As I start this blog post, I know that some of you are thinking, “What the *BEEP* is lefse? Lefse is a Norwegian treat, that I learned to make from my grandmother(who learned to make it from her mother), and that I’ve been working on getting right for a while now. The making of lefse was a common family activity when I was growing up, especially when the family got together. In fact, the making of lefse is something that *always* makes me think of my childhood. I grew up spending most of my childhood with my grandparents, and every Christmas, almost the entire family (6 of their 7 kids, and a LOT of grandkids) in a house built in the ’60s, that wasn’t more than 1000 square feet on a total of 3 levels. I know that I was extremely lucky to have such a great family experience growing up. We still try to stay in contact, even though we’ve spread out across the country.
I made this batch of lefse on Christmas eve, for a couple of reasons. First, since I don’t have any family here, I knew that would make me feel more connected with them, even though there aren’t any of them near me. We always celebrated the holiday on Christmas Eve, doing a huge family meal and opening presents that evening. Second, I knew that I was going to be spending Christmas day with a friend’s family, where the dad is also from North Dakota, AKA Norway 2.0. 😉 He could enjoy it as a trip to the past, as well as giving his kids the opportunity to try something he had when he was their ages.
When making lefse, it would usually be my grandmother, aunt and mom doing a lot of the work. Making lefse is no easy task. First, you peel, cut up and boil a five lb bag of russet potatoes. How long do you boil the potatoes you ask? In the first of *many* great answers on making lefse from my grandmother, “until the potatoes are basically falling apart.” Okay, fair enough. Here is a picture of my 5 lbs of potatoes waiting to boil in some salted water:
Next, you drain the potatoes and mash them up very well, with a stick of butter. My grandmother had a “ricer” growing up…it was a device that would mash the potatoes extremely well, by pushing them out through holes, about the width of a grain of rice. Me, I only have a potato masher…but with enough elbow grease, I was able to successfully get the potatoes mashed with the butter. Here are the five lbs of potatoes mashed up, and ready to rest until the next day :
I then let the potatoes sit in the fridge, loosely covered with a cloth overnight. As far as I can tell, there are two reasons to let the potatoes rest overnight in the fridge. First, the potatoes are, as you might expect expect, quite hot after they’ve finished boiling. This allows them the chance to cool. Second, by letting them rest overnight, the large amount of liquid that the potatoes have absorbed while boiling can escape. This becomes important later.
The next day, once the potatoes have rested, you begin the next step. Here is where things start to get fun, and a *giant* mess is often made. 🙂 First, I work flour into the potatoes, creating a dough. How much flour you ask? Well, my grandmother has the *best* answer ever for this one. “You work the flour into the potatoes until it feels like you’ve put a little too much flour in there. When it feels like there’s too much, it’s just about right.” Is that a great answer or what?!? 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the finished dough with the flour incorporated. At this point my hands were absolutely covered in flour, and I didn’t want to get my phone covered in it, heh heh.
Once the dough is ready, and has been worked to the point where it’s ready to begin rolling out, you begin the part that I hadn’t mastered before now. I did a post on making Lefse in December of 2016, and I remember having a LOT of problems rolling the lefse out correctly. First, I couldn’t get it thin enough, and second, I had the hardest time getting it to come out round. For some advice on this, I reached out to both my aunt Cindy (my grandmother’s oldest of two daughters, my mom being her youngest child) as well as my grandmother, and they both echoed the same thing. The key to rolling the lefse out is to keep moving it on the board. If you just roll it out in the same spot, it’s going to stick, and you won’t be able to get it to the heat source without it falling apart. As far as getting it round, they just said that takes practice, and, as I learned, not being afraid to cut off pieces that aren’t fitting into the circle. Below you can see some lefse I rolled out…that’s actually (acceptably) round, AND thin. 🙂
Once the lefse has been rolled out correctly, it’s then lifted gently off the board, and cooked on a flat, hot, unoiled surface. To aid in getting the lefse from the board to the griddle that I cook it on, I use what’s called a bench scraper. You can see it in the upper-right hand of the above picture. This is a device that I picked up in culinary school, that’s used for, you guessed it, scraping your bench(the bench is what bakers call the surface that they’re working on). My grandmother had a flat, untextured cast iron pan that she cooked lefse on. However, as mentioned above, I just have a griddle. I turn the heat up as high as it will go, and place the lefse on it to cook. While it’s cooking, it needs to be occasionally flipped, as well as have the “bubbles” that form from the air inside popped. For this, I have another tool, that you can see below, an offset spatula. What I did for efficiency was to roll out a piece of lefse, then put it on the griddle. Then, while that piece is cooking, I roll out the next one, looking over my shoulder every few minutes to check on the lefse on the griddle. He’s a picture of a lovely piece, cooked with all the brown spots in the right places. 🙂
Up until I had my grand idea on lefse a few years ago, there were really only two ways to eat it. Well, three ways, but the third way doesn’t count…at all. 🙂 First, you can eat it the traditional way, warmed up with some butter and rolled up. Second, you can eat it the way most of the grandkids had it, warmed up with some butter PLUS cinnamon and sugar rolled up…absolutely delicious. 🙂 Third, if you’ve had your taste buds destroyed for some reason, you can have it rolled up with some lutefisk…ewwww. 😉
To finish off my lefse post, I feel the need to share my “modernization” of lefse. I had some other recipes I wanted to try during the off week after Christmas, so I wasn’t able to try it again with the improved lefse, but below are some pictures of it from when I had it last year. I first wanted to play up the “earthiness” of the potatoes. To do that, I melted some swiss cheese inside the lefse(Gruyere is a great choice, if you can find it). Then, as a filling, I sliced some crimini mushrooms very thinly, washed them, then cooked them in some butter, with a little bit of minced parsley, and finished it off with a reduction of the earthiest Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region of France that I could find. Burgundian Pinot Noir’s are known for having a very earthy flavor to them…and I remember it being *fantastic* last year. I ended up freezing my lefse from Christmas, but I’m chomping at the bit to thaw them out, and see if they’re even more delicious made correctly this time…which I’m thinking they will be.
Here are some pictures of the “modernized” lefse from last year. 🙂