Christmastime this year was a flurry of trials, joys and good eats. Despite lengthy travel and a crashed car, I still had plenty of time to discover new chocolate, bird watch into the lives of juncos and red-bellied woodpeckers, re-live season one of Star Trek TNG, and engage in my favorite holiday tradition: making lefse with my mom. Make it so!
Lefse (sort of) typifies my Scandinavian heritage – a flatbread made from potatoes, cream (or milk) and flour, it is a soft shell that, unadorned, is rather bland. Interestingly, as Molly Watson of The Dinner Files points out, “lefse” in Norway is even plainer than plain: it consists only of flour, milk, butter and sugar. No potatoes! That type of lefse would be potetlefse, or potato lefse, of course. Apparently plain lefse was too bland even for my middle western progenitors, and they decided to play it safe by making potatoes an obligatory addition. Ever curious, Norwegian-Americans have also come up with plenty of ways to dress lefse up post-cooking. Butter is lefse’s ombudsman, building trust among those new to its joys, while continuing to rope in previously dedicated worshipers. Unlike many, I eschew the frivolities of butter, skipping straight to a cinnamon sugar mixture that works well with lefse’s creamy potato flavoring.
Other options include a slathering of lingonberry jam, or a healthy dollop of lutefisk. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of consuming lutefisk this year; as such, I stuck to the ever-faithful cinnamon sugar.
Although an enthusiast, I’ve yet to become a true lefse protege. My yearly task has always been to cook the lefse, while my mom rolls out the dough and deals with the increasingly sticky work surface. This is, in my opinion, the most difficult aspect; the dough must be rolled out and quickly moved to a griddle, or else it will stick. Oftentimes, it will stick regardless, as moisture builds in the center while the dough is rolled outwards.
Once on the griddle, opinions differ on how thoroughly the dough should be cooked. The school of thought that I follow is to minimize brown spots. Lefse is cooked at a high temperature – I set my griddles between 350 and 500 – and it takes a minimal amount of cooking time. Once flipped, the second side requires only several seconds before it is adequately cooked. The more cooked the lefse, the greater the number and size of brown spots, and the crispier the edges. I also find that more cooking time and higher temperatures result in blander lefse, hence my desire to minimize overcooking.
Overall, making lefse is simple. However, it is time-consuming, and a process most efficiently completed with two people working in tandem. After boiling and ricing the potatoes, butter is mixed in and the mixture is allowed to cool. Next, the cream and flour are added, along with some salt and sugar. When the dough is thoroughly mixed and has been kneaded a few times, a ball of lefse dough can be formed, rolled out, and cooked to perfection. Mmm!
Lefse recipes abound on the internet. Try Lefse Time for recipes as well as more detailed cooking instructions. No matter what you do, don’t let that lefse sit around for long. It has a very short shelf life, sure, but why let it gather dust when you could be mowing it down nonstop? At any rate, those are my sentiments.