How to eat like a Midwesterner: Lefse
Tradition. It’s a big part of what lefse is all about. If you ask a Midwesterner about lefse, chances are they will tell you about making it with their parents or grandparents growing up. Those memories are a part of why we enjoy lefse so much.
When people unfamiliar with Norwegian and Midwestern food taste lefse for the first time, they sometimes wonder what the big deal is. Why do we even go to the hassle of making the stuff? It’s a fairly labor-intensive process, and for what? An arguably bland, tortilla-like thing that we slap some butter and sugar on.
But for most who grew up in the Midwest and have Norwegian ties, lefse is a big deal. We dedicate a day or two prior to or during the holidays to make a couple batches of lefse. And when we think of lefse, we recall memories of spending time with friends and family, and sharing laughs while making it. To us, there’s just something about a hot-off-the-griddle piece of lefse, slathered with butter and sprinkled with sugar. It tastes like home. If it’s made correctly (like grandma taught you), it practically melts in your mouth, and you just can’t get enough. For those of Norwegian descent, lefse is anything but bland – it’s full of flavor from the love and tradition that goes into making it.
Here’s a quick lesson on lefse-making. For very detailed instructions on how to make lefse, ask someone with strong Norwegian heritage, or visit Sons of Norway in your area and get a few pointers.
These are the tools you’ll need to make lefse:
-Rolling pin (with cover/sock if available)
-Lefse turning stick
-Pastry board & cloth
Lefse dough consists of:
-Potatoes (usually riced) or potato flakes
4 cups riced potatoes (about 2 to 2 1/2 lbs of potatoes)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup heaving whipping cream
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
Some people mix all the ingredients, EXCEPT THE FLOUR, ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight, and then add the flour just before they making the lefse dough patties. If you mix the flour with the dough and refrigerate it overnight, the flour starts to break down and can cause the dough to be too mushy.
FORM DOUGH PATTIES/ROUNDS
After the flour has been mixed in, prior to rolling out the dough, create dough patties. My grandma and grandpa would always make the patties and put them on a tray and keep them in the refrigerator until they were ready to be rolled out.
This is probably one of the trickiest parts of making lefse—it’s when you’ll find out if you got the flour amount just right. If your dough has too little flour, it will make rolling out the dough a very frustrating process.
Sprinkle some flour on the pastry board and place a dough patty on the board. Dip the patty in the flour you sprinkled on the board and then flip it to get a little dusting of flour on the other side of the patty as well. You may also want to flour your rolling pin a little bit.
Start rolling by lightly rolling forward and backward on the patty. Try to roll it evenly in all directions if you’re concerned about the pieces of lefse being nice and round. Roll the dough out as thin as possible, without making any holes or tearing the dough.
TRANSFER TO GRIDDLE
Using the lefse stick, carefully lift and remove the lefse from the pastry board. Make sure the lefse stick is in the center, with the piece of lefse draping over the stick. Place the piece of lefse on the griddle, and then rotate the stick until the rest of the piece is on the grill.
When the lefse starts to bubble and gets a little dry on the edges, it should be flipped. Use the same method as transferring it to the griddle. It won’t take quite as long on the second side. Remove the lefse from the griddle when you see light brown spots start to develop.
LAY OUT TO COOL
After you remove the lefse from the griddle, fold it onto a dish towel (preferably a tea towel embroidered by your great-aunt) and cover.
BUTTER, SUGAR, ENJOY, SHARE
For best results, use REAL butter and sugar. Spread the butter on, sprinkle it with sugar (brown or white – I prefer brown sugar, but the lefse is definitely edible either way), roll it up, and enjoy!
- It’s all about the flour
Getting the amount of flour right is critical. Lefse experts (usually grandmas, grandpas, moms, etc.) know just how the dough is supposed to feel, and how to adjust the flour accordingly. Too much flour will result in dry/brittle lefse, and too little flour will hinder the process of rolling out the lefse. It might take a few tries (or a few years) until you get the flour amount down pat.
- Real potatoes vs. potato flakes
Most people are not able to tell the difference between lefse made with real potatoes and lefse made with potato flakes. Because of varying water amounts in real potatoes, using real potatoes can make it trickier to get the dough consistency just right. If real potatoes are used, you may have to make some tweaks to the recipe, and not follow the recipe to a T. Some traditionalists may consider using potato flakes “cheating,” but if you’re looking to make the lefse-making process simpler and quicker, potato flakes are the way to go.
- Make lefse with friends & family
The process of making lefse is much easier and more enjoyable if you have a group of people assigned to stations. Someone to form the dough patties, one for rolling, one to oversee the griddle and at least a few for “quality control” (the official title for those that hang around and sneak pieces of lefse here and there). So, when you plan to make lefse, gather together a few of your friends and/or family members, share some laughs, make some memories, and continue the tradition.