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.
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.