Grandma’s Lefse Recipe: A Scandinavian Holiday Tradition

by Amber on December 20, 2011

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I’m a proud Scandinavian. Eating lefse, a potato-based flatbread, for the holidays is one of my favorite traditions. This week, I finally had time to sit down with my grandma and learn her recipe and technique.

Lefse served for the holiday on Grandma's Scandinavian dishes from Norway.

My grandfather on my mother’s side (or as they say in Norway, my “morfar”) was full-blooded Norwegian. I spent a year of high school as a Rotary Exchange Student in Denmark learning the language and culture. Of the many Scandinavian recipes I’ve learned (including aebleskiver), lefse is an all-time holiday “must.”

Lefse is a simple bread made from potatoes and flour. It looks a lot like a flour tortilla. In fact, the first time my grandma Betty saw a Mexican tortilla, she asked, “Where did you get the lefse?”

Lefse bubbling on the griddle

The bread itself is unsophisticated, and the way it’s served is equally rustic. Simply smear one side of the lefse bread with good quality butter (I use Kerrygold), sprinkle sugar over the top, roll and eat. My mom insists this be eaten with coffee. As a little girl, I ate mine with a tall glass of milk.

In Norway, I was served a thick version of lefse alongside a hearty winter stew. We spread it with butter, but not with sugar, as a savory side to sop up the soup’s juices.

When I recently spent the afternoon making lefse with my grandma, I gleaned some critical tips:

1)      Fold the flour into the potato mixture—don’t stir it. These aren’t mashed potatoes after all.

2)      When rolling the dough for each piece of lefse, be careful to make the outer edges as thin as the rest of the dough.

3)      If too much flour builds up on the hot lefse griddle, it takes longer for the lefse to cook. Be sure to keep the surface of the griddle clean.

Making lefse requires lots of special equipment, which I was surprised to find online through Target. I don’t own my own equipment, but that’s part of the fun. Every time I make it, I’ll have to do it with Grandma!

Butter and sugar spread on top of lefse makes the perfect treat!

Lefse Recipe
4-5 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
½ cup cream
3 Tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Farmers’ Market Ingredients: potatoes, cream, butter
Supermarket Ingredients: flour, salt

Boil potatoes in a large pot of water until tender. Drain.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric beater to mix the potatoes, butter, cream, and salt until well blended and creamy.

Using a large mixing spoon, fold the flour a third at a time into the potato mixture until it forms a firm, unsticky dough. The dough will be soft, but not sticky. You may need a little extra or a little less flour depending on the moisture in your potatoes.

Preheat lefse griddle to 375 degrees.

Break off a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll in the palm of your hand to form a ball. Place this on a generously floured board (preferably one covered with rolling cloth designed for making lefse), and gently pat the top with your hand to flatten slightly. Using a rolling pin designed for lefse, roll the dough until it’s quite thin, about ¼-inch thick, and almost translucent.

Gently slide a lefse stick under the rolled dough to loosen all the way around. Now, slide the stick under the middle of the dough and raise it off the floured board. Carry the dough on the stick to the heated lefse griddle (or a cast iron skillet) and place one side of the dough onto the surface of the griddle. Roll the stick to one side to lower the remaining dough onto the griddle.

Bake for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown spots begin to form. Flip over using the lefse stick and cook an additional 3 minutes, or until the lefse has formed golden air bubbles. Use the lefse stick to remove the finished piece of lefse from the griddle and place it on a towel to cool.

Repeat until all the dough has been used.

The lefse is wonderful eaten immediately, warm or at room temperature. Once cooled, store it in an air tight container in a cool place (Grandma set hers on the front porch or in the garage) for about a week.

Yield: 24 pieces

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

The Rowdy Chowgirl December 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm

What a wonderful experience to share with your grandmother. I have only tried lefse once, even though there are a lot of Norwegians here in Seattle. The terrible thing was, it was spread with margarine instead of butter! Your photos and descriptions make me want to try it again, and soon!

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Anneliesz December 20, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Very nice holiday tradition. It really does look like a flour tortilla. What a treat to get to make this with your grandmother this season.

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admin December 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Yes–it does look like a tortilla. I thought that was funny! But the taste is quite different, and they are soft and supple. But I think they might be an easy burrito wrap in a pinch. Just don’t tell the Norwegians. heehee!

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admin December 20, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Margarine? I’m sorry you had that experience. Definitely tastes amazing with real butter! Yet, my husband isn’t a fan of butter. I’m going to play with making other kinds of lefse for him–perhaps cheesy and savory.

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Kristin Friedersdorf December 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Amber, this post makes me so so happy! I love that you have this family tradition! Hooray for Scandinavian culture. Plus your photos are gorgeous! Hopefully I’ll have the chance to make some lefse one of these days. I hope you’re enjoying the holidays!
All the best, Kristin

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admin December 27, 2011 at 8:02 am

Hi Kristin! Thanks so much for the note. I thought you’d appreciate this post. :) Glad you liked it. Happy holidays to you, too!

