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).
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.
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
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.
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.