Lefse Making in Ladysmith

Minnesota & Wisconsin lefses, oddly, have an essence of tater-hot dish and cheesecurd, respectively.
Minnesota & Wisconsin lefses, oddly, have an essence of tater-hot dish and cheesecurd, respectively.

It’s lefse making time all across the Nordic and near-Nordic scapes. From Hamar, Norway, to Portland, Oregon, to Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and beyond, the aroma of griddled potato flatbread fills the air. The annual tradition signals the beginning of winter, the coming of the holidays (Christmas to Easter), and the realization that one’s weekly exercise routine may need to be doubled, or even tripled, if there is any hope of keeping the svelte figure that was chiseled summer last.

The grand old Gerard Hotel keeping watch over the Majestic Flambeau
The grand old Gerard Hotel keeping watch over the Majestic Flambeau

Lefse can be made year-round, if the humidity levels are low enough (or if you’re willing to add additional flour); but it is often affiliated with the winter months as a companion to dinners of lutefisk, and/or some type of Northern European meatballs, and/or rakfisk, smoked trout or salmon. The history of potato lefse dates back two-and-a-half centuries and flour lefse might go back before the age of the Vikings (not Bud Grant’s Purple People Eaters). If you’ve never tried this Scandinavian staple, and you’d be willing to dedicate parts of two days to crafting this treat, then the recipe below will guide you through the process.

A few items that help immensely: potato ricer, Christmas bread (for sustenance), mixing bowl, and old fashioned food mill for making fruit butter, etc. to accompany the various breads.
A few items that help immensely: potato ricer, Christmas bread (for sustenance), mixing bowl, and old fashioned food mill for making fruit butter, etc. to accompany the various breads.

First, gather the ingredients for making the lefse:

Beer: I prefer a darker style: Stout (Dogfish Head, LynLake), Porter (Dangerous Man, Smutty Nose), Belgian Quad (Brau Bros, Boulevard) or, if not dark, at least with more heft: Barleywine (AnchorLift Bridge), Imperial Red (Fulton, Lagunitas), Scotch Ale (Steel Toe, Dark Horse) or a robust Brown Ale (Mad Tree, Freehouse). And, seeing as though the beer is not for mixing into the potatoes, you can substitute wine or a nice cordial, whatever you like to sip on.

(1) 5 lb. bag of Burbank Russett potatoes (if you can’t find burbank, see what your grocer offers that is the driest potato—less moisture = better outcomes); this should yield 8-9 cups of riced potatoes, adjust following ingredients by pinches or smidgens if you end up with more or less; recipe will make approximately 2 dozen pieces

(2) sticks of unsalted butter – room temperature; do not substitute margarine and if you want to use lard, that’s fine, just go 80% lard, 20% oil, equivalent to 2 sticks butter (1 cup) (having never tried this, I’m going with what others have said)

(1) Tbsp, or thereabouts, salt (I use kosher—no iodine, and larger surface area means increased contact (with less salt) resulting in greater absorption of moisture, think geometry and chemical reactions); additionally, add at least (2) tsp of kosher salt in the water when cooking potatoes

≈ (1)Tbsp white sugar

(3) cups white flour (again, keep humidity in mind)

This recipe does not use cream or ½ & ½, as many others do, which does create a different, though not necessarily less authentic, version; it’s just our particular take (it’s more about the Love you bring into the kitchen). As an aside, The Sons of Norway don’t use cream either.

Second, gather the necessary implements

(1) pot for cooking 5 lbs of potatoes

(1) potato ricer or masher and forks if no ricer is available

(1) mixing spoon

(1)  1-cup measuring cup

(1) Large mixing bowl

(1) flour sifter if you want, not entirely necessary

Day 1 – peel potatoes, quarter potatoes, and cook as for mashed (until a fork easily pierces the flesh)

