Potato lefse

By • April 6, 2011 • 13 Comments

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Author Notes: Here by popular demand!
It's hard for me even to know where to start about lefse. I could write a book about it, how delicious it is, and how much symbolism of family and friendship and culture it has for me. But, I'll try to keep it a little shorter than a book.
First thing to know is: lefse is a Norwegian potato flatbread. It's soft and supple like a tortilla or crepe. And similar to both of those, you can wrap it around most anything, though the best (and most widely used) fillings are either a hotdog with ketchup, mustard, and crispy onions or else butter and cinnamon-sugar. What's funny is, almost nobody in Norway makes their own lefse anymore. Everyone buys it prepackaged in the grocery store (the kind you use for hotdogs is called lompe). But, not surprisingly, the packaged kind doesn't hold a candle to the freshly homemade kind. Fresh lefse is ethereal, soft, buttery, delicious. My family had to be taught to make lefse by our neighbors in Minnesota. As my aunt and uncle in Norway now say, "A Norwegian has to go to Minnesota to learn to be Norwegian."
Lefse is best made with lots of friends and a beer in one hand. That is, have a lefse making party! We make lefse with our neighbors (my neighborhood from growing up is like a big family) every year before Christmas. But we love it so much we usually look for other excuses to make it as well. Whenever one of us grown up kids comes home, or when it's Norway's Constitution Day (May 17) or for wedding showers, we break out the lefse.
So, here it is so you can try it too. This is a slight adaptation of the recipe originally shared with us by our dear family friend Beatrice Ojakangas (who has some fabulous cookbooks to her name).
fiveandspice

Serves 10-15 i'd estimate

  • 10 pounds Russet potatoes - they MUST be Russets or it won't work. Trust me on this.
  • 1 pound butter
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • plenty of all-purpose flour
  • butter and cinnamon-sugar or hotdogs and ketchup for serving
  1. You also need special utensils (sorry!), but they are really awesome special utensils: a lefse grill; rolling pin and pastry “sock” for the rolling pin; a cloth covered pastry board; a lefse stick; and a potato ricer. And a bunch of ziplock freezer bags to store your finished product because lefse in the fridge is only good for a couple of days, but if you freeze it early, then you can thaw and warm it as needed it and it’s nearly as delicious as fresh.
  2. Peel the potatoes, cut them into even chunks and boil them in a large pot of water until just tender when poked with a fork. You don’t want them to be mushy. Drain the potatoes, then press them through the ricer into a large bowl. Mash in the butter, cream, sugar, salt, and baking powder, making sure you get rid of any lumps. At this point you have the world’s most delicious mashed potatoes, you may wish to steal a little bite. Leave the potatoes uncovered to cool somewhere – in the fridge or a cold entry way – at least 7 hours, preferably overnight.
  3. The next day, when you are ready to griddle, prepare a place to stack the lefse rounds as they finish cooking. We put a large plastic bag, covered with a clean towel on the counter and stack the rounds on top of each other on top of this, and cover them with another towel and plastic bag. It seems unwieldy but it really works to keep them from drying out and losing their nice texture. Preheat your griddle – ungreased – to 450-500F.
  4. Put 1/4 of the cold potato mixture in a bowl and use your hands to mix in 1 1/2 cups of flour. Keep the rest of the dough in the fridge as you work with this portion. Roll the floured dough into golfball sized balls and place these in a separate bowl. Flour the pastry board and the rolling pin (with the sock on it) are well floured. You need to use a lot of flour to keep the lefse from sticking to things. Sticky spots are your enemy! They can cause disasters, and if you get one, scrape it up immediately and rub a whole bunch of flour into it. Place a dough ball onto the pastry board and gently roll it out until it is paper thin. We generally have the goal of rolling out large circles, but they often wind up looking like various countries and continents. Carefully lift the rolled lefse by skooching your lefse stick all the way under it, right down the equator line of the lefse, so the tip of the stick pokes out on the other side. Lift and transfer to the griddle by laying one of the hanging sides of the lefse flat on the grill (the other side will be folded over it as if it were a quesadilla), then rolling the stick and unfurling the other half (the folded over half) so the entire thing is lying flat on the grill. When the lefse has bubbled up a bunch, lift an edge and peak to see if it has brown spots. When it does, gently use the stick to flip the lefse (in basically the same way as you transferred it to the grill) and cook the other side just until it has brown spots. Each side only takes 1-2 minutes. If they start to get crispy either you have cooked the lefse for too long or your griddle is on a bit too high. When the lefse is done, transfer it to your prepared space (with the towels and plastic bags). (You can check out the pictures for illustration of these steps, though I'm afraid the photos went up in reverse order, and I don't know how to change them!)
  5. Keep cooking the lefse until you have used all your dough. As you run out of prepared dough balls, take another quarter of the cold potato mixture, mix in another 1 1/2 cups of flour and roll more balls. You may need to set up a second towel-plastic bag receiving area as your stack gets tall. You should also be eating plenty of lefse fresh, as you cook it, smeared with butter and sugar, or wrapped around other tasty treats.
  6. When you’re all done, you can keep the stack of any lefse that’s left uneaten pile overnight to cool. Then, fold the lefse rounds into quarters (they look like fans), put 6 lefses into each ziplock bag. Refrigerate any lefse that will be eaten in the next couple of days and freeze the rest.
Jump to Comments (13)

