Tuesday, April 1, 2014

TWD: Norwegian Lefse (Potato Flatbread)

I am 2nd generation Norwegian, and proud of it!  My dear mom is "straight off the boat", as she would jokingly say.   Born in 1940 in Bergen, Norway, my mom was raised by hard working Norwegian parents.  The second of 5 children, mom was often given the task of cleaning the house, cooking, and caring for her younger siblings.   She learned diligence of hard work, and went to college (paid for by herself, bar-tending to pay for it) to become a teacher.  

Mom was a teacher in Bergen when she was introduced to my dad, an officer in the US Navy.  Being 13 years older than herself, my mom had NO interest in dating him.   With persistence, my dad won her heart, and they returned to the US to be married.  Sadly, my dad passed away from complications of pneumonia, only two years after they were married, only 4 months after I was born.  My mom, the ever-strong Norwegian, chose to remain in the US and raise my sister and I by herself, with no family or friends to help.   She scrimped and saved and was able to take us on vacation to Bergen every other year, 9 times in total.  Amazing. 

I have such wonderful and vivid memories of our summers in Norway!  We stayed with my bestemor (grandma) and visited with uncles, aunts, and cousins.  We explored the city of Bergen, taking in the sights and smells of the fish market, enjoying the best soft ice cream ever, and visiting the aquarium.  We roamed the countryside of my mom's childhood home, took train and boat excursions along the fjords, and sampled all the local cuisine:   Norwegian kjøttkaker (meat cakes), boiled potatoes, and the best of all, lefse, made by my precious grandma!

I have one distinct memory of my grandma making lefse in her small little kitchen.  In her broken English she explained how to cook the potatoes, mash them, and mix the dough.   She told me how the dough had to "sleep", and now I know she meant "rest".  How sweet.   I remember watching her roll the balls of dough as thin as she could, then fry them on a hot, dry skillet.   She piled them high in a stack, then when they were slightly cool, she slathered them with softened butter and generously sprinkled them with sugar.  She rolled them up sometimes, while other times she folded them into triangles.  My sister and I waited as patiently as we could to taste!!

Ohhhh, how making lefse brings back a flood of memories!   My grandma and my mom have both passed away by now.   I miss them terribly.  I make lefse at Christmastime for our breakfasts, and always think of them.

The memories were overwhelming yesterday as the date recently marked 13 years since my mom passed away unexpectedly.   Tears dampened my cheeks yesterday as I make a big floury mess, rolling and frying the lefse dough.  How I long to visit Bergen again with my own children one of these days, showing them in person all of the places my grandma showed me as a child!   One day......


Okay, so Lefse.  Basically it's Norwegian Potato Flatbread.  Think tortillas, but thinner, and made with mashed potatoes.  (So not really tortilla-like at all?!)

You begin with russet potatoes, peeled and boiled.   Then you "rice" the potatoes (pushing them through a strainer, essentially, to remove all lumps).

Mix the potatoes with cream, butter, salt, and a wee bit of sugar, then refrigerate until cold, cold, cold.   The recipes says overnight or 8 hours, but I usually make the dough in the morning and fry the lefse the same afternoon.

Form golfball sized balls of dough in your palm (I measure with a large cookie scoop),

then roll as thin as you can with lots of flour to prevent tearing and sticking.  Here is where a lefse pastry board and rolling pin with cloth would be very helpful!   I use my large angled spatula to slide beneath the rolled lefse, then lift gently into my hands.

Fry the dough in a hot, dry skillet or griddle for about 2 minutes on the first side, until the dough bubbles up.  Flip and cook another minute or so on the second side.

The quickest method is to roll the next lefse while the first is cooking, then just rotate along as you go, stacking the cooked lefse on a paper towel or clean cloth.   You'll make a big mess, but that's just how it goes!   Flour everywhere.  Enjoy the process!   The result will be worth it.

Slather a still-warm lefse with softened butter, then sprinkle generously with granulated sugar.  (Cinnamon sugar is another fantastic option!)   Roll up or fold into quarters and enjoy.   We love these for breakfast, but my family couldn't resist them with our supper last night!  Nothing beats fresh lefse.   To reheat, just warm them up in a hot dry skillet.  Sooooo good!

