One of the memories I have from home is my mother’s and grandmother’s lefse. A Norwegian tortilla made on a giant griddle filled with creamed butter and sugar.
The Norwegian lefse is made with wheat or potatoes and can be sweet or savoury. Potetlompe is similar to corn tortilla but is made with potatoes and flour and served with sugar and butter. This was a specialty of my grandmother. The sad thing about lefse is that the skills of making it is soon gone.
That is, the traditional way of making lefse is soon gone. Most lefse today are industrial products, lacking the handicraft of a grandmother, lacking the taste of childhood memories. This is why I try to learn old-fashioned food every summer when I travel up North to visit my mother. Last year I learned how to make black pudding. This year we make lefse.
Lefse is traditionally Christmas food, but I remember it also served whenever guests would come by. There are different types of lefse, many require a large griddle called takke and long hours in the kitchen. But there is one lefse, blissfully unaware of how easily she has adapted to new generations. The tjukklefse, the thick lefse, is quite easy to make and is baked in the oven. The only tool you need is a rolling-pin.
One of the most important baking tools of my grandmother’s generation, those born in the beginning of the 20th century, was the rolling-pin. The better you can use the rolling-pin, the less flour you need. My grandmother had two rolling-pins. One plain used for lefse and one with grooves to bake flatbread and other types of lefse.
My mother learned how to make lefse from her mother. And now it is my turn. The challenge with learning my mother’s recipes is how little accurate they are. My mother knows how much more flour she needs just by touching the dough. She oversees while I make the dough, a dough with sour cream and ammonium bicarbonate as raising agent.
My son Loukas of three joins us, persuaded by the promise of using his own little rolling-pin. So two generations sit at my mother’s kitchen table trying to learn the skills of a different time. My mother shows us how to use the rolling-pin, telling how to give it a light touch, moving it back and forward instead of pushing it down.
The scent of creamed confectionary sugar, butter and cinnamon strongly reminds me of lefse. Tjukklefse and some other types of lefse is served as a sandwich with the sweet butter in between. Sometimes they are also served with brown cheese. According to my mother the filling should be generous, and she tells me how she loved the sweet butter as a child, adding cocoa and munching it while her parents were having a nap after dinner. In the absence of sweets, this was her chocolate.
My grandmother passed away many years ago, but her takke (griddle) is still at the loft. Even though I will never achieve her aptitude, my mother has passed on some of my grandmother’s skills to me. When I am looking for a plate to serve the lefse, I come across a plate my grandmother used, the finest plate she had where she served her Christmas cookies and lefse. A part of her is now in my hands, in how to knead the dough, how to use the rolling-pin, how to make lefse.
Norwegian sweet lefse (tjukklefse)
It is easiest to have a friend who bakes while you roll.
120 ml sugar
120 ml syrup (such as Lyle’s golden syrup)
300 ml sour cream with 35 % butterfat (or full-fat crème fraîche)
2 tbsp ammonium bicarbonate
600–700 g flour
400 g butter (at room temperature)
325 g confectionary sugar
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla sugar
1. Whisk egg, sugar and syrup with an electric beater for 2 minutes. Add the sour cream and mix until incorporated.
2. Mix the ammonium bicarbonate with 200 g of the flour and stir into the batter with a mixing spoon. Add more flour until it comes together. When the dough is still sticky, add the rest of the flour while kneading it on a lightly dusted table. A minute of kneading is fine. Let the dough rest for 4–5 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 175C/350F/Gas 4. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
4. Divide the dough into 14 units. Using a rolling-pin, roll out into a circle with a diameter of about 20 cm. Turn the dough often and lightly dust it.
5. Place two circles on the baking tray and bake for about 6–7 minutes until very lightly brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
6. Make the filling by creaming the butter, confectionary sugar and cinnamon.
7. Categorize the circles so they are of equal size. Choose two of the same size and smear a generous amount of the filling on one of the circles. Place the other half on top. To make them more similar, cut uneven edges.
8. Divide each «circular sandwich» the way you slice a pizza. The lefse will keep for a couple of days if stored in a box. Also, it freezes well.