I really can’t remember how it started, but it ended with the phrase “There’s no way you’d be able to make that.” The unmistakable sound of a gauntlet being thrown, by my boyfriend and his brother, over my culinary capability and their favorite family tradition: Lefse. To the uninitiated, among whom I count myself, lefse is a Norwegian potato flatbread/tortilla/crepe thing. It is also one of those annoyingly simple recipes that are notoriously difficult to make correctly.
A sucker for tradition, especially ones involving food, I decided to master the temperamental treat, enlisting the help of Ben’s mother, who claims that the only true expert in the family is her sister. So it would be the blind leading the blind(er), but at least she has all the fun toys.
5 lbs potatoes
4 T butter
½ c cream
2 lefse sticks (1 hot, 1 cold)
Pastry board and cloth
Corrugated rolling pin
Please note the amount of equipment vs. the number of ingredients. This is the point where I realize this may not have been my brightest idea. Then I see the family recipe and think “maybe I’m overreacting, after all, it barely takes up the front of an index card.” Oh, naïveté.
Kathryn’s Annotated Lefse Recipe
Peel potatoes until your arm is tired, which for me is about 5 pounds. That will make about 30. Cut the potatoes into similar sized chunks and boil them until tender. Drain and put back in the pot over low heat, to remove all excess moisture. Then mash your potatoes, rice your potatoes, and mix everything but the flour in. Let the dough cool uncovered, so that no moisture builds up. Once it has cooled, rice the mix one more time and mix in the flour. Roll the dough into about 30 same sized balls; place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Cover loosely, to prevent moisture from building up (catching a theme?) and put them in the fridge over night.
The next morning find an unsuspecting fool who doesn’t mind being yelled at. Together, heat your lefse grill to 450-475 degrees. Rub as much flour as you can into your pastry board, your hands, and your pastry sleeve covered rolling pin. Take 1 dough ball out of the fridge and put it on your pastry board. Sprinkle everything with flour. The goal is now to roll the dough out as thin as possible without tearing (exhibit A) sticking to the board (exhibit B) or poking a hole through it with your stick (no exhibit as the photographer was chased from the room with stick).
When it is thin enough to read through, transfer your dough to the grill and cook it for about 1 min per side. Make sure to flour the board and pin with each lefse, because the cloth will absorb so moisture from the dough. After about 15 it will be no use as the cloth will get too damp and sticky, (which I found out while making 30). Repeat until all the dough is used (meaning successfully rolled out and cooked or thrown in the garbage, whichever comes first.)