Lefse is without doubt the Norwegian flatbread most well known to the international world. Whenever I mention to people that I’m Norwegian, I’ve had numerous “ah, I love lefse!” outbursts, as lefse seems to be a culinary item most folks can agree is a great invention. Lefse is a soft flatbread made from either potatoes or flour, milk, cream or even sour cream, sugar and butter. It is spread with butter, sugar and sometimes cinnamon and folded up and eaten at room temperature. The making of lefse is incredibly laborious, and a reason why very few choose to make these from scratch anymore. Much like many foods from the old days, it has experienced a come back and younger people today have thankfully taken an interest in bringing back the tradition of baking lefse.
Lefse is baked all over Norway, and the ingredients and variations are too many to count. As with most food items I choose to cover in this blog, Norway has a long history of making lefse. Today we see many lefser made from potatoes, but in the beginning, lefse was normally made with flour. In the 1800s, potatoes started to get used, particularly in the south-east, and later, the lefse has typically contained a mixture of potatoes, flour and cornstarch. On the west coast (known to many as the best coast) the common ingredients are flour, sour cream and kefir or buttermilk. The kefir was in essence, “sour milk”, and was used in the lefse before the milk went bad. The use of the potatoes and flour mixture were probably a result of the housewives having to use whatever they had left on the farm. While the “flatbrød” covered in part one of this trilogy, was considered an every day bread, lefse belonged to special occasions and holidays, such as Christmas. As lefse baking is an involved process, they were kept dry and then patted with some water right before being spread with a combination of butter and sugar, or filled with savory items, and served. Lefse can also be frozen and kept for months this way.
Some special equipment is needed to make lefse, but luckily we can easily find this even in the U.S. these days, and at a reasonable price. My favorite online store for all things lefse is www.lefsestore.com where the below photo is borrowed from – illustrating the items useful in lefse baking: the patterned rolling pin, the special griddle (on which you can make all the flatbreads I’ve written about these past few days), a cloth with measurements used to gauge how large the rolled out circles of lefse should be to fit the griddle, a potato ricer if potatoes is included in the dough, a cloth to moisten and cover the rolled out pieces with, and finally the wooden pin used to flip and transfer the lefse circles with.
As we have talked about, there are endless variations of this traditional flatbread, and although I’ve always preferred my mother’s version, it is worth giving a quick description of some other popular lefse types:
Tjukklefse (“Thick lefse”): This is a variety I’ve often seen made by Norwegian-Americans, and perhaps not what I personally assosicate with lefse, but it, as the name implies, a thicker variety, most often made of potatoes but can also be flour, and usually spread with a cinnamon sugar mixture. I also find this a bit drier and not as delicate as the flour version.
Potetlefse (“Potato lefse”): Made from potatoes, and has a thickness between the tynnlefse and tjukklefse. It is a bit smaller and often round, and sometimes used as a hot dog bun to roll up the dog (called “pølse med lompe”, another popular food item in Norway which I will touch upon in a different post). I’ve seen these also used as a wrap, either in the version of a sandwich or “pin wheel” appetizers, both savory and sweet.
Møsbrømlefse: This is a version popular in northern Norway, made of half water and half brown cheese that is mixed with flour to create a thick sauce. When cooled it is smeared on to the lefse and is topped with butter, sugar and sour cream before being cooked on the griddle. When the butter is melted and “møsbrømen” is warm, it is ready; hence this lefse type is served warm, and wrapped up to look like an envelope. Ice cold milk is the preferred drink with the møsbrømlefse, sometimes topped with syrup. It has a strong taste, and is considered more a meal than just a snack.
Hardangerlefse (Lefse from an area in Norway called “Hardanger”): A thin lefse, rolled out with a pin that has ruffled patterns on it, creating a grid in the lefse which helps prevent air pockets in the dough while baking. The lefse is left to dry, and can keep for about six months as long as it is properly stored. When dipped in water, it regains a bread-like texture and the water is even said to enhance the flavor profile of the lefse. Often savory items such as herring, salmon and eggs are folded in the lefse.
Tynnlefse (“Thin lefse”): This is my mother’s recipe, and perhaps the more common version found on the west coast of Norway; it’s soft, light and thin, flour or potato based, and spread with a butter, sugar and vanilla mixture and folded up and cut into about 7-inch size pieces. In my house you never eat these without “søst” (pictured with my mother’s lefse below), a traditional condiment from Sunnmøre, the region where I grew up. Whole milk (preferably milk which has not been homogenized) and kefir is brought to a boil, syrup is added and the mixture is slowly boiled down until it separates, darkens and start forming lumps. The whole cooking process can last an entire day. A sample recipe of søst has been included below my lefse recipe at the end. Søst can also be called “gomme” in other parts of the country.
While I’m saving my mother’s recipe for another time (some things have to stay a secret), I’ve chosen to share another really great recipe which I hope you will all want to try out!
1 recipe makes about 25 “lefser”:
2 sticks butter, unsalted and softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs1 quart buttermilk or kefir
3 1/4 lbs all purpose flour
2 tbsp hornsalt (or baking soda if you can’t find hartshorn/horn salt)
To spread lefse with:
3 1/2 sticks butter, room temp/softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp vanilla sugar (you can make your own vanilla sugar, by adding a couple of vanilla beans to confectioner sugar in an airtight container for about 1 -2 weeks)
Whip butter and sugar in kitcen aid with paddle attachment until light yellow and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and kefir together in a small bowl and add to butter-sugar mix inter-chcanged with the flour and hornsalt. Don’t overmix the dough as it will become too elastic and difficult to handle! Let dough sit in a cool place for a couple of hours before handling. Divide the dough into pieces of about 100 grams each. Start rolling them out using your rolling pin and measurement cloth. The element should be shaped into about 15-inch circles. When rolled out, bake on griddle until light brown, place the baked circles on top of each other to gently flatten them out.
Spread: Whip butter, sugar and vanilla sugar together until combined.
When ready to serve the lefse, moisten them lightly with water before spreading them with the butter-sugar mix. Spread the mixture on half the circle, and fold it in half or fold each side in so they meet in the middle and fold again. Cut into serving pieces and enjoy!!
10 quarts milk (preferably not homogenized)
3 quarts kefir or butterilk
1 cup dark syrup
1o tbsp barley meal
2 cups raisins
3 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Heat a big pot over medium heat and add the butter. Pour in the milk and bring to nearly a boil. Add in the syrup and whisk until combined. Add the kefir/buttermilk and stir a few times before letting it sit until the mix separates. You will see the white “cheese” clump up and the liquid will turn yellowish and a bit dark because of the syrup. Bring the mix up to a gentle boil again. the liquid is supposed to now steam away while the content in the pot will get darker (it’s the sugar in the milk which causes the darker colorization). You don’t need to stir much during this time, but if the mix starts to boil or simmer too hard and the liquid becomes light brown, stir more often. This entire process will take about 3-4 hours. After this, add the barley meal to add some consistency to the ‘søst”. Mix the flour in properly, followed by the cinnamon, cardamom and raisins. Cook for about 10 minutes while stirring continuously. This completes the cooking process at which point you can pour the mixture into a wide bowl and continue stirring until it cools down. If you prefer big lumps in the søst, make sure to only carefully stir now and while cooing on the stove, if you want it finer in consistency/less lumpy, stir a bit harder. When the søst has chilled down, it is ready to be served, or packed away.