  • drain potatoes and then rice the entire batch (in the same pot); if you don’t have a ricer, use a masher, and then two forks to ensure you’ve removed all the lumps
  • once riced, transfer to larger mixing bowl (you may want to transfer by packing the measuring cup and counting so you know how many total cups you’re working with, or not)
  • add both sticks of butter (or lard & oil), salt, & sugar while the potatoes are still warm, and mix until well married
  • cool uncovered for 1½ -2 hours then cover with paper towel and then over the paper towel place a clean cotton dish towel and let potatoes rest over night, on a counter, not refrigerated (don’t tuck the towel in)

Day 2 – Prepare for lefse making by staging the following items: (here they are)

  • set up the lefse griddle/flat top grill (make sure your chosen surface heats to a minimum of 450°, 500° is optimal) 
  • lay out towels for steaming: 3-5 towels should be laid down for the lefse to rest upon, depending on thickness and ability to retain moisture (at least two towels should be akin to a flour sack dish towel-100% soft cotton, these are the towels that will contact the lefse, top & bottom) and another 2-3 towels should be placed on top to cover the lefse as it comes off the griddle, this is done for the steaming process
  • (1) wood pastry board, round is preferable but if you have another shape and it’s large enough to roll out the lefse (at least 20″ x 20″) you can use that, the lefse should roll out to a circular-type shape approximately 12″-14″ in diameter
  • (1-2) pastry cloth(s) that can be secured in a taut fashion over the wood board (having a backup is handy; if you begin to experience excessive gumminess or it is generally being disagreeable, change your cloth)
  • (1) good basic rolling pin with 2-4 covers → (“lefse cloth”/pastry cloth material)
  • (1) corrugated rolling pin (this is for finishing/design purposes)
You may use the corrugated rolling pin for everything, just make sure it is sheathed in the pastry cloth for the primary dough rolling
  • (1 or 2) lefse sticks; if you are employing multiple helpers, it’s nice to have an extra stick but don’t allow for any light-saber battles, they are rather delicate
  • (1) vessel of white flour (at least (2) cups) for dusting the board and the rolling pin
  • (1) small clean cloth stationed next to the griddle for wiping off excess flour in-between each flatbread
  • (1) ¼-cup measuring cup
  • (1) designated location to place your beverage(s)

Day 2 – Procedures

  • divide bowl into half, be as exact as possible but don’t buy a scale just for this, do your best
  • set aside one bowl with half of the potatoes, cover again with new towel
  • add half of the flour to the first batch and mix by hand, this is very important as you are kneading the flour into the potatoes until smooth, because you’re making bread, not potatoes (this will be repeated with the other ½ , post completion of 1st ½—hence, beverage preparation)
  • fill a ¼ cup measuring device (packed but not smushed) and then form the dough into a spherical-like shape and place it onto a plate or board (has to be able to fit in the fridge) allowing it to rest in fridge for at least 30 minutes

Commence with the lefse making

  • preheat griddle to 500° and reduce to 475°ish a few minutes prior to first round hitting the grill (continue to monitor/adjust heat as needed, older grills can be finicky)
  • work 2-3 Tbsp of flour into the pastry cloth (by hand) where the dough flattening will occur (this must be done to sufficiently minimize adherence of dough to cloth)
  • prior to every precious nugget of dough being placed on the board (including the first), lightly dust the rolling area with flour (approximately a Tbsp that is slightly heaping should be enough but adjust as necessary)
  • place dough onto board and give a pat, then turn over and push down slightly, this gives both surfaces an initial coat of flour to help keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin or board
  • start rolling out the dough in short quick strokes of the pin (make sure the cover is on the pin), do not use too much force, just enough to get the dough spreading evenly; here (at the 5:30 mark) is a good example; and pick up the pin as you reach the edge or the fringe will be thinner than the rest of the “disc” making for an overly crisp outer ring
  • keep rolling into a roundish shape until quite thin, a millimeter at most (a dime is 1.35 mm, so thinner than a dime is the goal); if during the rolling, you find the dough sticking to the pastry cloth covered rolling pin, scrape the cloth clean and rub a little flour on the soiled spot, then determine if you need a little more flour on the dough/board or if you’re using too much force (easy, Arnold; repetitive bouts of scraping and flouring means you should replace your rolling pin cover); also, if you find that you’ve completely mangled the now defunct dough ball, just roll it back up, throw it in the fridge and come back to it, just try not to do that more than once to the same lump as the addition of too much flour will give you something that tastes more like a flour cake—no eggs, no butter, no vanilla, no bueno

This is a good time to point out that the most difficult part of the lefse-making process is preventing the dough from sticking to the board, or pin, or both.

