For holiday comfort, look no further than Lefse and Lingonberries

Illustration for article titled For holiday comfort, look no further than Lefse and Lingonberries
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

Lefse are thin potato-based flatbreads traditionally enjoyed by Norwegians at Christmastime. Why are they not enjoyed during the rest of the year? This gal, the granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants, has zero idea. They’re relatively plain and incredibly versatile, with nothing about them screaming “fa la la la la la” in any sort of way.

I’ve known many a Lutheran church that holds an annual lefse-making shindig in the early days of December, bringing the people of their community through a shared love of warm flatbread and cheap percolated coffee. The lefse is then sold to parishioners to raise money, and while I can’t pinpoint what the church is doing with all that sweet, sweet lefse cash, I’ve been to several end-of-year church fundraisers whose purpose was to keep the heat on, the roof upright, and the sidewalks shoveled during the cold, snowy months ahead.

Maybe that’s how lefse managed to get itself pigeonholed as a Christmas treat, even though I personally think it should be an all-year-round sort of thing. Maybe if churches started putting more lefse-making parties on their calendar they could fund all sorts of infrastructure projects that could make going to mass more appealing, like building fancy bathrooms with high-tech Japanese toilets, or replacing the pews with ergonomic beanbag chairs. Or why not convert an old confessional into an all-you-can-eat lefse booth? I would consider waking up before noon on a Sunday for that.

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A few things you should be aware of before you get ready to flatbread your face off:

  • Traditionally lefse are made with a potato ricer, but I do not own a potato ricer, nor do I have any intention of ever purchasing one. Instead I turn to my trusty stand mixer, which, when fitted with the whisk attachment, does a pretty excellent job of turning boiled potatoes into a creamy mash.
  • The potatoes need to spend a night in the fridge before you can get to lefse-ing, so remember to plan ahead.
  • There is no firm measurement when it comes to how much flour you’ll need to add, because it varies based on how dry your potatoes are. The dough will absorb as much flour as it needs, to don’t stress out about this too much! Just be forewarned that it will be plenty, and you’ll probably make a mess of yourself. Keep the bag of flour on the counter while you work in case you need it, keep your board extremely well dusted, and wear an apron.
  • If you work with a single pan, you’re going to be standing over the stove for a good long while. If possible, use multiple pans or a multi-burner griddle.
  • Read the recipe all the way through at least twice, because you want to get the process burned into your brain before you start rolling. You don’t want to have to pull this up on your laptop again once you’re covered in flour.

Lefse can be eaten with literally anything you want, because in the land of flatbread, there are no rules. I enjoy mine slathered in good salted butter with a slick of tart jam, and for Christmas-y lefse, I gussied up my usual choice of lingonberry preserves with some fresh cranberries and mulled wine. You’ll more than likely have leftover preserves, which really isn’t a problem. Try it on turkey sandwiches, mix it with club soda, or just make more lefse to pair with it.


Illustration for article titled For holiday comfort, look no further than Lefse and Lingonberries
Photo: Allison Robicelli
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Lefse with Cranberry-Lingonberry Preserves

Makes about 24 lefse

  • 3 lbs. Russet potatoes (about 8)
  • 1/4 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more for the boiling water
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups flour plus a whole bunch more (just keep the bag on the counter)
  • Softened butter or oil, for cooking

Fill a large pot halfway with cold water. Peel the potatoes, slice into 1/4" thick discs, and toss them straight into the water. Agitate with your hands until the water gets cloudy, drain, then refill the pot with water until it covers the potatoes by at least 2 inches. Add two hefty pinches of salt, cover the pan, then place over high heat. When the water comes to a rolling boil, remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 5-7 minutes until the potatoes easily break apart when pressed with the side of a fork.

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Drain the potatoes into a colander, shaking it vigorously to remove as much water as you can. Put the stick of butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, then add the hot potatoes and beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, breaking up any large pieces of unmelted butter with a spatula, then beat for another minute to let more steam escape. Lower the mixer speed to medium-low, add the heavy cream and flour, and beat for about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Before you start making the lefse, get your kitchen set up so you can make your life easier. Grab a nonstick skillet (or two). Cut several large squares of parchment paper, just about the size of each pan you’ll be using, to help you transfer the lefse from the board to the stove. Clean everything off the counter next to your stove, because flour is going to go everywhere and you don’t need to be making the cleaning process harder than it needs to be. Dust a rolling pin and wooden board liberally with flour, and keep a hefty pile of flour off to the side. (Keep the whole bag of flour out, too, because you may need it). Put the softened butter or oil for greasing the pan(s) in a small bowl with a small pastry brush set up top, then set another pastry brush next to your rolling area with the parchment squares and a bench scraper. You all set up? Good. Now, let’s lefse!

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Dump your cold dough out onto the very-well-floured board and begin to knead it with your hands, adding flour as needed until you end up with something that feels like soft Play-Doh. The dough is going to be crazy sticky, so use your bench scraper to help you out, and keep adding flour — the dough will keep sucking up exactly as much flour as it needs, and once it has, it’ll stop sticking. Pinch off balls of dough slightly larger than a golf ball, roll them between your well-floured hands to smooth them out, then set aside. (If your kitchen is warm or you’re working with a single pan, you may want to keep these dough balls refrigerated, pulling out only a few at a time to be rolled.)

Before you get to rolling: be forewarned the first one or two you make will quite possibly be a disaster, which is totally okay! It might take a few tries to find your groove with the technique. Those disaster lefse are yours to snack on while cooking the good-looking lefse you can show off on Instagram.

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Once again, make sure your board is floured extremely well, then use your hand to smack a dough ball into a thin patty, flipping it over a few times to make sure it doesn’t stick. Put a parchment square on top of the dough and begin rolling it out, giving the paper a a tug every few seconds to make sure the lefse isn’t sticking to the board. (If it is, gently lift it up by the parchment and throw a bit more flour underneath it.) Keep rolling until the dough is thin like a crepe, then lift up the paper — the lefse will be stuck to it. Give it a little shake to remove the bulk of the extra flour, then use a pastry brush to sweep off the rest.

Heat your pan over medium-high heat, then use a pastry brush to coat the bottom with butter or oil. Put the lefse in the pan, paper side up, and leave it alone for about two minutes. Try to peel off the parchment from the top — it will release itself after the lefse has cooked a bit, so if it doesn’t budge, just leave it alone and try again in 30 seconds or so. Once the parchment has been peeled off, brush the top of the lefse with a little bit more oil or butter, then flip over and cook the other side until it’s covered in beautiful brown dots. Remove to a tray, and repeat.

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Once you’ve removed the parchment from a lefse, give the paper a few seconds to cool, and then reuse it for more lefse. It takes about four minutes to cook a lefse, so you’ve got time to roll out new ones while cooking. If you’re not planning on eating all your lefse in one day, fold them into quarters and freeze in heavy-duty plastic bags.

Cranberry-Lingonberry Compote

  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 pod star anise
  • 1 (10-oz.) jar lingonberry jam

Combine the cranberries, red wine, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and star anise in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the jar of lingonberry jam, then cool and serve.

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Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

Allison, think outside the box, as it were. Why not convert an old confessional into a high-tech Japanese toilet?