Lefse is the Norwegian version of the tortilla. Made with potatoes, it is most commonly spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar to be eaten as a snack or dessert. In America, lefse making is a Christmas holiday custom for many families. Norwegians also use lefse to wrap around hotdogs, especially on their Independence Day, Syttende Mai (May 17).
Fallbrook resident and Daughters of Norway Grand Lodge president Janna Wold Armbruster presented “The Art of Making Norwegian Lefse” for Hulda Garborg Lodge’s March program.
- 6 cups riced russet or old potatoes
- 1 tablespoon Crisco
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons half-and-half cream or carnation milk
- 2 cups flour or thereabouts depending on humidity
While the ingredients are simple, there are many steps to the recipe that need to be done “just so” over two days. Russet or old potatoes are peeled, washed and cut into equal size pieces for cooking until just done.
“Do not overcook as the potatoes hold too much water and will make your dough sticky,” she said. If undercooked, though, they won’t go through the ricer.
While the cooked potato pieces are still warm, they are spooned into a ricer (see photo) and “riced”, six cups at a time. All the ingredients except flour are mixed in with the riced potatoes and put into a large bowl which should be covered with a tea towel or plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.
Armbruster provided samples of the various stages of lefse—from the best size to cut the potatoes to having dough already made and ready to roll (as well as having the finished product for tasting). The flour is mixed into the potato dough the next day, one cup of each at a time.Add just a little bit more of the flour “until the dough starts to bounce back” she said.
The dough is then rolled by hand into a log shape, cut into equal parts and roll them into balls. With the lefse grill heating up, Armbruster explained that it is important to use the right kind of rolling pin, (one covered with a ‘sock’), and a lefse rolling board with pastry cloth covering.
She rubs flour into both the sock on the rolling pin and into the pastry cloth on the board to keep the dough from sticking. Each ball of dough is formed into a small pancake. “As round as you can get it,” she said. After placing the pancake in the middle of the rolling board, she showed how to roll it out as thin as possible, “somewhat transparent”.
A special tool is used to place the thin lefse on the griddle, and to turn it over. She advised that the best lefse turning sticks are made of hard wood, like maple. As each lefse is done cooking, it is placed in between folded tea towels to keep warm.
After rolling each lefse, Armbruster recommended re-seasoning the rolling board with a little flour and after baking each lefse, wipe the griddle off with a wet wash cloth to remove excess flour or any sticky parts. The lefse stick should also be wiped constantly with a dry cloth. “Sometimes you need to lightly sand off the end of your lefse stick with sandpaper to keep it smooth,” she added.
According to Armbruster, “The less flour you use the more moist and wonderful your lefse will be, especially after freezing.”
The weather and humidity will determine how much flour is needed. “Do not make lefse on a rainy day as the humidity makes for a terribly sticky dough,” she said.
After they’ve cooled off, lefse should be wrapped well to store in the refrigerator or sealed in zip lock bags to freeze. Out of the refrigerator, or when thawed, warm slightly in the microwave before serving them.
Editor’s note: Lefse making materials can be found at the Little Viking Gift Shoppe in Old Town Temecula and at www.bethanyhousewares.com.