  •  once the proper thickness has been achieved, give a quick 2-3 wisp-like rolls with the corrugated rolling pin (with or without a cover, for decorative purposes) very carefully slide one lefse stick under the flattened dough, pretending that you are following a diameter line (maximize surface area for even weight distribution) and gently lift the lefse and transport to the grill
  • gradually unfurl the lefse onto the grill by twisting the stick, don’t try to rush this, it’s not going to help if you’re picking at it to get it flat after tossing it on in a heap
The unfurling of the lefse
The unfurling of the lefse
  • allow lefse to cook for as long as it takes, you’ll know it’s ready to flip when you see smallish bubbles forming and the edges browning nicely; if this is taking more than 1 & ½ minutes, or less than 45 seconds, the heat needs to be adjusted to a warmer/cooler setting (485°/460°)
an exemplary piece of lefse
an exemplary piece of lefse
  • using lefse stick, again gently slide your saber under the mid-section of the half-done bread and using the same technique (twisting motion) place uncooked side down and wait another minute +/-, check it by peeking at underside, before taking it off
  • when lefse is done, remove with lefse stick and lay (still folded in half) on the bottom cotton towel and cover with top towels (& don’t forget to dust off any flour left on the griddle)
lefse laid out on the steaming towels, under the watchful eye of a Dangerous Man
lefse laid out on the steaming towels, under the watchful eye of a Dangerous Man

 

  • Continue to layer each lefse on top of the last, with about one inch showing on the top of the previous piece
  • When you are close to reaching the end of the towels, about 12-15 pieces, move up the first 10-12 so that they are almost entirely on top of each other, about 1/4 inch overlap, and then continue with the layering, moving up more as necessary; and don’t forget to keep the lefse covered, it needs to steam in the towels to retain moisture
  • Once you’ve finished the batch, allow them to steam for another 20 minutes before putting away (if it hasn’t already disappeared); Lefse keeps best in a sealed bag in the refrigerator. It’s good for a few weeks but we don’t usually wait to see how long it will last.

How to eat your culinary delight:

buttered, rolled, ready to eat
buttered, rolled, ready to eat

My preference is a modest spread of butter, rolled up, that’s it. However, many folk prefer a little sugar, brown or white, along with the butter. It’s also perfectly delicious solo, smeared with fruit butter, nibbled with cheese, or filled with meatballs, smoked salmon or gravlax. There is really no wrong way to eat lefse. It tastes delicious any-which-way you nosh it.

Additional information/tips for the artisans attempting this feat:

The import of dry arctic-like air from the region around Oslo, Norway (or Ladysmith, if their bottling line is up and running) can help artificially create conditions that are favorable for a successful lefse making venture (similar to what some bourbon drinkers do (importing limestone filtered water to supposedly enhance the experience). However, you run the risk of getting a package that was not properly sealed and has no return address, and then you are left with nothing to attenuate the humidity in the cooking area.

Rusk County's Dehumidifying plant responsible for much of Western New York's snow
Rusk County’s dehumidifying plant is responsible for much of Western New York’s snow

Ladysmith (and Rusk County more generally) is lucky, when it comes to lefse-making; with the semi-arid Flambeau River enveloping the village, and the dehumidifying plant that is situated neatly on the river’s edge removing even more moisture from the big drink in the Heart-O-The-North, much of the remaining pine forest dampness is removed and the resulting steam is sent off in the general direction of Syracuse, New York (so now you know why Western New York gets so much winter precipitation). This all adds up to create a near-perfect micro-climate for the lefse experience (much like Santa Barbara’s wine regions).

