by Cat, Sept 2007 and updated many times (photo, right, from Wikipedia (9))
Lefse is a Norwegian flatbread made with potatoes, and cooked on a hot, dry griddle. It resembles a flour tortilla, but is thinner, lighter and more moist. It is a must with Lutefisk at Christmastime. Some lefse is sweet, but most is slightly salty. To eat, you butter it with soft butter and roll it up. You can sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or spread it with jam, but I prefer it just with butter.
The best commercial lefse is Lena’s (1). Mrs. Olson’s (2) is too floury for my taste. But the best lefse, by far, is fresh and homemade.
- Includes: 1. Introduction with tips and other basic info; 2. My Recipe; 3. Serving Suggestions
- See also: 1. Lutefisk; 2. Cat’s Christmas Menu and Preparation Schedule; 3. Lefse: reference recipes
My Dad taught my Mom how to make lefse; and then my Mom taught me, but she used instant mashed potatoes. I prefer my Dad’s original recipe, with real potatoes, but I often had trouble with the moisture level. I started a research of other recipes.
Adelaide Fystrom was one of my Sunday School teachers, and was also a grade school teacher. When I was in college, she self-published a small book titled “Put on the Coffee, Ma!” (3) in which she included many of her family’s recipes, including one for Norwegian lefse. I include it on Lefse: reference recipes. But she doesn’t offer any tips so I kept looking.
I decided to seek help from a member of the local Son’s of Norway, Donna H., who gives classes on making lefse. I provide her recipe on Lefse: reference recipes; the most important thing I discovered from her lesson was that a smooth rolling pin does not encourage the flow of air when the lefse is cooking; a much better result was obtained when I used a grooved rolling pin made for lefse and other flatbreads (photo, left, from Fjorn.com (6)
While changing to a grooved rolling pin helped, I was still having trouble with moisture (too much moisture and they have a cracker-like texture (if they don’t fall off the lefse stick when transferring them to the griddle). I found a great online tutorial at Lefse Time. com (4; also included on my post Lefse: reference recipes), and similar tips on ScandiStyle.com (5) These really helped me improve the end product with the following recommendations to help control the moisture problem and produce a soft, tender lefse.
Tips for the best lefse
- Don’t peel the potatoes before cooking. Leaving the peel on until after cooking keeps the potato from taking up too much water;
- Rice the potatoes while still warm enough to melt the butter;
- Then chill a bit before adding the cream & salt (and optional sugar which I don’t use);
- Chill overnight in refrigerator. Then break them up into crumbles before mixing in flour;
- Use a grooved rolling pin;
- Brush loose flour off the each lefse and griddle (from previous lefse) before cooking.
About the ingredients & equipment
You want to use a drier, starchy variety of potato, rather than a waxy potato. Russets and other bakers are best; yukon golds have a bit of wax, but can be used in a pinch. Do not use red boiling potatoes, new potatoes or fingerlings, as they are all waxy. See OChef (7) or Chef’s Thesaurus (8) for more on different types of potatoes.
Steaming the potatoes helps to keep them from taking up the cooking water, but I find they are more uniformly cooked if boiled, but be careful not to overcook them to the point they start to fall apart. Don’t cut or peel them until after cooking, to avoid taking up moisture from the cooking water. Set them in a warm spot to cool just a bit, not too long, which encourages them to give up extra moisture. Put them through a ricer while they are still warm enough to melt butter.
Every batch of potatoes cooks up differently, and therefore the amount of flour varies. It’s best to err on the side of too little flour, to avoid a tough lefse. My mom always said, “If a lefse falls apart between rolling and the griddle, it doesn’t have enough flour.” If mixed dough sits too long, the flour will form a paste, and the cooked lefse will be tough. Thus is is best to mix up only a small portion at a time (enough for 10-12 lefse).
Cream and Butter
Some recipes call for rich milk, others for cream; either will work, but if you use the rich milk, you will need more butter.
When you mix up the potatoes, use more salt than you would use for regular mashed potatoes. Generally I recommend Unrefined sea salt, but it doesn’t dissolve well in the rich riced potatoes, so I use non-iodized table salt for this recipe.
I do not recommend whole grain flour, but if you want to try it, use hard wheat flour. I use unbleached all-purpose white flour.
Each batch of riced potatoes has different moisture levels, requiring differing amounts of flour. Start with the lesser amount of flour in the recipe, then add more as needed. Go by feel of the dough when shaping and rolling. And note that if the lefse tears or falls apart when transferring it to the griddle, it needs more flour.
