15th-Century Latkes

This is the ricotta-based latke that I developed to emulate a 15th-century cook’s recipe. It is easy to make, but requires at least two days to complete, since it relies on the wild yeasts in your home for fermentation. The nature of those yeasts varies, so you should plan to mix up the starter and let it sit overnight to ferment. On the second day, you’ll mix the starter into a batter and allow that to continue fermenting for several hours before it’s ready to be cooked into latkes.

The magical thing about working with a starter is that you can reserve a bit of the fermented batter to mix into a new starter for the next batch of latkes. Keep this bit of batter in the refrigerator until you plan to use it. This process mimics the Hanukkah story in which one small container of lamp oil, enough for one night, burned for eight days. If taken care of, this starter can last a generation or more.

Makes about 24 silver dollar–size latkes

For the starter

  • ¼ cup durum flour*
  • ¼–½ cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon honey

For the batter

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup durum flour*
  • ½ cup warm water (or more as needed)

For frying

  • ¼–1 cup olive oil

*Look for durum flour at your local Italian import market.

To make the starter: Place the three ingredients into a small bowl and mix well. Cover the bowl with a piece of cheesecloth and let the starter sit in a warm spot for 24 hours or more until you notice that bubbles have started to appear. You’ll know the starter is ready when it smells slightly of alcohol or like a yeasty sourdough bread. If there’s no aroma or bubbles, your starter might need another day to ferment. Fermentation time can vary widely from home to home due to a variety of factors such as temperature and the type of water you use.

To make the batter: Scrape the fermented starter into a mixing bowl, add the remaining batter ingredients, and mix until thoroughly combined. Add more water as needed to make a creamy, runny batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot for 2–4 hours (or longer) to further ferment. You’ll know the batter is ready when it smells like the starter and has tiny bubbles throughout.

To fry the latkes: Place a cast-iron or other appropriate skillet on the stovetop and add enough olive oil to completely cover the bottom of the pan to about ⅛-inch deep. Heat until oil reaches roughly 325°. Turn your oven on low and prepare a paper towel–lined plate in the oven to receive the fried latkes. Using a tablespoon, carefully drop portions of the batter into the oil to fry. Do this in batches so the latkes are not crowded. Fry on each side until golden brown, moving the cooked latkes to the plate in the oven to stay warm as fry the rest. Add more olive oil to the skillet as needed. Serve warm or let cool to reheat later.

Recipe tester’s note on quantities and storage: The author of these fine recipes says the cooked latkes can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator or frozen for up to six months in case you want to reheat and enjoy them later. We didn’t try either option: The latkes were so good that the four of us quickly gobbled them all up and then went over to the stove and peered into the empty bowl hoping there might be more batter. If you want to have some for later, we suggest you double or triple the recipes.