Monday, November 7, 2011

Norweigan Lefse

This post was recently featured on NPR's Chompsgiving and Chew Year's: Holiday Dishes segment.

As a born and raised Iowan, I didn't think a move to North Dakota would warrant much culture shock. I figured the winters were a little colder and the trees were more sparse, but the Midwest is the Midwest. Boy was I wrong. It wasn't long ago that the terms uff da, lutefisk and lefse sounded more like a sneeze than words with such history. I will never forget the day my North Dakotan-with-Norweigan-roots boyfriend, now husband, let out his first "uff da" in my presence.

My in-laws not only drop "uff bombs" left and right, but take part in a few Norweigan traditions, particularly around the holidays. Each year, my mother-in-law gets together with fellow family members to prepare, from scratch, over 100 "sheets" of lefse. For those that are unfamiliar, lefse is a traditional soft, Norweigan flatbread made primarily from potatoes, butter, cream and flour. Having helped with the process two years in a row now, I decided to share the process in hopes that lefse will someday attract a little more "yum" and a little less "bless you."

9 cups of potatoes (half red, half russet)
1 1/4 cup salted butter
1/2 cup cream
4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

Lefse grill
Lefse sticks
Rolling pin and sock
Pastry cloth-covered board
Wax paper
Large towels

Directions (Day One)
Peel, chop and boil potatoes. Once soft, drain water and set aside.

Cube the butter and place in bottom of a large heat-proof bowl.

Pour cooked potatoes over the butter and beat with a hand mixer, just as you would for mashed potatoes. Mix in cream, salt, sugar and baking powder.

Let cool then refrigerate overnight. To avoid extra moisture in the potato mixture, place a paper towel over the potatoes to absorb any condensation.

Directions (Day Two)
Roll up your sleeves, take off your jewelry and prepare for a floury mess. Add the flour, one cup at a time, to the chilled potato mixture and mix thoroughly to create your lefse dough. Don't even bother getting a spoon dirty because you'll end up using your hands in the end.

Once completely incorporated, form walnut-sized balls of dough and refrigerate while you set up your workspace.

Preheat your grill to 500F. Do not grease the grill as it must be dry. On the counter or a nearby table, fold a towel in half and place a few sheets of wax paper inside the fold. You will stack the cooked lefse on the wax paper and cover with the towel as you go. 

Rub your pastry cloth with a generous amount of flour. Do the same with your sock-covered rolling pin. You will need to re-apply flour as needed throughout the rolling process.

Now you are ready to roll, literally. Dust a ball with flour and flatten it out. Place the flattened ball on the  cloth-covered board and with your floured, sock-covered rolling pin, roll the dough into a thin, large circle.

Do not be shy with your flour. If your dough starts to stick, you're being shy. Using a lefse stick, transfer the large round to the hot grill.

If your grill is hot enough, the lefse will begin to bubble immediately. Lightly spank those bubbles with your lefse stick. Yes, I just said spank. There's no better way to describe it.

Slide your stick under the round, lift and roll to complete your flip.

Each side only cooks for a few seconds. You are looking for light brown spots. If the  round's edges are brown or curling, you are cooking it too long. Stack the cooked lefse in alternating directions in between wax paper, covered with a towel.

Once you have about 20 sheets of lefse, wrap completely with a towel and set aside to keep from getting dry. Set up a new stacking station just as you did with the original.

Once all of your dough has been rolled and everything is covered in flour, yourself included, it's time to clean up and have a glass of wine. Actually, you should really have a full glass of wine as well as your favorite holiday Pandora station playing throughout the entire lefse-making process.

Once lefse is completely cooled, it's time to package it for future consumption. You will likely have a sheet or two right now, but should package the rest to share with family and friends throughout the long holiday season.

Unfold each sheet lefse and fold in the opposite direction. This will avoid the sheet from sticking to itself. Fold in half again and stack by the dozen. Put each stack in a baggie, then in a ziploc bag. As the lefse is very thin, it can easily become dry if not stored properly.
While you can eat it however you'd like, I prefer a light spread of margarine and a sprinkle of white sugar, all rolled up into a little piece of heaven.

Lefse keeps for about a week on the counter or up to two years in the freezer. Enjoy!

Oh, and if you still think lutefisk still sounds like a sneeze, good. Google it and you'll understand why.


  1. Wow Erin! I love this step by step tutorial. I grew up eating lefse my gram and aunt made, but I have never learned the art. It's definitely on my list of things to make and now I think I might be able to pull it off

  2. Nice mother used to "rice" the cooked potatoes...basically pushing them thru a piece of metal with holes in it. Have you ever heard of that? Your way looks easier, but still a lot of work! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I know it is a long time ago now for comments but, my family's ancestry is mainly swedish and my mom has made lefsa for years, however, recently one of our swedish in laws in america told us that they had been making lefsa with potato flakes... it is a lot faster and easier to make and surprisingly tastes like 'real' lefsa. I think the cooking part makes it taste the same whether it is boiled potatoes or flaked rehydrated potatoes.