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A Lesson on Lefse

December 26, 2011 by Hailey Goplen

Grandma G looking on as I try to roll the dough as thin as possible.

Today marked a milestone in my quest to become Midwestern: I made lefse. For those of you that think I just made up a word, rest assure it is a real (and delicious) thing. In my opinion, lefse could be called a Norwegian tortilla. However, instead of of corn, you use potatoes, and instead of meat and cheese, you fill it with butter and sugar. I was so inspired after having my first lefse at Thanksgiving, I began researching to see how complicated it was to make myself. Now, I fancy myself a pretty solid amateur chef. I have significantly more cookbooks than the average person my age and have been in the kitchen since I needed a step stool to see over the counter (que short jokes now). However, as soon as I realized what was actually involved in lefse making, I knew it was imperative to get a lefse lesson from an expert. Lucky for me, I knew such an expert: Blake’s grandma.

After a few arrangements, it was set. I would get my lesson on lefse. So off to Cooperstown, ND I went to meet up with my co-apprentices in lefse making, Blake’s cousin Brianne and her husband, Sam. The first thing we were told to do was wash our hands, wise words from any home cook. Then it was time to get down to business. Grandma G had made the dough the night before but we were still told what went into it: potatoes, salt, butter and cream (delicious).

Brianne's future occupation: professional lefse maker

She briefly walked us through the tools necessary in lefse making. A flat, electric, cooker that looks similar to a pizza pan, two lefse sticks (I have no idea what they are actually called, one for moving the dough and one for flipping, a rolling board (again, unsure of what it is actually called), a rolling pin, and lots and lots and lots of flour.

So here are Grandma G’s steps to lefse making:

1) Form chilled dough into 1/3 cup balls

2) Flour rolling board… A LOT

3) Push down slightly on dough balls and begin rolling out a circular piece of dough as thin as possible. The thinner you can make it, the better. The challenge with this is that it can begin to rip if you aren’t careful.

Scariest part: moving the dough

4) When dough is sufficiently thin, take a special lefse stick and carefully move your stick between the board and the lefse dough to make sure it is not stuck. Once unstuck, move the stick halfway under the lefse and lift up the dough. (There are other methods to do this but this is what worked best for me).

5) Carefully place dough on scorching hot lefse cooker. I’m not kidding when I say scorching. That thing was about 400 degrees.

6) As the dough cooks, use another lefse stick to flip it back and forth until both sides are evenly cooked. If bubbles occur, carefully push the air out of them.

7) Remove from cooker and top with hearty amounts of butter and sugar. ENJOY!

After a quick demonstration, Team Lefse 2011 was off and running. While at first our dough looked more like the shape of

Flipping it onto the hot cooker

Australia rather than perfectly round circles, we eventually began turning out some of the most beautiful and paper thin lefse I had ever seen… which doesn’t say much. Soon, a lefse assembly line was in full swing and cranking out lefse like a well oiled Norwegian machine: Brianne and I rotated forming balls of dough and rolling, while Sam “manned” the grill (excuse the pun) and squished out bubbles.

An hour or two ticked by, and as I formed what I thought was the last few balls of dough and beamed proudly at our growing stack of cooked lefse, Grandma G suggested we take a break for lunch and finish up the other half of the dough she had chilling in the refrigerator afterwards. Now, don’t get me wrong, the more lefse the better and bless her heart for making enough dough that each of us could take home a significant stack of it, but goodness does it take a long time to make… and we didn’t even partake in the more tedious task of making the dough. With everyone so busy around the holidays, and frozen lefse available in virtually all grocery stores in the upper Midwest, I understand why it is becoming a lost art.

Sam "manning" the grill

After a quick lunch down at The Pizza Ranch we were back to the grind stronger than ever. Lefse began pouring out in record time and before I knew it, we had successfully made at least 50 lefse. We finally tasted the fruits of our labor and I must say nothing is better than hot lefse straight off the stove.

We divided up the lefse and thanked Grandma G for taking the time to teach us how to make it. When we mentioned that next year we will be seasoned pros and ready to help again she replied, “I think I’m retiring from lefse making after this year.” With her claiming she was hanging up her lefse apron, I began to realize what had actually just occurred. Lefse making is a tradition that had been a part of her family for years and years and because of this short lesson, would now continue on for future generations.

So here are a few tips: use a lot of flour, be careful not to rip the dough, always pay attention to the stove when there is lefse on it, and most importantly, take your time and be patient because your reward will be delicious. And so concluded our lesson on lefse.


18 Comments »

  1. SiouxFanForever says:

    Please spell it correctly. It is LEFSE, not lefsa.

  2. Mike says:

    We could never transport our lefse like is shown in the picture. My wife rolls it much too thin. It would tear apart. Instead, I take about 1/3 in from the edge with the stick and lift and pull it to about the middle of the round then roll it all up on the stick. Then unroll it on the hot plate. After it is cooked it can be moved as shown.

    We also found it necessary/helpful to drink wine while making lefse. A double batch becomes a small problem. An all-day affair like you described would be a REAL problem.

