Submitted by Karen Bratcher, northern Idaho
To my knowledge I have no Norski ancestry. I had never heard of lefse until about ten years ago, when a coworker of Norwegian descent rhapsodized about it and brought in some she had purchased from the Lutheran church, which has a big lefse-making gathering every holiday season. To tell you the truth I was not very impressed with the stuff, it was very bland and as thick and almost as tough as a flour tortilla. I happened to have a wonderful book “Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas” which contained a lefse recipe among hundreds of other terrific flatbreads and side dishes (I bought the book after reading about and trying the delicious whole wheat pita bread recipe), so I attempted to make some. My first efforts were very frustrating. The dough is so soft and fragile it does take a few batches to develop the technique of rolling, picking up, and cooking. However, they tasted wonderful, in fact my Norwegian friend says they are the best she has ever tasted, and she is impressed with how thin and soft the finished lefse are. I went to her house once to try and teach her how to make lefse herself because nobody in her family makes them, but she became so frustrated trying to roll out the sticky dough that she threw the dough ball against the wall in disgust and gave up!
My first few years making lefse I used a cast iron skillet on the stove, and as I gained speed in rolling I also used a second skillet, with a Teflon finish. Both worked equally well. I picked the rounds up off my rolling area with a pastry scraper and used my fingers to flip them and then remove them from the skillets. I first rolled them on a floured board, then began duct-taping a thin dishtowel to the counter and flouring it to make a better rolling surface. Eventually I purchased a lefse stick and aluminum griddle from Bethany Housewares, and made a hot pad from silver ironing-board-cover fabric and quilt batting to put between the hot griddle and laminate countertop. My rolling surface has evolved to a sanded 24″ circle that I cut from plywood, with a snug cover I made from heavy muslin (first wash and dry on high heat to shrink the material as much as it will go before cutting) with elastic around the edges to hold it in place. Of course this also makes a terrific surface to roll out pie crusts and other pastries… and once you have mastered the art of rolling lefse, no pastry dough will ever give you trouble again! When finished rolling, I shake the excess flour out of the cloth and the rolling pin “sock”, put them in a ziploc and store in the freezer. I only wash them if I have not floured enough and they have a lot of dough ground in.
I just use a regular rolling pin but with a rolling pin cover (I call it a sock) to hold flour. I have read one can even use a clean tube sock for the rolling pin cover — poke a small hole in the toe end to force one handle through, then tack the sock firmly around the other end of the pin. For beginning lefse makers, I would recommend always using a well-floured rolling pin sock and a well-floured cloth to roll on, which will eliminate a lot of frustration with the sticky dough. I also make lefse much smaller than the huge griddle-sized traditional ones, because the dough is so much easier to handle when it is 8″ rather than 15″! Depending on how much time I want to take, I will alternate using real potatoes, or potato flakes.