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Rhonda Key March 20, 2012 at 7:23 pm

My Grandmother use to make Lefse during the holidays and and Sunday dinners. I have been looking for a recipe to make this myself for a very long time…..My grandmother took her recipe to her grave. Thank goodness for the internet!!!! I can’t wait to make my very first batch. Thanks for putting this information out there. Now I just have to collect all the proper equipment needed to do this right!!!!

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amanda June 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm

thank you for this recipe. Its the easiest i looked at. It uses a smaller amount. All the rest were huge amount of ingredients. I have enjoyed this since i was a child. I want to surprise my grandma. Shes from denmark. And my grandpa is from norway.

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admin June 18, 2012 at 11:27 am

Amanda, that’s so cool! A definite must if you’ve got Scandinavian heritage. So glad you found and enjoy this recipe. And believe me, this will still make a lot of lefse–not that it lasts very long in our house. ;)

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wendy van winkle November 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I so wish I would have gotten to make Lefse with my Grandma before she ended up in the nursing home..You are so LUCKY.. W

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Anne T. November 18, 2012 at 4:49 pm

When I was in grade school was when I started making lefse with my great grandma, grandma, mom, sister and brother. It has been a family tradition and now we make it with help from our church. Grandma is still living, but no longer able to make lefse. Along with church friends, we are also teaching it to my nieces and nephew who are now the age I was when I first started. I love it!

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Joan December 9, 2012 at 10:10 am

How long can homemade lefsa keep in frig or freezer?

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Amber December 10, 2012 at 7:47 am

Joan, it should keep in your fridge for a week or more. You can freeze it for several months.

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Jeannine December 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

I have been making lefse with my children and grandchildren for many years, as a tradition for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. It is a great holiday activity and it’s fun getting together to do it. The tradition started with my grandparents, then parents and it will continue on. Just a note for serving lefse. Our favorite way is to use it as the bread with a turkey dinner. Love to put butter and turkey and cranberries (optional) and roll it up. It’s great!

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James December 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm

My Grandparents came from Norway. Mother & my Uncle made Lefse & now I do it.
Enjoy passing it out during the Holidays to the uninformed!
My special equipment is a Teflon coated 10 by 16 in aluminum Grill (Northland #205) that covers 2 burners, a Plastic Spatula, a regular Rolling Pin & a Checkered one..
Work it like a production line.
By the time it takes to roll one out, about 2 to 3 min, the 2 on the Grill are done on one side, one having both sides done & taken off the Grill & the other one flopped & moved over making room for the new one.
Using White Flour I have kept them in the Freezer over a year, then pop one in the microwave for 10 seconds & it’s like new again. (never want to eat the last one, ha)
Adding ½ whole wheat flower shortens the storage a lot, but makes them easier to roll out.

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William-Bernard Reid-Varley December 31, 2012 at 8:00 am

Thank you for this wonderful recipe! The tools for making Lefse can also be purchased online (or in person) from the Wooden Spoon– a delightful Scandivanian shop in Plano, TX owned by a wonderful half-Norwegian, half-German lady. http://www.woodenspoon.ws/newcp/

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Hilari January 2, 2013 at 6:51 am

I LOVE lefse. My grandmother makes milk lefse, which is 4 cups of 2% milk, a cup of lard, 1/4 cup sugar, 1-1/2 T salt, and 8(!) cups of flour. All the prep/cooking method is the same. I don’t have the rolling pin, griddle, or stick, so I just heated up the cast iron skillet and dry-fried it. My problem is that I’m not a milk drinker, so I have a box of powdered non-fat milk, which is what I used. I also read “teaspoon” instead of tablespoon and shorted the salt in the mix. My batch wasn’t as rich-tasting as Grandma’s, as a result. However, it’s still passable enough for me to stuff my face with it for the next month, especially with butter slathered over it! Next time I’ll cut the recipe in half!

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Mary Lee January 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I can’t believe it, this is the first time I’ve heard of anyone else that makes lefse. My husbands mother made it all the time and now that she is gone, I make it & have thought my daughters too. We love this stuff, but sad that we only take time to make it holidays.

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Larry February 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I was fortunate enough to have a mom who baked lefsa on special occasions and her recipe was somewhat different than some of the others I see here,but I definitely plan to try some other recipes as well.Her recipe was rolled and fried the same bur here is the ingredients.
8 cups potatoes[well cooked]6 cups flour,2 teaspoons salt,1 cup melted margarine.The potatoes can be riced,ground or mixed with an electric mixer.Incidently,the lefse griddle,rolling pin etc can be purchased at Bethany Housewares in Iowa.Good luck.