The Mighty Flambeau
The Mighty Flambeau

And for all those kitchen craftswo/men attempting this feat in-between Palm Beach County, Florida (from Belle Glade to Boca Raton) and St. Martin Parish, Louisiana (either region), you may need to seal off your workspace, install some dehumidifiers, and crank up the heat, in addition to importing the more arid form of atmosphere. Moreover, if you don’t have the World Champion lefse-maker (a.k.a. my Mom) helping you out (because she’s busy crafting lefse and other heavenly confectionery, in Fall Creek (which has it’s own semi-arid micro-climate, if less intense), Lefse Time and many many other useful sites/videos have you covered.

Good Luck with the lefse-making venture and let me know if you have questions: 26.3andbeyond@gmail.com

Skol!

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Holiday Policies et al. etc., etc.

Employees of the Great State of Minnesota;

It has come to the attention of the Minnesota Total Management Team (MTMT or M²T² or 2M-2T)) that numerous organizations, firms, corporations (tax inverters, avoiders, & the rest), L.L.P.s, L.L.C.s, 501(c)(1-19, 21-23, 25-29),521(a), 527, governmental offices, and other outfits posing as legitimate businesses (forprofitnonprofits etc., etc.)have engaged in Holiday promotions and celebrations that do not adhere to the Holiday Codes of Minnesota (to include Hudson and La Crosse, WI & Fargo, ND) (established 15 December 2014) which read, in part, as follows:

Let it be known that all manner of Holiday celebration and/or promotion, both official (sanctioned) and unofficial (unsanctioned, and not encouraged by MTMT) to include parties, gatherings, get-togethers, happy-hours, luncheons, cocktail soirees, black-tie formals, cookie exchanges, neighborhood shindigs, affairs, bashes, wingdings, raves, and after-parties, and not excluding religious assemblies, meetings, conventions, rallies, turnouts, convocations, or any other reason for crowds, audiences, or throngs, to gather and engage in the gaiety of the holiday spirit as it relates to Hanukkah/Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Years Eve & Day, St. Lucia Day, Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St, Nicks Day, and any other reason you may find for celebrating (promotions, raises, marriages, engagements, birthdays, births, anniversaries, bonuses (be they monetary, edible, or just good advice), Vikings above .500, Packers & Bears lose on the same day, et al.) shall be planned and carried out according to the Holiday Celebration & Promotion code book (2014)(hereafter referred to as HCPCB), chapter (3), paragraphs 1-74, to include all sub-sections, amendments, addendums, riders, attachments, and all other additions approved by M²T².
Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum; How lovely are thy branches.

General Holiday Festival Guide

The HCPCB was produced to ensure we remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure maximum profitability and fiscal responsibility for our most important stakeholders (Board Members and Shareholders (as opposed to steak-holders)) so that they may continue to move our economy forward. The past year is proof that these job creators (Board members and Shareholders) are having a substantial impact on our broader economic indicators (sales of: Yachts; Ferraris; Rolexes; 10+ carat rings with matching earrings, necklaces, & tennis bracelets; Lobsters (in Minnesota); and six week vacations to Las Vegas (please don’t judge them, these stakeholders are extremely important to a very small segment of our economy) have all increased between 0.05 and 2,500 percent) and the 10’s of 10’s of American jobs that have been created because of these sales increases are worth our pandering to their not truly substantial efforts.

Furthermore, the HCPCB covers appropriate apparel for both sanctioned and unsanctioned festivities. This is done in the best interest of employees as we do not wish to have coworkers attempting to show-off too much individuality as that can lead to further creative ideas and free-thinking which tends to lead employees down the road of anarchist tendencies (not to mention it goes against everything that standardized testing has prepared you for); and we all know what happened to that free-thinker, Sid Vicious.

One modification that will be inserted into next year’s printing and has been authorized for the 2016 Holiday season is the addition of green and gold patterns on sweaters (because that team kind of sucks right now). After much debate and reasoning with the CEO, CFO, COO, and CAO (Chief Apparel Officer), it has been decided that as long as the green and gold garb does not display any signifiers that would give the appearance of being supportive of the football team from Eastern Wisconsin, it will be allowed. As of this time, we are still not allowing anything that could be mistaken for supporting the following: Chicago Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox, Bulls, (Cubs are still OK, it took 108 years) NHL teams from DallasPittsburgh, and New York or NFL teams from Kansas City, Miami, Pittsburgh (we really don’t care for Pittsburgh athletics), and Oakland.

