What Are Kartoffelpuffer?

Rebecca Cartwright

Kartoffelpuffer are German potato pancakes made from grated raw potatoes and onion mixed with a few other ingredients. They are also called latkes, reibekuchen and karoffelphannkuchen. Kartoffelpuffer are street food at German fairs and are also served in homes and restaurants. In Catholic areas of Germany they were a traditional Friday evening dinner. The pancakes can be served with either sweet or savory side dishes, but the most common accompaniment is applesauce.

Kartoffelpuffer are often served with applesauce.
Kartoffelpuffer are often served with applesauce.

There are slight variations in recipes, but all kartoffelpuffer are made from raw grated potato rather than from potato that is pre-cooked, and all contain onion. The onion is usually grated but can be finely chopped and some recipes even use dried onion flakes. Other basic ingredients are eggs, flour and salt.

Potatoes are a key ingredient in kartoffelpuffer.
Potatoes are a key ingredient in kartoffelpuffer.

Raw potato quickly darkens when exposed to air so it is necessary to quickly process the potatoes and mix the batter. Darkening can be retarded by placing the grated potato in cold water and some recipes call for this anyway as a way to wash some of the starch out of the potatoes. Other recipes specifically call for using starchy, or floury, potatoes. Whether the starch is washed out or carefully conserved, the pancakes will cook better if all excess moisture is removed from the potatoes, and many recipes call for wringing the grated pieces in a towel to dry them.

German sausages may be served as a savory accompaniment for kartoffelpuffer.
German sausages may be served as a savory accompaniment for kartoffelpuffer.

The characteristic crisp outside and creamy inside of kartoffelpuffer is easiest to achieve with adequate oil in the pan. If the oil is hot enough the cakes will be crisp and brown, but not oily. To ensure that the pancakes cook through they must be relatively thin and of even thickness. The texture of the pancakes will be best if they are not pressed down and if they are turned only once. Although they are sometimes cooked in butter, a neutral-tasting oil is the more usual choice.

Smoked salmon is a popular savory topping for kartoffelpuffer.
Smoked salmon is a popular savory topping for kartoffelpuffer.

Traditional kartoffelpuffer are made with just the potato, onion, flour, egg and salt. Many cooks, however, add more seasonings, particularly garlic and herbs such as parsley, scallions, chives and thyme. Crumbled bacon is a popular addition.

Common sweet accompaniments for the pancakes, in addition to applesauce, are other fruit compotes, sweetened whipped cream and even cinnamon sugar. Sour cream and creme fraiche are other popular additions. Savory side dishes frequently served include bacon, sausage, liverwurst, smoked salmon and sauerkraut. In some parts of Germany the pancakes are served on black bread.

Sauerkraut is a common savory side dish served with kartoffelpuffer.
Sauerkraut is a common savory side dish served with kartoffelpuffer.

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