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Jordyn March 1, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I tried this for the first time a year or so back with my ex girlfriend. Her family is Norwegian and makes lefse for the holidays as well. However she wraps her dinner in it. When I tried it it was potatoes, beans, and turkey after Thanksgiving. She is still one of my best friends and I know how much she loves lefse so I wanted to surprise her with a lefse based birthday dinner. Unfortunately I don’t have ANY of the lefse making supplies. Are there things you can substitute for things like the griddle and lefse stick and rolling pin? If not where can I get them and what do I ask for?

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Jordyn March 1, 2013 at 1:35 pm

As well I live in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and don’t drive so somewhere close or online is greatly preferred if at all possible. Thanks! :-) – Jordyn

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Amber March 1, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Hi Jordyn, When I visited Norway in high school, lefse was eaten with savory food. We Americans clearly adapted it as a desert. I remember dipping it in moose stew. If you don’t have lefse making supplies this recipe will be tricky. You can likely use any flat pan instead of the griddle, and a wine bottle for a rolling pin. But you won’t be able to get it very thin and be able to transfer it to the pan without that nice, flat stick. I can’t think of any substitute for that. You can definitely purchase all these supplies online. Good luck!

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Queenie April 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I am so happy to have found your recipe and your memoirs. They are so touching. I spent my high school years in Minnesota, so I’m very familiar with lefse. I have been wanting to make this for my family and I’m definitely going to try your recipe. Just know that your recipe is going to be tried by a group of New Yorkers of Caribbean, Latin-American and Jewish descent. Hey, good food transcends all cultures!
Actually I find the recipe to be similar to making a thin flat bread they have in Trinidad called, “dhal poori.” There is a potato version called, “aloo poori.” Even the cooking supplies are similar. The bread is very thin and it’s used for savory stews. If your grandma had been to Trinidad (or New York City for that matter) she would have been asking people where they got the lefse, for sure!

Thank you so much for this recipe! So glad to bring a piece of Minnesota to New York.

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Stacy April 9, 2013 at 7:54 am

Thanks so much for the recipe Been looking for one from traditional Scandinavian family for a long time. Could you possibly post pictures of what you mean by special equipment. Where you able to get all these things from target and could you give me their specific names?

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Jill June 25, 2013 at 11:23 am

What a treat to find your lefse recipe. My father was Norwegian, my mother Slovenian, but she made all the Scandinavian recipes that my father’s side of the family loved. My mother used cotton, flour sack dish towels for the rolling surface and a large metal spatula (like those used to decorate cakes) to move and flip the lefse. I remember the kitchen having flour all over the place. I’m on my way out to Whole Foods to buy all the ingredients. My cousins in Calif. will be tickled pink when I show up in a couple days w/ lefse in hand. Thanks for sharing!

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Mary Knudtson August 10, 2013 at 10:29 am

I am of Swedish descent and I married into a Norwegian family. My father in law was raised in Roland, Iowa. The lefse recipe from his mother is unlike any other that I have ever seen. No potatoes! Flour, crisco, some sugar and a little salt. The Christmas tradition is to make bee-etkas…that isn’t the spelling just what it sounds like. You butter the lefse and fill them with mashed potatoes, boiled white fish and lots of butter and salt. Roll it all up and eat it like a burrito! You know you have it right if the butter is dripping down your arm!

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Elizabeth September 18, 2013 at 10:38 pm

This is wonderful! 35 years ago when I was first married, my mother in law use to make Lefsa but she called it “Tire Patches” as she would roll the dough out and let the children cut it any way they wanted. She would make a large batch and we would snack on it for days! I have been looking for this recipe for a long time now. I am very happy to have it again, thank you very much!

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Suzy Foran November 28, 2013 at 12:43 am

WOW…your post is great! I’m half Norwegian and one half likes it and the other doesn’t?? I’m trying your receipe.

Again, beautiful post, thank you,
Suzy

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katie December 1, 2013 at 8:15 am

When we had it at our house [Dad's favorite] he would do butter and sugar cinnamin and us kids would do peanutbutter and brown sugar .. Now I make it with my sister.. and still treat it as a dessert..
If you have any Scandinavian store around they would have the rolling pin and stick or check estate sales sometimes you can find then there. We rice our potatoes ..

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casey December 24, 2013 at 8:09 am

Does not need much special equipment, I use standard rolling pin and 12 in flat skillet on my gas stove. The stick is probably the only really needed piece, stir sticks and yard sticks don’t work as well. The ricer gives a consistent mash but could be skipped too.

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Eljeay Hall December 27, 2013 at 7:15 am

I’m 76 years old and have loved making lefse since I was a small child. My dad was 100% Norwegian and instilled many Norwegian values and traditions in me from early on. Today I’m teaching my 11-year-old grandchildren the basics of making lefse. Their ethnic makeup is heavy on Mediterranean background from their mom, considerably moreso than their Norwegian heritage from my son, but I hope they will enjoy learning more about how to carry on some important basics of their Scandinavian cultural traditions.

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