This tender, tasty and traditional Norwegian flatbread is the perfect treat. Lifted off a hot griddle, spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, it's the festive snack you'll be dreaming of all year round.
Earlier this year I traipsed through Norway and Iceland in search of the Northern Lights and delicious Scandinavian food.
The Northern Lights nearly crushed my spirit with their hide and seek act...but I discovered the centuries-old tradition of lefse-making in Norway, so my adventure was worth every shivering moment!
What is Norwegian Flatbread (Lefse) Made Of?
The earliest lefse recipes were made during Viking times using just flour, water and salt. The flatbread could be dried and stored for months, offering a stable nutrition source.
As potatoes became more readily available, this perishable starchy ingredient became included in some lefse recipes, as another way to preserve the food. The most common type of lefse made by Norwegian Americans today is a soft flatbread, served hot off the griddle with a brush of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.
Is Lefse Still Eaten in Norway?
I found at least a dozen different varieties of lefse - from dried crackers to flatbreads to soft wraps - in the grocery stores we visited around Norway. It was more difficult to find fresh lefse in a bakery or restaurant. In the US, making lefse for the holidays is a family tradition among many Norwegian Americans. You can also find it in larger Norwegian community restaurants, particularly in the upper midwest.
What is the Difference Between a Crepe and a Lefse?
Norwegian lefse is made using potato and a bit of flour and rolled very thin before grilling. A traditional French crepe is made into a thin batter that is poured and spread on a griddle, then filled or wrapped around sweet or savory ingredients. Lefse is heartier than a crepe, but more delicate than a flour tortilla. My husband, who grew up in Asia, calls it a Norwegian-style roti. It's tender and warm and can be served sweet or savory, like so many homemade flatbreads made and served around the world.
Is Lefse Norwegian or Swedish?
Lefse is Norwegian. Lompe is a similar flatbread more commonly made and eaten in Sweden. Lompe are often used to wrap hotdogs and in savory meals instead of the Norwegian style sweetened butter and cinnamon sugar roll.
Types of Norwegian Lefse:
Based on my travels in Norway, conversations with bakeries and grandmas, as well as the Norsk Folkemuseum lefse makers outside of Oslo, here is what I can tell you about some of the most popular styles of lefse around the country.
(Thanks also to Visit Norway for their comprehensive guide, as well!)
Keep in mind most villages and regions had their own unique style and serving preferences, and individual families held their lefse secrets close to the vest!
Potetlefse – Lefse made with potatoes. The most common style of lefse for Norwegian Americans and the recipe we're making today!
Vestlandslefse – A sweet lefse from Fjord Norway with butter, sugar and cinnamon.
Møsbrømlefse – A lefse from Northern Norway, served with a traditional brown cheese.
Hardangerlefse or Tykklefse – A thicker version of the sweet lefse with butter, cinnamon and sugar. (This is the style of lefse made at the Norsk Folkemuseum - if you head to their website they even share their recipe card. Check out the photos from my visit to the museum earlier this year!)
Kjøttlefse – a folded over lefse filled with meat then griddled, similar to a quesadilla.
Krinalefse – Originally from Northern Norway, this lefse has a serrated pattern made using a specially constructed krina tool. This lefse is broiled and served with butter, sugar and cinnamon.
Gnikkalefse – A lefse variety that is fried with a light coating made using skimmed milk, potato flour, wheat flour and salt.
Ingredients for Potato Lefse:
Potatoes: Some folks swear by russet potatoes, but I most often use yukon gold, or a similar equivalent. I prefer their balanced texture and flavor. Stay away from red potatoes, as their waxiness won't take well to making a solid dough.
Butter: I use salted butter, but feel free to use what you have and use a pinch more salt in the dough.
Heavy cream: adds a little fattiness and rich flavor to our soft flatbread dough.
Sugar: just a few tablespoons is enough, even if you plan to serve a sweet lefse. Because you'll be adding even more cinnamon sugar at the end! And keeping the sugar low allows you to use the finished flatbread for savory wraps and rolls, too.
Salt: to balance and enhance our potato flavor.
All purpose flour: not too much flour required for this easy recipe, but you'll need a good amount for rolling, so be sure to have at least 3 cups on hand.
Full ingredients and measurements included in the printable recipe card below.
Equipment Needed to Make Norwegian Lefse:
I've made delicious lefse with literally zero special equipment. Just a mini-rolling pin, a well-floured counter and a cast iron skillet with a fish spatula for turning. So I can say with confidence that it's possible to make mouthwatering lefse without buying a cupboard full of new tools!
That said, your lefse-making-life will be a lot easier with a few bits and bobs of equipment.
Cloth Rolling Pin Cover - keeps your dough from sticking onto the rolling pin and makes cleaning those ridges a breeze! Use them when rolling out any type of cookie.
Pastry Cloth - wrap it around a pastry board or a cutting board to keep the dough from sticking. This pastry cloth includes measurements on the cloth so you can see when you've reached your 10-inch round without breaking out a ruler.
Lefse Turning Stick - this wooden spatula (which reminds me of an oversized paint stirring stick) makes moving the lefse to the grill and turning lefse easier, especially if you're using a large lefse grill. I'm still using a combination of my hands to move the lefse to the skillet and then an offset spatula or fish spatula for turning. So I consider this optional if you have access to a thin spatula.
