While I truly believe we should normalize eating latkes year-round, they just hit different during Hanukkah. Every year growing up, my sister and I would help my mother fry up a huge batch of potato pancakes, prepared to shove them straight into a big bowl of applesauce. Now that I've taken over latke-frying duty, I'm constantly looking for add-ins to my mother's recipe to switch it up. These French Onion Latkes take the best parts of the classic soup, marrying the sweetness of brandy-spiked caramelized onions with the buttery richness of Gruyere cheese for the comfort food mashup of the holidays!
Technique tip: The secret for perfect latkes is all about the oil temperature. You want your oil to be shimmering but not smoking when you fry. If it's too hot, the centers won't cook through by the time the latke is golden. If it's too cold, your latkes will be greasy and might stick to your pan.
Swap option: Feel free to swap Gruyère with Swiss cheese, and the Calvados with any apple brandy or brandy (even a sweet white wine would work in a pinch).
In a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until softened and lightly caramelized, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the Calvados and cook, stirring to scrape off any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, until the liquid has completely evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large heatproof bowl and let cool. Clean the skillet.2.
Using a box grater, coarsely grate the potatoes. Transfer to a medium bowl lined with cheesecloth or a thin dish towel and wring the cloth to squeeze out any liquid into the bowl. Set the bowl of liquid aside to sit for 5 minutes.3.
Put the squeezed potatoes in the bowl with the cooled onions, then add the Gruyere, matzo meal, salt and eggs, and mix until well-incorporated.4.
Pour off and discard the reserved liquid from the medium bowl, revealing a thin layer of white potato starch stuck to the bottom. Stir the potato starch into the potato mixture.5.
In the skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Line a plate with paper towels.6.
Working in batches, scoop three or four 1/3-cup balls of the potato mixture into the pan, spacing them 2 inches apart. Using a spatula, smash each ball to flatten. Cook the latkes, flipping once, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the pan between batches as needed (be sure to let the oil get hot before continuing with the next batch).7.
Transfer the latkes to a platter and serve immediately with applesauce and sour cream.