Family gathers to make 'No-Fail' Norwegian potato lefse
Tuesday, December 18, 2012 7:18 AM
One preparation for Christmas has been completed at my house - the lefse and flat bread making day has come and gone.
A familiar scene when rolling out lefse. One may note the griddle on the bottom right with a nicely browned round of lefse almost ready to place between the cooling sheets, at left.
Thanks to my two daughters-in-law, Jenna and Molly, the lefse has been rolled, cooked on both sides and folded away into plastic bags. My portion is stored in my freezer, waiting for Christmas Eve day when I serve my siblings, plus our children and grandchildren a traditional meal. Our bread dipped in broth is a Swedish tradition, but the lefse we enjoy comes from our Norwegian connections.
You see, my grandmother was Swedish and she married a Norwegian man, whom she first met when they were both students at the agricultural school in St. Paul. One of my most treasured recipe books was published by my grandmother's home church, the Spring Garden Lutheran Church. Located on County One in Goodhue County, the church was very near a rural Cannon Falls farm where Grandma Terra grew up.
As my featured recipe today is potato lefse, I thought I'd consult this cookbook and see if there might be a recipe similar to the one I am sharing. Ah, no. Lefse under the chapter called "Scandinavian Recipes" does not call for any potatoes at all. No, Swedish lefse included flour, milk, shortening, plus a tiny amount of sugar and a little salt.
Apparently my Swedish grandmother made Norwegian lefse, as I know hers included potatoes. It has been decades since I found a recipe in a local newspaper that claimed the title "No-Fail Lefse." Since lefse making was one of those old traditions my modern mother didn't continue, I wondered if this might be my key for learning how.
I carefully followed the directions, which used Betty Crocker Potato Buds as a replacement for cooked-from-scratch potatoes. I know a real true Norwegian cook would never ever consider using such an unorthodox short cut. But only being a fourth Norwegian, I thought, why not?
The directions encouraged one to make due with the equipment on hand to create this lefse from a no-fail combination of ingredients. You could simply stretch an old cotton dishtowel over the padding of a tea towel around a wide board, and tightly secure them in place with metal thumbtacks.
I used a board that once served as my drawing board in college. Not having a traditional lefse rolling pin, my smooth one with a pastry sock around it, worked just fine. And I didn't have a traditional round lefse griddle either, but found a pancake griddle set on my stove worked OK. I may have used a pancake turner for my first batches instead of the long traditional turning stick.
My first-acquired authentic gear for lefse making was a lefse stick with a red painted handle. My initial lefse circles were limited in size, but the results with the recipe I'd discovered really did taste like lefse when spread with butter, sprinkled with white sugar and rolled up.
I shared the recipe with my mom and she started making lefse, later in life, as if she had done it all her life.
The years have passed, around 35, I think. I now have a full regimen of electric lefse griddle, round Bethany pastry board with fitted cloth cover, a grooved lefse rolling pin, two lefse sticks and linen rounds of cloth for cooling the lefse on.
I have gifted similar pastry boards to my daughter and daughters-in-law. When it is time for lefse day, extra boards come so we can have both a lefse making and a flatbread making operation. At the end of the day they carry home a zip-lock bag of lefse and a tin of flatbread to share with their non-Norwegian families.
A couple years ago I found something odd had happened to my long trusted Betty Crocker Potato Buds, a pivotal recipe ingredient. When I opened the package, I had to read the label a second time to make sure I had the right product. Instead of a granular type consistency, the instant potatoes were flakes! I was horrified, as I doubted my recipe would work with those imposter potatoes.
I thought of writing a letter to General Mills complaining of the change to their long trusted product. In the middle of mixing up the recipe, I had no choice but to use the product at hand. Although it didn't mix up into quite the same consistency, in the end the lefse turned out just fine.
I never wrote the letter, but the issue again came to mind when I sat at a summer event and was chatting with the wife of my husband's friend. We somehow started talking about making lefse, when I realized she had grown up in a rural, mostly Norwegian community.
And the conversation wound its way to Betty Crocker Potato Buds. She noted the change was made so the company could proclaim it now had a 'gluten free' product. Oh, so that was why! (I hadn't noticed the big banner on the box that proclaimed "Now - gluten free.")
Yes, but that's why people like them, they aren't like other instant potatoes, I thought. And, she said, now there are a lot of upset lefse makers whose recipes have failed due to the change in the BC potato buds.
Well, I could not say that was my experience, mine still turned out OK; it must be that "no-fail" recipe with its extra ingredients. So I never wrote the letter, but this year I got smarter. I read the box of BC potato buds ingredients, and then I read the ingredients on a generic brand of instant potatoes. Exactly the same!
No need for buying an expensive brand name item; my lefse making got a bit cheaper this year and for you, reader, I have changed the recipe as well. Try using the rudimentary equipment I described above, or go all out - and buy the griddle, round cloth-covered pastry board, waffle ridged rolling pin (with a pastry sock) and turning stick. It will set you back a bit, but if this turns into a family tradition that includes dedicated lefse-making family members, you just might want to buy the best!
No-Fail Potato Lefse
3 2/3 cups water
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup margarine
4 heaping cups instant mashed potatoes.
Bring water, milk, salt and margarine to a boil; turn off heat. Add instant potatoes. Whip with a fork. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight or several hours, uncovered. Then add:
2 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Mix with a large spoon, then knead by hand until it rounds up like bread dough. Divide into about two dozen balls (or more for smaller circles). Arrange balls on wax-paper lined trays and refrigerate until needed for rolling out. (To quickly chill, slip into a freezer.) Do not cover the dough.
Roll out on a stretched-and-tacked-into-place pastry cloth. A round pastry board with a fitted cloth covering is preferable. Use the special grooved rolling pin covered with a pastry sleeve. (Or use a regular pin with a cotton knit sleeve if you don't have the special equipment.) Flour the board well. Knead each ball a bit, adding flour if sticky. Roll the dough out from the center, turning circle occasionally to prevent sticking, roll until very thin.
Slip lefse stick (long flattened, unpainted wood stick, approximately 24 inches long and 3/4-inch wide, including a thicker, usually painted handle), under the center of the rolled out lefse. Lift it to a lefse grill heated to 450-degrees or hot pancake griddle. (Water droplets bounce on it when it's hot enough.) Position and lower half of the circle onto the griddle, then gently rotate stick handle to release the other half. Cook on one side for about a minute or until spots start to brown on the griddle side. Gently pick up with stick and turn it over to cook the other side.
Note - two workers are needed for an efficient operation; one roller, one cooker.
Cool on wire racks or on special linen lefse circles, stacking up in two piles as you continue cooking. In our family, we have a third person helping, who brushes excess flour off the lefse as it cools with a pastry brush. When cool, store in sealed plastic containers or zip lock bags, separate each 10 or so with wax paper. It may be folded in fourths to fit the container. I cook mine about two weeks ahead and freeze until needed. We always make a double batch of this recipe.
To serve (thaw first): Spread with semi-melted butter, sprinkle with white sugar from a shaker. Some people (from other families) like theirs with brown sugar. Roll up, cut into fourths and enjoy.