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What Is Lefse?

Potatoes are a key ingredient in lefse.
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  • Written By: O. Wallace
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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Lefse is a beloved Norweigan flatbread that has been nearly elevated to cultural and traditional icon, at least on the Internet. There are dozens of websites devoted to this favorite food that share stories, history, and recipes and lefse technique. This potato-based flatbread varies in thickness, from a cake-like bread, to a thick, hearty flatbread, to a thin, almost tortilla-like bread.

Although many Norwegians claim that lefse, or a flatbread very similar to it, was used to sustain the Vikings on long sea voyages, the fact that potatoes were introduced only 250 years ago to Norway makes it a much newer development. There are a few variations, depending on the family recipe, but the basic ingredients are the same: mashed or riced potatoes, flour, sugar and salt. Milk, heavy cream, and shortening or butter is used, depending on the cook’s preference.

The dough is then rolled out using a special corrugated or grooved rolling pin in order to remove all air pockets. Most cooks prefer to use a griddle or special lefse grill, although some will also bake it at high temperatures. The versatility of the flatbread allows it to be served many different ways. Tynnlefse, or “thin” lefse, is sweet, almost crepe-like and is often loaded with butter, cinnamon sugar, brown sugar or ligonberry jelly, then rolled. Lefse-klining, or “rolling” lefses, make for a popular dessert or snack item.

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Tykklefse, or “thick” lefse, is an almost cake like variation and is typically served with coffee. When it is made thinner, more the thickness of flatbread, it may also be used to wrap sausages and hot dogs or other savory additions, such as eggs, meat, peanut butter and lutefisk, a popular Norwegian fish.

According to Gary Legwold’s The Last Word on Lefse, the definitive guide on the bread, women would make a year’s supply at a time, storing them in large barrels. More than likely, this would be a harder, dried version of the bread, often called Hardanger Lefse, named for the region. This is made using whole wheat flour that is finely ground, or graham flour. The dough is rolled thin, then baked at a high temperature and dried. It can keep up to six months unrefrigerated. Non-dried versions should be carefully wrapped and kept frozen or refrigerated when stored.

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Discuss this Article

anon236725
Post 6

I would love to see an amendment to your post. All lefse is not made with potatoes. My family makes a recipe of lefse that predates potatoes. Potatoes were an addition to lefse recipes, not part of original lesfe, so perhaps the Vikings did enjoy it pre-potato.

turquoise
Post 4

My roommate and I went to visit her family in Wisconsin last year during the holidays. Her family is originally Norwegian and they love making lefse. It was the first time I had ever heard of it but it tasted really good, I'm a big fan of it now. I actually watched my roommate's mom make lefse, the griddles she used were the largest I had ever seen and watching her roll out that dough was really interesting. I tried to learn too but it was much harder than I expected.

Anyway, we ate a lot of lefse that weekend (my favorite is plain topped with butter and honey). I also found out that there are many people of Norwegian descent in Wisconsin. I think its really wonderful that they are continuing to make Norwegian foods. I can't wait to go back for more lefse!

burcidi
Post 3

I love flatbread, any kind. I haven't had the pleasure of tasting Norwegian lefse yet but it sounds to me a lot like the flatbreads in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. I've had many Middle Eastern flatbreads and just like lefse, they come in differing thicknesses. My aunt makes very thin plain flat breads which she dries just like the Norwegian women and saves for later. They can stay like that all year and she just sprinkles them with water and reheats on a pan before they are eaten. She also makes some thicker ones filled with herbs, spinach and cheeses. Those are eaten right away when they are warm. I’ve also seen extremely thick flatbreads called “pide” in the Middle East that are eaten during Islamic holidays like Ramadan. All of these breads are made with flour though and not with potatoes.

Indian flatbreads are more similar to lefse in that way. "Aloo parathas", for example, are flatbreads stuffed with a spicy potato mix. My favorite flatbread though is "naan", the Southeast Asian flatbread made with lots of ghee butter and cooked in a clay oven called tandoor. It’s absolutely amazing, it literally melts in your mouth.

anon136850
Post 2

My grandma used to make the best lefse I have ever tasted. She is gone now and I miss the wonderful treat she used to make. I will try to carry on the tradition as I have her recipe. I am sure it won't be as good but it will still be lefse.

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