Additionally, in our commitment to providing Minnesota’s workforce with the Happ, Happ, Happiest Holiday season, we are pleased to announce the creation of a frequent flyer card (not to be used at any airline—anywhere—ever). Every time you go to any of the aforementioned Holiday functions, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, you can earn points by using your MN-HO-PA card (which stands for Minnesota Holiday Party Animal, not “Michael Nouri, Home Office-Panama“).

Points are accrued in multiple ways and we have come up with incentives to help you spend money (great for the State, and local, economy); Therefore, you can feel good about running up a big tab for overpriced drinks. Upon entering each event, points will be awarded (multiple entrances to the same event will not result in additional points—smokers, vapers, and scammers). Black Tie events, and those reserved for upper management will be worth 10-20 points more than other events (we think this is fair as upper management gets more stressed out making decisions), unsanctioned events will be worth only 1-2 points as they are unsanctioned and probably not very fun.
Food and drink purchases will also be worth various points but you won’t know how much each item is worth until after you buy it, just because. And finally, you can earn points by not driving to the events. Those that ride public transit of any sort will get five points per ride, those choosing to take a taxi will get 10 points, and anyone who can afford a limo will receive 50 points. We thought this was fair because if it costs more it must be better and we’re all about being the best we can be.

And, we didn’t forget about our valued employees who choose to live outside of Minneapolis & St. Paul proper (to include those in St. Cloud, Rochester, Austin, Brainerd, Duluth, Moorhead, International FallsMarshall, and Western Wisconsin). Because public transit is less convenient for you, we have made a transit waiver available. If you want to drive to & from events and still receive transportation points on your MN-HO-PA card, just fill out the online form and complete the short survey monkey questionnaire (shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes) so we know how many points to add to your card (based on year, make, model, color, and how many passengers you carpooled to the event; Think Green).

What do the points get you? Well, that’s the coolest part—nada; zip; zero. You just get to brag to your friends about how many points you’ve accumulated by going to 13 events in 14 nights and spending nearly $1000 on $10 egg-nog bombers (mixed with equal parts Kemps HollyNog & Karkov vodka, & finished with a sprinkle of a nutmeg like substance that may or may not be responsible for the rash on your tongue), $2-buck Chuck that ran you $11 a glass (yep, that really happened), and Kahlúa Christmas cookie shooters for $9 that didn’t taste like Kahlúa or Christmas cookies (nobody can actually describe the putrid taste but everybody orders more).

IMG_3739

Guide for the Holiday House Party

For those bashes taking place in the comfort of a coworkers home, we have provided guidelines on which comestibles are appropriate for Holiday snacking. Swedish meatballs, lil smokies, jello-salad shooters, tater-tot hot-dish mini-muffins, Wisconsin cheese (but say it’s from Stearns county, nobody will check), summer sausage, Old Dutch chips & dip, 1 or 2 (or more) varieties of Spam, crudités with extra ranch (and bleu cheese for “that guy“), olives (both green & black) the cracker trinity (Cheeze-Its, Ritz, & Goldfish) deviled eggs (but call them “execrable” eggs at religious gatherings and say it’s a Hebrew word for “Awesome”), beer nuts (only at events taking place in homes attached to bars, taverns, or public houses); and for our friends who like to get a little adventurous with their hors d’oeuvres, the following international treats are recommended (i.e. sanctioned): Pollo enchilada cream-cheese wontons (knock out two countries with one amazing dish), Hawaiian MeatballsMinnesota sushi (almost like the real thing, but not really… actually not even close, but if you don’t put it out until guests have 4-5 cherry-ginger whiskey sours, they won’t know the difference), Doro Wot (which can be picked up from several Ethiopian restaurants if you’re in/near the Metro), smoked salmon or trout (the Canadian variety, eh), lefse (the unofficial-official flatbread of Minnesota Holiday festivals), lumpia, and nachos. Any other international dishes must be approved by your HR (Holiday Relations) Holiday Sergeant (HRHS) (Do Not Mess with The Sergeant Major).

