German potato pancakes are delicious discs of pan-fried grated potatoes – golden and crispy on the outside with a fluffy potato middle.
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The most common name for German potato pancakes is Kartoffelpuffer although in different parts of the country they are known by other names. In Bavaria for example they are Reiberdatschi.
Kartoffelpuffer are similar to latkes or Irish boxty but do not use matzo meal like the former or flour, buttermilk and soda like the latter. There is no potato boiling involved either.
Traditional Kartoffelpuffer Ingredients
All you need to make German potato pancakes are starchy potatoes (such as Russet in the US), eggs, salt and pepper, nutmeg and vegetable oil for frying. Optional corn or potato starch.
A heavy bottomed pan such as a cast iron skillet is very convenient for frying them.
I learned how to make Kartoffelpuffer from my landlady in Freiburg when I studied there. On Sunday afternoons she frequently made a batch of them and we had a beer or two while I told her about my week and she kindly corrected my German.
When she made Kartoffelpuffer she didn’t add a thickening agent but instead used the potatoes’ own starch – the traditional approach. On occasion she determined that she only needed the yolk of the eggs in order not to make the potato mixture too runny.
After making the crispy treats myself over the years I find that it is easier to just add a tablespoon of potato or other starch (corn, arrowhead root etc). But if you’d like to make authentic Kartoffelpuffer – use the starch from the potatoes (see prep steps below).
OPTIONAL: You can also grate a couple of garlic cloves and/or half an onion and mix it in with the potatoes – this is commonly done. In this case I recommend that you only use egg yolks due to the extra moisture from the onion.
Kartoffelpuffer Preparation Steps
To make the German potato pancakes first grate the potatoes. The most efficient way is to place a colander or a large sieve over an appropriately sized bowl and grate the potatoes right over it (see above).
You can use a food processor with the right setting if you’d like and then transfer the grated potatoes to a colander.
TIP: If you want to use the actual potato starch instead of adding starch it is very helpful to grate a few of the potatoes very finely and the rest coarsely as shown.
Let the grated potatoes drain for 10-15 minutes. You can press them down a few times to squeeze out more moisture.
You will notice that the starch from the potatoes settles to the bottom of the bowl underneath the drained liquid (see below).
This is the stage where you can choose to discard the water and reserve the starch to use for the Kartoffelpuffer or discard everything altogether.
SHORTCUT: For really easy potato pancakes it is absolutely possible to use store-bought frozen hash-brown potatoes. Simply bring them to room temperature (you may need to drain them as well) and follow the rest of the recipe.
Next beat the eggs with the salt, pepper, nutmeg and starch (#1). Mix with the drained grated potatoes (#2 and #3) and heat about 1/4 cup of cooking oil over medium to medium-high heat.
Drop a spoonful of the potato mixture into the hot oil and press with the back of the spoon to flatten (#4 above).
Fry until golden on each side and do not overcrowd the pan.
Serving Ideas for Kartoffelpuffer
German potato pancakes are such a versatile item – delicious on their own as a snack/appetizer but also great as a side to roasts and brats.
In beer gardens they are traditionally served with apple sauce. In Bavaria sauerkraut is commonly added to them.
My favorite way to enjoy them is with lax and green onions. If you like sour cream – add a dollop.
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- 2 lbs starchy potatoes, such as Russet (see substitute suggestion in notes)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tbsp corn or potato starch (use if you do not intend to use the starch from the potatoes)
- cooking oil, as needed for pan frying
- Peel and coarsely grate the potatoes*. Place in a colander or large sieve over appropriately sized bowl and let drain for 10-15 minutes. Press a couple of times to help the process along.
- Once most of the liquid from the potatoes has collected at the bottom of the bowl, move the drained potatoes to the side and either discard the liquid and reserve the starch settled underneath it or discard everything.**
- Transfer the potatoes from the colander to the bowl. Beat the eggs with the salt, pepper, nutmeg and if using the 1 tbsp of corn or potato starch.
- Heat 1/4 cup of cooking oil in a frying pan over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add a large spoonful of potato mixture to the oil and flatten it out using the back of the spoon.
- Do not overcrowd the pan.
- Fry until each side is golden and crispy, about 4 minutes per side, depending on how large the pancakes are.
- Drain cooked potato pancakes over paper towels before serving. Serve while still hot with apple sauce or sour cream as a dip.
Substitute suggestion: Use 1 1/2 lb of frozen hash-browns instead. Bring to room temperature and start at Step 3 of the recipe. Add the 1 tbsp of starch.
*You can finely grate a couple of the potatoes if you plan on using their own starch instead of adding a tablespoon of starch as per the recipe.
** If you'd like to use the starch derived from the potatoes, carefully pour out the watery liquid from the bowl and save the starch settled at the bottom.