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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
pounds Russet potatoes - they MUST be Russets or it won't work. Trust me on this.
cups heavy cream
tablespoons fine sea salt
teaspoon baking powder
plenty of all-purpose flour
butter and cinnamon-sugar or hotdogs and ketchup for serving
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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.