For dessert options: Bûche de Noël (don’t try to make this yourself, you’ll cry a lot, and drink a lot, and everything will be ruined), krumkakes (let your grandmother make these for you), Kolachis, gingerbread cookies, gingerbread cake with peppermint stick ice cream, gingerbread donuts, cutout cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, Holiday M&Ms, Hersheys Kisses, Mint brownies, mini pecan pie, and nutmeg B-52s for anyone not driving (clove cigarettes may be offered to pair with this drink).

Approved beverages consist of: Non-alcoholic: water, sparkling water, Coke (must be Mexican Coke if you are serving any of the approved international foods), Diet Pepsi, Squirt, Tab, Mello Yello, orange, cranberry, & cherry juices, egg-nog, hot cocoa, coffee, and Clamato. Alcoholic: Tom & Jerry’s, Grasshoppers, Holiday punch, Red, White, & Rosé wines (no Cold Duck or Boone’s Farm), Michelob Golden Light, Miller 64, Moosehead, and Coors Banquet (Minnesota brewed beers will be allowed, however, if any pictures of or references to said beers are placed on social media, we will revoke all future holiday party privileges from the host as our major sponsors, AB InBev, Molson Coors, & Moosehead have spent more than $300 million combined to monopolize market their brews to Minnesota’s Holiday Party industry, for the next 30 years) and brandy or rum, not both, for mixing with egg-nog or cocoa (not coffee).

You may make slight alterations to any of the approved recipes, however, you should check with your HRHS (The Sergeant Major will keep a list of who’s bringing what, how much, recommended serving size, caloric values, sugar, fat, protein, carbs, and whether or not it qualifies as having enough nutritional value to act as a substitute for dinner; Please, Do Not Mess with The Sergeant Major) prior to adding any spice as we don’t want to have an event with eight very spicy dishes and only one non-spicy or mildly-spiced dish. That wouldn’t be very neighborly. Moreover, the idea of a Holiday party is to experience the variety of the season and eight spicy dishes isn’t very variable.

Henceforth, the HCPCB should be consulted prior to any planning of any Holiday function. If an employee is unable to find an answer that is clear and satisfactory, we will have an 800 number staffed Monday-Thursday from 8:00 – 4:00 (read: 8:40 – 3:30) and Friday from 9:00 – 3:00, or thereabouts. Also, if partygoers arrive at any gathering and are confronted with a scent that has not been approved for Holiday events (douglas fir, frankincense, patchouli (only at head-shop parties), bayberry, gingerbread, buttered rum (must be serving the drink in addition to burning the candles), cinnamon, myrrh, woodsmoke, and cranberry clove) they may call the 800 number and leave a message and the host of the party will have points deducted from their MN-HO-PA account. We will not tolerate any sort of maverick-like antics.

Music should be tasteful and merry for the enjoyment of all your guests. Nothing that is too depressing (ex. Sting: If On a Winter’s Night), too Jazzy (ex. A Charlie Brown Chrismas), too light (ex. Barry Manilow: Because It’s Christmas), or too religious (ex. Sidewalk Prophets: Merry Christmas to You). To be safe, just enter “ABMolMH” into your Pandora account, and our musical guru (d.j. HO-MN-PA) will make sure your guests never ask “ummm, like, who picked that lame song?”.

In conclusion, we would like every Minnesotan (and their approved guests) to have an exceptional Holiday season that is filled with chic & classy seasonal decor, sensational scents and sounds that are reminiscent of your childhood Holiday galas, and spectacular food and drink that don’t result in acid reflux, scalded tongues, or excessive vomiting.

Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad, & a Terrific 2017 to All!

Warmest Holiday Wishes!
Warmest Holiday Wishes!

 

 

Sincerely, & With Warmest Winter Wishes,

The Management of 2M2T