If you haven't made these before, please give them a try.   Think of my family when you do! 

Norwegian Lefse
~Beatrice Ojakangas~

4 cups pared, cooked, and diced russet potatoes
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Drain potatoes until absolutely dry.  If necessary, return to dry saucepan and stir over medium heat until all the moisture is gone.  Put potatoes through ricer, or place in a large mixing bowl and mash, using an electric mixer.  Beat in the butter, cream, sugar, and salt.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, stir in the flour until well blended.  Divide into 20 equal portions.  Preheat lefse griddle, electric frypan, or pancake griddle to 400 degrees.

On a floured surface, roll out the balls of dough until very thin, making circles about 10 to 12 inches in diameter.  Using a long, thin spatula, transfer to heated griddle and cook on each side.  Stack, separating lefse with waxed paper squares.

To serve, spread lefse with soft butter and fold into quarters or roll up.  Some people like lefse sprinkled with sugar or cinnamon sugar.  To serve on tray along with cookies, spread the lefse with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and roll up.  Cut rolls into 1 inch pieces on the diagonal.

To freeze, fold lefse into quarters and wrap airtight in foil or plastic wrap.  To serve, remove from freezer, thaw, and reheat in foil in a 300 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

The above recipe is from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, one of my all-time favorite cook books.  It's written by Beatrice Ojakangas, the author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including several with Scandinavian cooking.   *love*  

The same recipe, written with slightly different directions, can be found in Baking With Julia, on pages 165-166.  This is our recipe for Tuesdays With Dorie this week.  Please visit our blog roll to view other bakers' blogs and hear their stories of baking lefse!

I leave you with one final picture of my mom!   She's wearing her Bunad, the traditional costume worn for special Norwegian celebrations.  Bunads are hand made and hand embroidered, with each geographical region having it's own distinct pattern.   What a treasure my sister and I have, what a beautiful legacy to share with our children!

P.S.   I have a few other Norwegian recipes here, too!   Try Skillingsbolle (sweet rolls) or Krumkake!


  1. Dawn - that was such a sweet post.

    There is something about food associated with grandparents that surpasses most other memories, isn't there?

  2. Oh my gosh I loved your post!! I enjoyed reading every part of it. <3 Thank you for sharing such dear memories. I can only imagine the flood of memories this stirred up yesterday. What an amazing woman your mother was...so strong! Really it is incredible she was able to raise you both alone and save to spend your summers in Norway. Loved your story!
    I am pleased to see your "real" lefse and see that mine first attempt turned out ok. :)

  3. This was really insightful and sweet, thanks for sharing. It reminded me a lot of the time when my grandmother taught me how to make banitsa.

    1. How sweet. So many memories made in the kitchen!

  4. Lovely post, Dawn - so very sweet. Your lefse looks wonderful! Glad you enjoyed them. Starting mine today!

    1. Can't wait to see how your turn out, Cathleen!

  5. Wonderful pictures and stories! I was thinking how fun these would be to make with a child (or a bestemor, as the case may be). And that picture of your mother in her bunad is a treasure!

    1. Yes, a true treasure! My sister has the bunad safely in her closet. It's irreplaceable. :)

  6. Oh my goodness Dawn, this post is so beautiful.

  7. Wonderful story about your mother, grandmother, and Norway. I am hoping to go there someday.

  8. Fantastic post. What wonderful memories. Thank you so much for sharing them. This was the first time I'd heard of lefse, so I was interested in trying them. And I'm so glad that we got to make them. Potatoes are so versatile.

  9. Thanks for sharing such a part of your past. It is wonderful to hear of such a connection to food, people and place.

  10. That is a beautiful story! I'm so glad we made these this month. I've been to Bergen once myself...what a lovely little city...I do hope you get to take your children there soon.

  11. That is a lovely post, Dawn. Thanks for sharing with us the story of your family heritage. And your rolled lefse look very good!

  12. What a beautiful post. I loved reading about your mother and grandmother, and loved looking at all of the photos. I'm glad making these brought back such wonderful memories.