Tags: family, flatbread, Holidays, Norwegian, Russet potatoes, Scandinavian

Comments (13) Questions (0)

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over 2 years ago KarenOCook

So excited to find this recipe.I made lefse for the first time at my Circle City Sons of Norway meeting in November and loved it. But they used a mix and I wanted to try to make it the old fashioned way sometime. Your recipe will be the one I try when I get my equipment soon. Am 1/4 Norwegian and rediscovering the culture and recipes of my grandmother. Thanks for sharing.

Sausage2

over 2 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

That's awesome! Fresh, homemade lese is seriously the best! And what fun that you'll be getting your own equipment. I'm thrilled you'll be trying this recipe, and when you do, definitely feel free to send me a message if you have any questions at all.

Claire

over 3 years ago midnitechef

You know Beatrice Ojakangas ?!? How cool is that! I look to her recipes for Finnish food(my great grandparents immigrated from Finland to Canada).

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

I do always feel like it's pretty cool when I think about it! I feel super lucky having gotten to grow up having her as a cooking influence, and teacher. She always cooked the Lenten suppers for our church and hosted a fabulous New Year's Eve party that we got to go to, and helping out with food preparations for those really inspired my love of food and community.

Chris_in_oslo

over 3 years ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

Very cool! I hadn't noticed this earlier. I have her book Scandinavian Feasts and like it very much. Do you (plural, midnitechef, fiveandspice, or anyone else) have any favorites?

Sausage2

about 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Oh gosh, it would be hard to pick favorites. But, I can tell you that the Norwegian summer picnic menu, that she says is from a baptism, that's my family, and it was the menu from one of my little brothers' baptism! So, I have a special affinity for that one. :) I like her brunch menus too.

Claire

about 3 years ago midnitechef

Cloudberry cake, I'd have to say. I saw her on Martha Stewart many years ago and that's what introduced me to her books. I might be biased if I say her Finnish Cookbook is my favorite ;-)

Summer_2010_1048

over 3 years ago Midge

Thanks for posting this! What a lovely tradition. Sounds like a project but I'd love to try it sometime.

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Thank you! We love it. It is quite a project, but that's why you do it with a group of friends...and beer. :)

Mrs._larkin_370

over 3 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

fiveandspice, I would buy your lefse book! Thanks for posting this great recipe and wonderful pictures!! I love it.

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Thanks mrslarkin! It's such a fun thing to make, and to share! Maybe I will write that book someday...:)

Chris_in_oslo

over 3 years ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

Yes! Thanks for the this recipe,

There is a lot to that line, "A Norwegian has to go to Minnesota to learn how to be Norwegian." My own family background is Swedish and we did not immigrate to the Midwest but to New England (a little later migration and to cities rather than farms). Even so, I've come to realize that a lot of traditional Scandinavian recipes come from our grandparents. And we in the US have just as many grandparents--maybe more--as people whose families stayed in Norway and Sweden. Plus we have the advantage setting that time period in a little bit of stone--I think we are as good or better at marking family traditions.

So--you write that book about lefse. I can't wait to see it.

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

I totally agree. There's something to the way immigration has created almost a time capsule of preserved traditions that's really lovely, and worth learning from. There was a reality TV show in Norway about a year ago called "Alt for Norge" ("Everything for Norway") where they had Norwegian-Americans competing with Norwegians to do all these "traditional tasks," and of course the Norwegian-Americans did way better! As you say, those of us who have learned traditional foods and other practices need to be the torch bearers to make sure they don't get lost. I'd love to hear some of the things you learned from your grandparents!