I recommend the following rolling pin and accessories (as in photos, above left, from Fjorn (6) and above right from Amazon (10)):
- A grooved lefse rolling pin, rather than a smooth rolling pin that you would use for pie crust. See photo above.
- Cotton rolling pin sock, which keeps the dough from building up in the grooves of the pin.
- Cotton pastry cloth is helpful for rolling the lefse, especially for getting a nice thin lefse.
- Lefse stick, for transferring lefse from rolling to griddle; for turning lefse on the griddle; and for transferring from griddle to cool
- A lefse cozy is handy for covering the lefse while they cool, to help them retain moisture; however two cotton dish towels also work well. In my instructions, I refer to either setup as a ‘cozy.’
I use the griddle on my 1949 vintage O’Keefe and Merritt gas range (right, photo by Cat), but a large round electric griddle made especially for lefse also works (see photo at top of page); it’s easier to control the temperature on the electric griddle.
Lefse Stick (Spatula)
The best kind is made from strong wood (see photo, above, from Amazon (10)), but I use my Dad’s which has a wood handle and a long, thin stainless steel blade.
My Recipe for Lefse
This is based on my Dad’s recipe, with my learnings from LefseTime.com (4) and Donna H (from Son’s of Norway). My lefse are oblong rather than the more traditional round, because my griddle is rectangular. My lefse are also smaller than traditional. The lefse count for the recipe below is based on my smaller, oblong lefse.
- For 24 lefse (plus 1 – 2 test lefse)
- 2 – 2 ½ lb russet potato to make 4 cups of quartered, boiled, peeled, and riced russet (baking) potatoes (peel after cooking)
- 6 Tbsp soft but not melted butter
- 4 Tbsp real cream (or rich milk)
- 2 ½ tsp salt table salt
- ½ – 1 cup unbleached wheat flour, plus more for rolling.
- For 12 lefse (plus a test lefse)
- 1 – 1 ¼ lb russet potato to make 2 cups of quartered, boiled, peeled, and riced potatoes (peel after cooking); set aside excess riced potatoes for another use
- 3 Tbsp soft but not melted butter
- 2 Tbsp real cream (or rich milk)
- ¾ – 1 ¼ tsp table salt
- ¼ – ½ cup unbleached wheat flour, plus more for rolling
Summary of Method: (see detailed method, below):
- Cook (15 minutes in simmering, salted water), drain, peel, then rice potatoes into warmed bowl; add butter and let cool a bit. Add salt and cream, then cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Next day, heat griddle to 450°F.
- Taste and add more salt to dough if needed. Divide 24-lefse batch in halves. Working with one half at a time (keep the other half in the refrigerator), use a fork to break it up into crumbles, then work in flour.
- Roll out small test lefse and brush off excess flour. Transfer to hot griddle with lefse stick, turning after dark spots appear on under-side. When done, remove from griddle, spread it with butter, roll up and taste; adjust dough with more salt and/or flour as needed. Brush loose flour off griddle.
- Roll dough into a log about 24″ long, and divide into 12 two-inch sections, one for each lefse.
- Roll and cook each lefse, placing it in the cozy when done, and brushing loose flour off griddle before adding the next lefse. After all 12 are cooked, cool them and prepare for storage.
- Repeat for next batch of 12.
- Prepare potatoes: Scrub but don’t peel potatoes. Place in saucepan with cold water to cover. Add ½ tsp salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer about 15 minutes, until potatoes are done. Drain, then let them cool just enough to be able to peel them. Meanwhile, warm up a bowl. While potatoes are still warm, press through a ricer into warmed bowl.
- Measure 4 cups (for 24 lefse) or 2 cups (for 12 lefse), and set aside any remaining riced potatoes for another use.
- Immediately add butter and mix it into the riced potato, using potato masher or a fork. Let cool. Then mix in cream and salt. They should be more salty than regular mashed potatoes. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight.
- Next day, taste for saltiness and adjust as needed. Using a fork, break up the potatoes into crumbles. This is important as it makes it easier to blend in the flour.
- Prepare to roll: When ready to roll the lefse, heat griddle to 450°F. Dampen lefse cozy or cotton dish towels and lay them out a short distance from the griddle.
- Meanwhile, add the lesser amount of flour and mix it in, kneading as for bread to work the gluten. If it feels too moist, add more flour 1 Tbsp at a time for the larger recipe, or ½ Tbsp at a time for the smaller recipe, until it feels right. The dough should be slightly cool to the touch but not wet. According to ScandiStyle (5), “Dough is ready when it remains slightly sticky but rather smooth and elastic.”
