My Lefse Journey: The Beginning (With a Lefse Recipe!)

We had been married for less than a month when our first Thanksgiving approached.  We were talking about the upcoming holiday when Jon said, "We gotta have lefse for Thanksgiving!"
Lefse bubbling on grill
The United States is a big place.  In southeast Texas you can buy live crayfish by the pound for Crayfish Boils in the spring.  In Utah you can get Pink Sauce for your french fries.  In North Dakota and Minnesota, apparently, you can buy lefse for your Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Jon had grown up with lefse at Thanksgiving and Christmas and now was determined to continue the tradition with our family.  Since we couldn't buy it, he decided we should make it.
Rolling out lefse in 2005
What is lefse?  (pronounced "lef-suh") It came with immigrants from Scandinavia, Norway specifically, when they moved to the United States.  These less-than-wealthy immigrants made this tortilla-like pastry with potatoes, cream, butter, flour, and a little sugar and salt.  It was a piece of tradition they held onto fiercely.  (We won't mention the other culinary traditions they preserved (google lutefisk)...they don't taste as good!)  It settled where they settled, which is why you can buy it in certain states.  In other states you can either order it online or make it yourself.

I was first indoctrinated into the world of lefse when we received a lefse grill at our wedding.  Jon was thrilled.  I was curious.  As a few years have come and gone, I have come to love this tradition.  I, too, have Scandinavian ancestors and feel like I am a little closer to them because I make the same lefse they made.  I even enjoy the flour-covered kitchen that comes every time we've made it!
Lefse-making is still messy for us!
That first year we had a proper lefse grill.  All our other tools were handmade.  We used a piece of cloth on a large piece of cardboard to roll out the lefse.  For a lefse stick (or spatula), Jon sanded down a long skinny board he had been going to use to make a frame.  He was making frames for a painting project at the time.  A clean sock over a normal rolling pin completed our make-shift tools.  Normal spatulas and sock-free rolling pins wouldn't work, trust me!  We studied a book about making lefse, consulted Jon's mother over the phone, and used a recipe from a family friend.  We also were blessed with a lot of luck!  I'm not sure what would have happened if that first experience hadn't been so fun and tasted so good!  It was delicious.  The rounds may not have been perfectly round, but they still wrapped amazingly!  I had never seen anything sizzle and bubble the way it did as it cooked.  And it tasted oh, so yummy!  Year 1:  Success!
Ricing potatoes
Since then, we've cooked lefse somewhere between 6-10 times. We're still obviously beginners, but it usually turns out well.  Each time the experience is a little different, and each time we've learned a few things.  Our worst experience was when we cooked the potatoes long enough that they were so soft a fork easily slid through them--they would have been perfect if we were eating them plain, but they made the lefse dough far too wet.  We ended up throwing out the entire batch and starting over.
Here's a few Lefse Tips we've learned:
  • Don't overcook the potatoes!  A little hard is better than a little soft!
  • Mash the potatoes (or rice them) thoroughly...potato clumps...even very small ones...stick to the pastry board.
  • Less flour is better...too much ruins the texture...but not enough and it will be too sticky to roll.
  • Thoroughly work flour into the pastry board, rolling pin cloth, and grill before starting. 
  • Re-work flour into the pastry board and rolling pin cloth every time!
  • Roll the lefse until it is thin enough you can just see the letters on the pastry board through the lefse.
  • Turn the lefse on the grill 3-4 times.  Cook shorter, flip more.
  • Mix the potato/cream/butter the night before and leave in the fridge until you're ready to use it. 
  • Keep the dough refrigerated until you are actually ready to use it.
We've been blessed by family and friends who learned about our lefse ambitions and supplied us with better tools.  It's amazing what a difference little things like a ricer or pastry board make!  We still have a hand-made stick, but that's because it works so well.  Jon is actually really good at making beautiful lefse sticks.
Lefse tools: grill, pastry board, rolling pin and cover, ricer, turning stick
Jon with lefse sticks...visit here to see professionally made sticks.
So, on to the recipe!  We've made a few variations to a recipe from Mary Ellen, a friend in Nevada.

