My favorite holiday tradition: Lefse

My heritage on my mom's side is essentially German and Norwegian - my grandmother is 100% German, and my grandfather is a mix, but a good chunk of that is Norwegian. Around Christmastime, though, the Norwegian influence takes center field when my grandma and I get together to make lefse. [Yeah, I know I just said it was my grandfather who's the Norwegian, but it's my grandmother that makes the lefse for him!]

lefse (lěf'sə) n. A round flatbread of Norwegian origin, traditionally made of a potato-based dough and baked on a griddle. [Norwegian, from leiv, flat cake, from Old Norse hleifr.]
(Definition taken from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/lefse)

That about sums up the food definition of what lefse is. But in my family it means a lot more. It's the symbol of a day spent happily between my grandma and I in the kitchen - mixing ingredients, forming dough, rolling out and baking the lefse - all the while laughing and talking and catching up with one another. It's also a favorite treat in our annual family smorgasbord on Christmas Eve night - something that would be tragic to miss from the food spread of the evening.

I think one thing I've always liked about making lefse is all of the special equipment it requires - there's something about taking all of that stuff out each year and creating our annual holiday treat. It's the same feeling that you get when you take out those special plates and glasses for a special occasion - a rare occurrence made all the better from the special stuff used. Below, in the recipe, I have, whenever possible, tried to describe and/or show all of these special tools. It all makes me smile, just thinking about it!

The one issue I foresaw for this year's lefse-making was the milk and the Crisco in our lefse recipe. Dairy is always bad for me - I'm still eating nothing that has dairy or the potential to have touched dairy. And Crisco is awful - fully hydrogenated oils, partially-hydrogenated oils... my stomach does a flip every time I hear the word Crisco. [Stomach: "flip"] But my grandma, being the fantastic woman that she is, figured we'd just make the lefse this year with ingredients I can eat, and that way I won't miss out on anything. Score! And so we used soy milk and vegan shortening in place of the milk and Crisco called for in the recipe. And no one noticed any difference - it's still as delicious as ever!

And so, without further ado, I give you our modified lefse recipe (original ingredients provided in italics & parentheses next to subbed ingredients), with a series of pictures to give you a glimpse into the world of lefse-making. Hope you enjoy!

Old-Fashioned Lefse

Note: this is a full day job - you can't make the batter one day and cook the next. It pretty much all has to be done in one day. The only thing you can do the night before is cook and rice the potatoes. So make sure you've cleared your calendar for lefse-making day!

4 cups diced potatoes - cook 5 lbs russet potatoes, then dice, and this should be about 4 cups
1/3 cup vegan shortening (Crisco)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup soymilk (1% or skim milk)
1 1/2 cup flour

1. Cook potatoes and dice. Put a small amount of potatoes into a ricer and rice potatoes to get rid of all the chunks.

2. Combine potatoes, shortening, sugar, salt, and soymilk, whip up lightly. Let cool thoroughly. Add flour and knead smooth. Cut batter into thirds and make into rolls, wrap in waxed paper

3. Divide batter into thirds. Place each third on a sheet of waxed paper, tightly roll the paper around the dough (making a log shape), and twist the ends - it should look like a giant tootsie roll. Place the 3 dough logs into the fridge to cool for about 1 hour. Note: do not leave overnight - the rolls will disintegrate to mush!

4. Once cooled, take out 1 roll at a time, unwrap, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices.

5. Roll slice on floured pastry board (our rolling pin has a cloth sock on it; our pastry board is a round board with cloth over top), making it thin, as close to a circle as possible. Use plenty of flour, but don't go overboard with it - you want enough so the batter doesn't stick but not enough to "drown" the dough and make it tough.

6. Roll topside lightly with grooving roller. (Don't turn over and groove other side - since it's so thin, the underside gets a little groovy, too.) [Haha...groovy...]

7. Using lefse stick, lift lefse from center.

8. Set on hot griddle (ours is an electric, round, brushed metal griddle - set to 375-400), rolling the stick out from underneath.

9. Bake until golden brown on topside.

10. Use lefse stick to lift from middle and turn to bake other side, again rolling lefse stick out from underneath. Bake until brownish spots like those on top appear on the bottom side of the lefse. (Each side should take no more than a minute or two.)

11. Use lefse stick to lift lefse off of griddle. Place flat (same roll out from underneath technique with stick) on a clean towel and cover with a second towel. Place several sheets of lefse on top of each other to finish cooking them in their own steam. No more than 10-12 per stack.

12. Once lefse stacks have completely cooled, fold in 4ths and place in plastic bags - no more than 4 to a sandwich-sized bag. The best way to keep extras is to freeze them. Keep in fridge no longer than 4-5 days.

To serve (at least the way my family does it):
- plain (my favorite!)
- spread thinly with butter/margarine and sprinkle sugar on top, roll
- sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mix on top, then sprinkle a few drops of lemon juice on top, roll or fold

These may not all be the "Norwegian" way to eat lefse, but I never said we were 100% Norwegian! Hah!

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