Lefse is best described as a “Norwegian Potato Tortilla.” Lefse is a moist, simple, potato-rich flatbread with a buttery flavor, which makes it superior to drier corn or flour tortillas. Because it is dense, and not crumbly, one can pile on toppings with zeal and without fear of sloppy consequences. At her family’s Thanksgiving, my grandmother instituted her own “Clean Plate Club;” her family members put a piece of lefse on their plates before rolling their entire Thanksgiving dinner inside it like a massive burrito. I find this a testament to lefse’s incredible powers as I imagine my own enormous Thanksgiving meal. However, I prefer it plain, rolled up with butter, and still warm from the griddle. It is perfect comfort food.
This is not only a family recipe, but Thanksgiving nostalgia in its entirety. Because lefse-making is a consuming process, a family-wide assembly line forms. Mothers prepare the potatoes Wednesday night, mix the dough on Thanksgiving, and then turn to other culinary concerns. Thursday afternoon, children under 8 insert their gummy, puerile fingers into the dough to form balls. Before the youngest can do irrevocable damage, fathers snatch the dough-balls from their precarious roost in the little kids’ hands and roll them into lefse size and shape. This step is tricky, as the dough is prone to lodge in the waffle-ridges of the lefse roller, and so the fathers become possessive and sensitive at this stage. However, approximately 5/6 raw lefse pieces survive, unstuck, to be cooked on a large griddle by the older children. Another traditional piece of equipment is used here, whose real name has been replaced by “lefse-flipper.” It so handily resembles a “thwacking-stick” that older children are thus reliably entertained. I only ever remember one per household, which limits ensuing aggression.
At this point, you may be skeptical, but, much as we have all come to love Garrison Keiller’s portrayal of droll Nordic Lutherans in “A Prairie Home Companion,” when you’re elbows-deep in Lefse you’ll be squealing with delight. Now, since that sounds like so much fun, I dare you to attempt this delicious, savory Thanksgiving dish in your own house.
Sarah Trautman styles herself the Midwest correspondent for Small Kitchen College, even though she is a past and current Bostonian. However, her heart is in Minnesota: her happiest moment on the T was being identified by a stranger as a Minnesotan.
Makes 10 pieces
Approximately 3 potatoes (Russets are ideal), or 2 cups mashed
1 tablespoon heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Wash and peel the potatoes, and then cut them in half. Put the potatoes in a medium pot and fill it with just enough water to cover the potatoes. Set to boil until the potatoes are soft and you can sink a fork into them easily: 20-25 minutes.
Remove the potatoes from the water. Dry them thoroughly with a towel.
Mash the potatoes, and then measure. This recipe assumes 3 potatoes yields 2 cups of potatoes, mashed. Mix in the cream and butter. Mash again, and then rice them. (“Ricing” is forcing the potatoes through a collander-type instrument, a ricer, to make the dough really fine. This is important for lefse because it gets rolled very thin.)
Stir together and let sit overnight, uncovered and at room temperature.
The next day, stir in the flour, salt, and sugar. Form the dough into balls about 2 inches in diameter.
Turn a large griddle or skillet to medium-high.
To roll out, sprinkle a clean cloth lightly with flour. Flatten the ball slightly into a patty, and carefully roll from the center of the disc towards the outside in firm, quick strokes. We roll it thin with an authentic lefse-roller, which imprints miniature waffle patterns in the lefse that sequester butter (much as people do). However, any heavy rolling pin will do. It should be just over 1/16th of an inch thick, like a crepe.
Next carefully slither a long, flat stick between the lefse and the cloth. This is when we use a “lefse-flipper”, but again, a ruler or long knife will do. Carefully place the lefse on the hot griddle.
Cook until it starts to bubble, or is just starting to brown in places. Serve warm and rolled-up with butter, or use to cover your plate.