Potato Ricer or Food Mill - I've made lefse using a potato masher, and I found it impossible to get a truly buttery smooth mixture without a food mill. I've linked two of my favorite options here. If your ricer or food mill has a range of sizes, choose the smallest attachment to ensure the smoothest potato mixture.
Lefse Kit - if you're committed to your new Life of Lefse, spring for the whole package. I've linked to accessory kits that include lefse specific tools, and you can even include a full electric lefse griddle! Get the bundle of lefse goodies on Amazon and you'll be the envy of Norwegian grandmothers everywhere!
How to Make Norwegian Potato Lefse Recipe: Step by Step Instructions
Making lefse is a simple process, but for best results, it requires overnight resting. So the day before you make lefse, start the process by preparing your potatoes.
1. To begin, peel potatoes. Cut each in quarters or eights to be about the same size. Cover with salted water and boil until tender and pierced easily with a fork. Drain and return the potatoes to the hot pot, allowing them to steam off for a minute or two.
2. Quickly rice your potatoes or use a food mill to smooth the hot mixture directly into a large bowl.
3. Add diced butter to the hot potato mixture and stir to melt and combine.
4. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight.
5. The next day, take your potatoes out of the refrigerator. Use a fork or spatula to break up the mixture into small chunks.
Then add ⅓ cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 cup flour. Stir to combine fully, then use your hands to knead the dough with the heal of your hand until it comes together into a smooth ball. This will only take 45-60 seconds. Depending on the texture of your dough, you may add up to another ½ cup flour and up to 3 additional tablespoons of heavy cream. You’re looking for a soft but cohesive dough texture.
6. Use ¼ cup measuring cup to shape about 14-16 smooth balls. Flatten them lightly but be sure the edges are clean and smooth so you have minimal cracking when rolling. Set your dough balls aside to rest in the refrigerator while you heat your pan. I have a 12-inch skillet, and these ¼ cup patties roll out very thin to around 10-inches. If you’re looking for the same thinness with a larger 14-inch diameter, use a ⅓ cup measure.
7. Heat your skillet over medium-high heat - you’re looking for a 400-450℉ on the pan, so let it heat for 3-4 minutes while you roll the first round. (Keep the remaining dough balls in the refrigerator until ready to roll each.) Using a well-floured pastry cloth and a ridged (corrugated) rolling pin, roll your dough balls one at a time. If using a regular rolling pin, the lefse won’t roll as thinly as a ridged rolling pin will allow. But the lovely Norwegian pancake will still be delicious, so roll on!
8. If you're looking for a perfect edge on your lefse, take a page from Chuck Ilheln, winner of the National Lefse Cook-off. Just use a pizza cutter to trim up the edges before adding your dough to the lefse griddle. If it's good enough for the lefse champion, it's good enough for us!
9. Once rolled, use a lefse stick or a couple of offset spatulas to transfer the dough round to the hot skillet. Let the lefse cook for about 45-60 seconds, until golden brown spots and bubbles appear on the grilled side. Flip and grill another 30-45 seconds, until the same coloring appears. Remove to a dry towel and cover while grilling the next lefse round. Use a dry paper towel to brush out the skillet of any excess flour residue between each lefse grilling.
10. If eating immediately, spread the warm lefse with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Roll and eat like a tortilla.
11. If making to store and serve later, let the lefse cool a bit, then roll or fold into quarters and store in a resealable bag or airtight container. Store lefse in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
FAQ's and Serving Suggestions for Potato Lefse:
Using a pastry cloth for rolling and a rolling pin cover will help keep the lefse from sticking. Since the dough starts with very little flour, generously flour your board / cloth and pin before rolling.
Using a nonstick pan or electric skillet, a lefse griddle or a well-seasoned cast iron skillet should prevent the lefse from sticking. Use a dry paper towel to brush out the skillet of any excess flour residue between each lefse grilling, as well.
Traditionally, potato lefse is served with a brush of butter and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon. Like French crepes, these flatbreads can also be served with fruit jams, Nutella, or in savory appetizers or meals wrapped around smoked salmon and cream cheese or ham.
Serve lefse warm, room temperature or cold. Most people prefer hot lefse straight off the skillet. You can (nearly) recreate this magic by heating your leftover lefse in the microwave for a few seconds.
I recommend using fresh potatoes when making lefse. Because leftover potatoes will have unknown rations of cream, butter, salt and pepper, it will be hard to adjust for the proper moisture balance. If you're looking for ways to use up leftover mashed potatoes, try these Crispy Cheesy Mashed Potato Latkes!
Lefse is most delicious the moment it comes off the griddle. Spread on softened butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then roll it up and enjoy. If you've eaten your fill and there's more lefse to store, let the lefse breads cool, then fold into quarters and keep in an airtight container or plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To freeze, fold lefse into quarters, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in a freezer-safe bag or container for up to 6 months.
I have never used instant potatoes for lefse, only real potatoes. So I can't say I recommend it. But I did find a recipe from Hungry Jack if you want to give it a try!