Our Lefse Recipe

5 pounds red potatoes
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Steam the potatoes until they are almost soft.  (Perhaps if we didn't live in humid Houston we could cook them all the way!)  Mash and rice the potatoes.  Add the butter and whipping cream.  Place a paper towel over the dough and leave it in the fridge overnight.
Lefse dough after refrigeration
Preheat grill to 500 degrees.  For every 5 cups of potato mixture add [1/2 cup - 1 cup] flour, salt to taste, and [1-4 Tablespoons] powdered sugar.  Knead the dough and return it to the fridge.  Pull out a grape-sized piece of dough, roll it out, cook it, and see if you're happy with the salt/sugar/flour flavor.  Make any adjustments necessary.

Pull a plum-sized piece of dough out of the fridge.  Flatten it slightly and pat both sides with flour.  Roll out on pastry board to about 12-14 inches.  (Use more dough for bigger rounds!)  Use the lefse stick to transfer the dough to the grill.  Watch it sizzle and bubble!  Use the lefse stick to move it to a plate.  

In Houston we get a lot of condensation.  I like to place a towel on the plate to absorb moisture.  When the lefse is cool, you can fold it up and put it in a plastic baggie in the fridge.  Mmmmmm!!  
Lefse rounds for Thanksgiving 2010
You can use it like a tortilla or bread.  You can wrap your turkey and stuffing in it.   A traditional Scandinavian treat is to spread it with butter and sprinkle sugar over it--very tasty!  It never lasts long around here!
Lefse is served!  It folds, wraps, and holds together better than tortillas!
  Now when Thanksgiving approaches I'm the one scheduling our week to make sure we have time to cook lefse.  This year was a little trickier because we had to work around more complicated schedules, but we still served lefse on Thanksgiving!  We're both happy that Kaia likes it--seriously, though, how could she not?  She's part Norwegian too!


Alida November 28, 2010 at 12:47 AM  

it looks so yummy!! I may have to give this a try... I have been learning to make different flatbreads this year. Thanks for the recipe :-)

Amy Sullivan November 28, 2010 at 7:54 PM  

This is so fun and a good reminder how different we all are. I have a friend who makes homemade noodles every Thanksgiving. I love going beyond the normal turkey and stuffing!

FrugalCityGirl November 29, 2010 at 12:18 PM  

Thanks so much for coming over to my blog frugalCityGirl. I am now following you!

Genny November 29, 2010 at 2:32 PM  

I've never heard of lefse. How fun to read about this and see the pictures. Thanks for sharing!

Rachael November 29, 2010 at 2:50 PM  

Hey Carla. Your homemaking skills remind me of your Mom. Amazing.
By the way, would you mind giving me your current address through email?
Sending out the last couple of Christmas cards.
Thanks so much!

Sparkling December 7, 2010 at 5:51 PM  

All this talk of Scandanavian food is somehow making think of Rose Niland....

The Girl Next Door Grows Up December 10, 2010 at 1:44 PM  

uf-da that is a lot of work, but I know it is yummy because I am a Swede!

Now, have you or Jon ever had Swedish Sausage? That is my favorite! It is pork and potatoes and spices stuffed into a casing. I just had it this week!

Jansen Family April 11, 2011 at 2:08 PM  

Alida, making different flatbreads sounds like such a fun project...I really want to learn how to make naan!

I agree, Amy...Thanksgiving can mean so many things!

I'm glad you liked it, Genny!

Thanks Rachael and FrugalCityGirl! Rachael, I sent you an email and loved your card!

Sparkling, lol!

The Girl Next Door Grows Up, That's awesome! We do like Swedish Sausage...and Swedish Meatballs...Mmmm, it sounds like Christmas!

Hopefully you guys can forgive a relatively new blogger for not responding as soon as I should have. Comments mean so much to me and I am very grateful when you take the time to write a short note...I am much better about responding these days!