  3. Eloise Haaland says:

    Lefse is the best — but as stated — if you didn’t grow up eating it –many do not care for it — a co-worker friend would bring her lunch — would have sliced meat, etc in her lefse — almost like a “wrap” — My son in law and one of my grandsons don’t like sugar on their lefse — so I make up special baggies containing “no sugar” for each of them on the holidays — I do not make my own lefse — my Mother never learned — my sister and her husband have made it but prefer to buy — too much work!

  4. dorene nelson says:

    the way I grew up eating Lefsa is with a mixture of potatoes , lutefisk and melted butter mix this up and roll it in a lefsa. Very good!! Most of my family likes white sugar.

  5. dorene nelson says:

    I grew up eating lefsa with a mixture of potatoes, lutefisk and butter mixed together and then role that up in a lefsa. No other way!

  6. g says:

    I grew up with the butter/sugar combo, but try buttering the lefse, rolling up,and then dipping in maple syrup. My favorite way to have lefse. I had noticed the contradiction from your dictionary too, hopefully corrected!!

  7. Carol says:

    My family only uses butter on their lefsa. I think it’s too gritty tasting with sugar and it also takes away the flavor of the lefsa.

    • Mike says:

      You need to put the butter and sugar on and then let it sit for at least 15 minutes. The butter mixes with the sugar to make a syrupy sweet solution that is not the least bit gritty. Like good wine, buttered/sugared lefse must be allowed to age. Hmmmm..

      My wife and I make it and somehow we made too much this year (or didn’t give enough away). Still have lots left over, so had it for Easter. Just doesn’t seem like a warm weather food to me.

  8. Carol Herbrandson says:

    My family only uses butter on their lefsa. I think it’s too gritty tasting with sugar and it also takes away the flavor of the.

  9. Jane says:

    I remember my mom and her mom making oodles and oodles of lefse while I was in school and what a great after school treat to eat the ripped or slightly overdone or Austraila shaped lefse deemed not good enough to serve on Christmas day or the day during Christmas season chosen as lutefisk day. Lefse is actually made for wrapping up warm lutefisk dripping with melted butter. As for brown sugar or white sugar,I choose neither,just butter and slightly warmed in the microwave.If you have never eaten lutefisk do not try it for the first time at a large church supper or Sons of Norway. It is best made for a family of 6-8 or less otherwise it will be either over done(NOT good) or cold when you eat (also not good)

    • Evan says:

      You are generalizing, my dad loves lutefisk and he has had many a good lutefisk dinner at local churches. As for what lefse is made for thats a different story. I have made both, and if you know what you are doing you can make it in almost any amount and have it be good. I am 26. My father is almost 80. There are as many different toppings as there are people. Everyone should check out Sod Buster days in Fort Ransom, you will find many homemade treats that we rarely if ever see made anymore.

  10. Chuck says:

    There are shortcuts to making lefse (if you want to make your own, but can’t take the time for the whole process).
    I do not know anyone who has used it, but Jacob’s Never Fail Lefse Mix sounds like it may work.

    http://ingebretsens.com/foods/mixes/lefse-mix.html

    http://www.houseofjacobs.com/

    A couple of places with the products you may need.

  11. Mark says:

    Humm in your Midwestern Dictionary you claim to strongly dislike lefse –

    Lefse: (pronounced “lef suh”) A flat tortilla-like treat, with Norwegian roots (as most things are around Fargo-Moorhead), served usually with butter and sugar on top. Speaking from experience, if you did not grow up eating this, you do not find it delicious.

    Yet in this blog you say otherwise:

    I made lefse. For those of you that think I just made up a word, rest assure it is a real (and delicious) thing.

    I bet you don’t really like it!!!!! You’re just being nice saying you do LOL.

    • You are so observant! I completely forgot I had posted it. Technically my first experience with lefse was a few years ago and I wasn’t a fan. My opinion has since changed. Definitely need to update that!

  12. Mark says:

    I love lefsa. This blog brings back many memories of my mother and I making Lefsa together when i was a child. My grandmother taught my mother how to make it when my parents we first married almost 45 years ago. I think I was 7 or 8 when I first starting making it. Even though it has been almost 20 years since I last made Lefsa, I think it might be time for me to get a refresher course on it so I can pass the tradition on to my boys. My oldest boy, just turned 5 in November, wants to learn how because he “just loves Lefsa so much!”

    As far as teh sugar, brown sugar debate, I choose sugar. I have had brown sugar on it but I think it takes too much of the potatoe and cream taste away.

    There are alot if things you can out on Lefsa. My younger sister puts cheese on it and melts it. My grandmother (who taught my mother) puts jam or marmalade on it. Homemade of course.

    BTW, GO BISON!

  13. Myron Schaffer says:

    So now only one question remains. White or brown sugar? Let’s take a vote. I vote brown.

    • Ohh.. I’ve never tried it with brown sugar! Luckily I still have enough leftovers to test it out.

      • Paul says:

        Once you go brown, you’ll never go back. We have converted all of the imports (brothers in-law, sisters in-law, etc.) that join us for holiday festivities. We don’t need to put out the bowl of white sugar any longer.

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