Roll: Measure out a small amount for a test lefse and work it into a ball. Set ball on the floured cloth and flatten with your hand to about ½” thick. Turn it over so the top will be lightly floured (photo, left, by Cat), and then roll into a larger circle/oval, about ⅛” thick. Slide stick under the lefse at one end and work it across to the other end to make sure the lefse has not stuck to the cloth. If it has, carefully loosen and lift with the stick so you can sprinkle more flour under it, then drop the lefse back into place using a folding motion of the stick. Note that if the lefse sticks, that means it needs more flour in the dough.
- Roll to quite thin, so that you can see through it. It should be about 12″ or so in diameter. Turn it over, again using the stick to loosen and lift. Brush off excess loose flour with a flat pastry brush (looks like a paint brush, about 1 – 1 1/2 inches wide). This is important because you don’t want the flour to scorch while the lefse cooks.
- Cook: Again using lefse stick, carefully loosen from cloth and pick it up with the stick. If it tears, or sticks, it is too moist and you will need to add more flour to the main batch. Transfer the lefse to the stove, laying it out onto the hot griddle, using an unfolding motion (This is tricky until you get the hang of it). As it cooks, it should form air bubbles, some as big as 1″ in diameter. Don’t burst them. Note that if it doesn’t form air bubbles, something is wrong – this is how I discovered I needed to use a grooved rolling pin. Or it could be the lefse was not thin enough, or the griddle is not not enough.
After about 30 seconds, check to see if there are light brown spots on the underside. If so, it is ready to turn. If not, cook a bit more; but if it takes too long to cook, the griddle is not hot enough. Don’t let the brown spots get too dark (scorched). (Photo, right, by Cat)
- Slide stick under and lift to turn it over, using the same unfolding motion. Cook on the other side, using the same test for light brown spots. It will take less time on the second side. When done, you would normally transfer it to the cozy: lay it on the bottom cloth and cover with top cloth. But as a test lefse, transfer it to a plate where you can butter it and roll it up to test it for saltiness, flouriness and texture.
- Adjust dough if needed: If you determined more salt/flour is needed, work it into the dough, then roll it to a 2″ diameter log, and cut it into 12 sections. Work each section a bit right before rolling.
Roll and cook: Dust off any loose flour on the griddle before cooking each lefse. Then roll, transfer to griddle and cook each lefse as described above. While one is cooking, work and roll out the next lefse, but don’t forget to cheek on the one that is cooking and turn it over. When the cooking lefse is done, lay it on the bottom of the cozy, then cover with top of cozy (photo, left, by Cat). Repeat until all 12 lefse are cooked. Add more moisture to the cozy for the next batch, if needed.
- Cool lefse: I usually skip this step (because my Dad never did this), but Donna H. swears by it. However, if I’ve had moisture problems with the dough I will do this step, as it will keep them from sticking together in storage. After you have cooked 12 lefse, lay out a clean white sheet on the dining table, and place each of the 12 lefse on the sheet without overlapping them. Cover with more sheet and let them cool while you make the next batch of 12.
- Prepare for storage: For each set of 12 lefse, lay out a sheet of aluminum foil about 6″ longer than the longest lefse, and cover that with a similar sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Transfer the 12 lefse to the parchment, so that the extra length of foil/parchment is at the top. Roll up the whole thing from bottom to top, then pinch or fold the ends of the foil closed. Transfer to refrigerator if will not be served right away. Remove from refrigerator and allow to warm to room temperature before serving.
- Alternately – especially if you plan to freeze them, or if they are too wide for a sheet of foil: Fold each lefse in half, then half again; stack each folded lefse with a small sheet of parchment or tissue paper in between, and slide the stack into a zip-lock bag. Seal the bag and freeze for later (or refrigerate).
- Note that the lefse will only keep a few days in the refrigerator, but that isn’t usually an issue because they are so good, they get eaten up right away! They will keep well in the freezer if you fold and stack them in a sealed zip-lock bag.
- Spread with softened butter and roll up (this is the way I eat it).
- Spread with softened butter or cream cheese, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and roll up.
- Spread with softened butter and jam, and roll up.
- Make a ‘wrap’ sandwich with leftover turkey, some cream cheese and cranberry sauce/relish.
- Put on the Coffee Ma! by Adelaide Fystrom
- Lefse rolling pin at Fjorn: fjorn.com/spropiwico.html
- OChef: ochef.com/167.htm
- Chef”s Thesaurus: foodsubs.com/Potatoes.html
- Lefse on lefse griddle: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lefse_on_a_griddle.jpg
- Lefse stick: amazon.com/Bethany-Housewares-Lefse-Stick/dp/B00024WN4K