Watch a video! Actual Scandinavian-Americans (my uncle and aunt) demonstrate making lefse in a home kitchen.
My lefse street cred. While I'm (sadly?) only one-fourth Norwegian, that side of the family dominated my childhood, and so I grew up helping my 100 percent Norwegian grandmother make lefse. I have now made it with my aunt Gwen Erickson for 20 years using my grandmother's recipe, which she wrote down at age 90 from memory after a lifetime of making it.
What is lefse? (Sometimes misspelled lefsa.) A Scandinavian soft potato-based tortilla-like bread, but bigger and thinner. Traditionally rolled and eaten with butter and sugar, or even plain, although my grandmother liked to roll up meatballs. It sounds calorie-heavy, but I read it actually only has about 75 calories per lefse (not including butter and sugar, of course).
Here it the recipe with the critical extra information most leave out.
(Makes about 25 10-inch diameter lefse rounds.)
5 lbs. potatoes. Use russets or other dry potato.
2 tsp. (or less) salt.
1/2 cup butter or margarine.
1/2 cup Half n' Half (half milk, half cream).
About 3 cups flour; more for dusting.
Note: Some recipes call for instant potatoes. My grandmother thought such a thing was sacrilege, so, faithful to her memory (she died in 1985) I have never tried them.
Lefse grill, preferably nonstick.
These cost about $100 new, but they are essential, as regular grills usually don't get hot enough. And you really need something round.
Lefse turning stick, wood.
You must get a real lefse stick. Nothing else remotely works. A rosemaled handle is not required.
Wood pastry board, preferably round, covered with canvas pastry cloth.
If you don't use a pastry cloth, the lefse will stick, and you will wonder why you ever tried this !@#$ project.
Corrugated rolling pin, preferably with cloth cover.
If you try a regular rolling pin, your lefse will stick, and again you'll wonder why !@#$ etc.
Yeah, I know this stuff is not common kitchen fare, and not cheap. But I'll warn you right now, if you don't have the right equipment, you are doomed, and your holiday spirit will turn to holiday spirits.
1. Peel potatoes. Try to remove all black spots with a paring knife, as they look unsightly in the finished lefse. Boil the potatoes GENTLY until just done. Check frequently. Do not let them get mushy.
Note: getting dry potatoes and keeping them dry is the key to making decent lefse without pulling your hair out (why do you think I'm bald?). Any moisture translates into sticky dough that will snag and tear no matter how carefully you try to roll it out. Keep 'yer taters dry!
2. Put potatoes through ricer and mash until perfectly smooth.
3. Stir in 1/2 cup softened butter or margarine. Add salt.
4. Add 1/2 cup Half 'n Half. Mix. Refrigerate to cool.
Note: This mixture MUST be cool, or you won't be able to roll it out. My grandmother made it the night before, put it in the fridge. But my aunt makes it the same morning.
5. Remove when cool. Just before rolling, stir in about 1 cup of flour to each 4 cups of potatoes, packed. Do about half the batch at a time, returning the rest of the fridge. Five pounds of potatoes need about 2 1/4 cups flour.
6. Turn on lefse grill; Should be on nearly the hottest setting. Make sure it's completely pre-heated.
7. Shape batter into balls about the size of fat golf balls, to start. You can make them a little larger later, when you get the knack of rolling out. Refrigerate balls.
7. Attach pastry cloth to (usually round) board. Tie tightly underneath, even use masking tape, so the cloth does not wrinkle when you roll. Lefse will stick to wrinkles in the cloth.
8. Flour cloth liberally, and I mean LIBERALLY. My grandmother said too much flour will make the lefse hard, but too little will make the lefse stick as you roll.
Note: If you're starting to think the biggest problem with making lefse is keeping it from sticking, you're catching on.
9. Remove one ball from fridge. Pat into disk on floured pastry cloth. Stretch tube cloth over corrugated rolling pin. Flour rolling pin. Sprinkle flour on disk of dough. Start rolling.
Rolling: You'll quickly discover this isn't like rolling pastry dough or dumplings. You need a feather-light touch to avoid sticking. Try to push a bit harder in the center, lighter toward the edges. If your pin starts sticking, sprinkle a little flour on the dough disk. Try to roll as neatly round as you can--nice round lefse is a matter of pride to old time lefse bakers such as my grandmother and aunt. Mine, on the other hand, tend to look like, oh, Australia? Heck, tastes the same, right?
When to stop rolling: never! Well, that is, not as soon as you think. The key is to roll until the lefse is as thin as possible, but not so far that it starts tearing. I usually roll until I can see the pastry cloth through the translucent dough, about eight (small ball) to 12 (large ball) inches in diameter.
If it tears: avoid rolling in that spot. Work on the edges. If it's pretty large and starts tearing, that's a sign that you're done rolling and ready to bake.
10. Now for the really tricky part: Transfer the lefse from the board to the grill. To do this, flour your lefse stick. Work it from the side underneath the lefse to loosen from the pastry cloth, moving it like a knife. Do not let tip of the stick get under lefse; it will tear.
After loosening the underside, work floured stick back to the center. If you see a tear, avoid moving stick under that area--it will rip at that tear. Gently but quickly lift the lefse to the grill. Flop it half way, then twist the stick to roll the rest of the lefse on the grill.
If you blow it and the lefse falls apart, make another ball, refrigerate, and reroll. May be a bit tough, but still edible.
11. Baking: This is easy. Wait till it bubbles and looks a little dry on the edges, then flip. It will now be easy to turn, no longer sticky. Wait until the lefse has medium brown spots all around. Will take only a few minutes. Pull lefse off with stick and fold onto dish towel on counter to cool. Cover with dampened dish towel.
Note: If you cool lefse on a counter or wire mesh rack, it will get hard.
12. With a table knife, scrape off any dough that has stuck to pastry cloth. Apply more flour, rub in. Scrape lefse stick. Flour. Begin again.
I know this sounds kind of tedious, but I've kept all the details so that if something doesn't work, you probably can figure out what went wrong. With two people rolling, it takes a couple hours to turn out two dozen lefse, once they get the hang of it.
Lefse gets moldy within three or four days, so enjoy immediately, or freeze. Freezes well for a few weeks. Frozen or cool lefse tastes great after a few seconds in the microwave. My grandmother would have loved one of these gadgets, I'm certain.
Questions? Don't ask me. Well, okay: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can't find equipment locally? Creative Kitchen in the mall has best supply in Fargo, also available online: http://www.creativekitchenonline.com/category.cfm/kitchen/scandinavian