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.
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?”
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!
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