In her later years, Grandma Adeline’s hands revealed her age. Skin like vellum covered her swollen knuckles, and heavy gold rings spun loosely on thinning fingers. But when she would make potato lefse—a traditional Norwegian flatbread—those same hands were anything but frail.
As Grandma worked flour into a bowl of riced potatoes, her strength and muscle memory far outshone her weak bones and aging body. She had been a professional lefse baker, after all.
I learned to bake lefse and many other Scandinavian and family recipes from her. As we baked–Grandma, Mom, and I together in the kitchen–I’d ask questions, trying to coax out her history. Grandma wasn’t great with details, but I cherished the stories that would emerge as her hands moved, as though resuming those old baking techniques released something in her aging mind.
Grandma was determined to teach Mom and me to make this soft potato flatbread properly. Whenever I see lefse recipes in cookbooks, I feel slightly bad for the reader who attempts to make it without a Norwegian grandma by their side, as it’s very rooted in technique and practice.
In the recipe that follows, I’ve attempted to provide the next best thing with detailed instructions, and I’m delighted to share the tradition with you.
Note that you will need to start this recipe the day before you plan to bake.
Bonus: I’ve created a resource full of lefse-baking equipment, along with many other specialty ingredients, tools, and equipment to help you add a Scandinavian touch to your home. Click here to find it.
Grandma Adeline’s Lefse
Daytona Strong, excerpted from her book “Modern Scandinavian Baking”
Folded or rolled, sweet or savory, there's no shortage of ways to enjoy lefse. One of the most common serving methods is to simply add butter and sugar and maybe a dusting of cinnamon before rolling it up. Feel free to use white or brown sugar–they're delicious both ways.
4 1/2cupsall-purpose flourplus more for rolling the dough
Butterat room temperature, for serving
Rinse and peel the potatoes, then place them in a large pot of boiling, salted water until cooked through—you want them to be thoroughly tender but not over- cooked. Remove the potatoes from the heat and drain well.
When the potatoes are cool enough to touch, press them through a ricer, then measure 12 packed cups into a large bowl. Reserve the rest for another use.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the cream, sugar, and salt. Pour the butter over the pota- toes and stir to incorporate. When the mixture has cooled, cover and refrigerate it overnight.
An hour or so before you’re ready to get started, remove the potatoes from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature.
Mix in the flour, using your hands to work all the ingre- dients together and massage out any lumps.
Shape the dough into balls about 2 inches in diam- eter and flatten them into disks, making sure they’re solid and smooth without cracks. Place them on cookie sheets lined with waxed paper, and keep them in the refrigerator while you work—you want the dough to stay cool, so only remove about six disks at a time.
Set up your lefse rolling station and preheat a griddle or two large skillets. You’ll need a surface on which to roll the lefse—I’d recommend a flour-covered pastry board, a rolling pin (ideally a cloth-covered corrugated one), a thin spatula or a turning stick, and a brush for removing excess flour. Sprinkle flour liberally over the board and rolling pin and rub it in to prevent the dough from sticking. (You’ll repeat this when you’re finished rolling each piece of dough—keeping a bowl full of flour at your workspace is helpful.)
Dip both sides of a dough disk into the flour, then place it on the board. Roll the lefse, using a medium touch, going in different directions to make a thin circle.
Gently slide a lefse stick or heat-proof spatula under the lefse, a couple of inches from the edge. Carefully roll it over the stick to remove it from the board and transfer it to the hot griddle. (It’s important to not let the lefse sit on the board long after rolling it, or it will stick.) When bubbles start to form on the surface of the lefse, lift up a corner to see if it is ready. There should be some brown spots on the underside. Flip and cook the other side.
Transfer the lefse to waxed paper, and brush the flour off the finished lefse and the griddle. Cover the finished flatbreads with a clean tea towel while working to keep them soft. Flour the board and the rolling pin, and repeat with the remaining dough disks.
To serve, spread a warm lefse with butter and dust with sugar and cinnamon. Roll it up and cut it into 11/2-inch- long pieces, or fold it into sixths.
Storage Tip: Fold each lefse into quarters and separate with a piece of wax paper. Wrap with wax paper or foil, then transfer to plastic bags, pressing out any air. These will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days and also freeze well.