "It's the sizzle of them hitting the hot oil in the pan, the smell of the grease and the crunch of the latke," Kaplan says.
    For Micki Lynn, 41, of West Bloomfield, Mich., latkes are a tradition whether they are homemade or bought.
    In recent years, Lynn's family and friends began gathering at a local bowling alley, where they celebrate Hanukkah with pizza, salad — and latkes .
    And, she says, there is nothing wrong with store-bought latkes.
    "It's more important that (latkes) be there, whether they come from one's kitchen or not," Lynn says.
    ESTHER KRAFT'S POTATO LATKES
    6 russet potatoes
    Lemon juice, as needed
    1 large peeled, quartered onion
    4 eggs
    1/4 cup flour
    1/4 cup matzo meal or as needed
    1 tablespoon salt
    Canola oil, as needed
    Peel the potatoes and then cut them into cubes. As you work, place cubes in a bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice to prevent them from darkening.
    In a food processor, grate potatoes and the onion. Once grated, remove mixture from food processor and place in a tea towel. Bring up edges, encasing potato mixture, and twist to squeeze and press out as much water as you can. Put mixture in a bowl and add the eggs, flour, matzo meal and salt.
    In a large skillet, heat about 1/4 inch of the oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, and working in batches, place heaping tablespoons (almost 2 tablespoons) of potato mixture in hot oil and flatten. Brown latke for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side.
    Repeat with remaining mixture, pressing mixture against side of bowl when you scoop it out to drain any more excess liquid.
    Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve latkes with sour cream or applesauce.
    Makes about 24.
    SWEET-POTATO AND APPLE LATKES
    2 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound ), peeled and quartered lengthwise
    1/2 onion, peeled and quartered
    1/4 cup flour
    1 egg
    3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    Canola oil, for frying
    1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
    3/4 cup sugar
    1 medium apple, peeled, cored and quartered
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    Using a food processor fitted with a coarse grating disk, grate the potatoes and onion; discard any large pieces. Transfer mixture to a clean dish towel and squeeze out any excess liquid, then transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the flour, egg, salt, 1/4 pepper and baking powder.
    In a medium saucepan, boil the fresh cranberries and sugar with 1/2 cup water, stirring. Lower heat and simmer until cranberries soften and burst, 10 minutes; let cool. Grate the apple into food processor with sweet potato and onion and grate. Add the nutmeg to batter.
    In a large, nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch of the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, drop 2-tablespoon scoops of batter into pan about 2 inches apart. Using a spatula, flatten batter into disks. Cook, turning once, until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. (Lower heat if latkes darken too quickly.) Drain on paper towels. Serve with cranberry sauce.
    Makes 18 latkes.
    — Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine, December 2012.
    SPANOLATKES
    3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided, plus more for frying
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