Viking lefse

A recipe from Norway’s Folkemuseum

Hardanger lefse

hotos: Lindsey Johnson
Lefse in progress. This recipe is easy to make, yields enough for a small army, and keeps for a long time if stored properly.

Lindsey Johnson
Cafe Johnsonia

Norway holds a special place in my heart. Being able to visit the land of my great-grandparents 14 years ago is truly an experience I will always treasure.

I miss my Norwegian grandfather at this time of year. His birthday is a few days before Christmas. He passed away two years after our trip. He knew it would be his last time in Norway. His body was weary from its long battle with bone cancer; even during our trip he suffered from terrible pain. But he almost always put on a good face for us. It made him so happy to show us his Norway. And it made me happy to be there with him. I have so many good memories from that trip.

I loved every museum and sight we visited, especially the day we spent at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo where I was first introduced to this Norwegian Hardanger Lefse recipe. We were there in August, and it had been warmer than normal. That day it was a little rainy and chilly. We trekked around the outdoor exhibits that showcased traditional Norwegian houses through the centuries.

One small house was particularly warm inside from the wood-burning stove. A woman was bent over a table rolling out flat pieces of lefse. This wasn’t the potato lefse that I’d had before. It was a very sweet lefse made from wheat flour, buttermilk, and eggs. And after the first bite, I was completely smitten.

It might have been that I was tired, hungry, and cold. I was seven months pregnant and spent most of my trip waddling around in a thin dress and sweater because my luggage had been lost. That warm lefse slathered with salty butter and sprinkled generously with cinnamon and sugar was the best thing I’d ever eaten, I was sure of it.

I wondered if I was shameless enough to beg for another piece of lefse, decided I’d better not, and settled for taking the recipe with me instead.

As soon as we arrived home, I started making lefse as often as I could. It brought back good memories of the trip and filled our bellies with comfort.

As I said, lefse is traditionally made with potatoes, and Hardanger Lefse is made with flour. I read somewhere that it dates back to the Vikings before potatoes were introduced to Norway. I like that story, whether it’s true or not, because it’s fun to think I’m making something the Vikings might have made.

The dough is very sweet and easy to work with. It’s kind of like a cross between bread and cookie dough. It smells like buttermilk-scented sugar cookie dough.

This is a slightly adapted version of the recipe from the museum. The pink slip of paper with the recipe from the museum is spotted with melted butter and flour and has my carefully calculated conversions to the side. It’s well worn from being pulled out of my recipe binder and kept nearby as I mix the dough.

I used to make Hardanger Lefse all the time. It’s easy to make, the recipe yields enough for a small army, and they keep for a long time, so it’s easy to pull a few out for a snack or quick breakfast. Now that I think about it, the recipe is doubled, because if I’m going to make one batch, why not two?

The original recipe does call for corn syrup. If that bothers you, use extra sugar or another kind of syrup. Lyle’s golden syrup or the Swedish syrup (found at IKEA and other places) is a good substitute. The buttermilk is essential for a tender dough, though you can use soured milk (1 tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice for every cup of milk.)

But you can’t skimp on melted butter and cinnamon and sugar. That is a must. We eat ours with jam sometimes too, but the cinnamon and sugar is traditional. The leftover lefse can be reheated in the microwave or warm oven and will roll nicely.

The dough should be soft and pliable, not sticky—just a little tacky. They use barley flour when they roll them out, but all-purpose flour is fine too. I had great success making gluten-free lefse using a combination of brown rice flour, sorghum flour, and tapioca starch with a little xanthan gum. Any gluten-free flour mix will work just fine—whether homemade or store-bought.

Museum-Quality Hardanger Lefse

Printed with permission from Cafe Johnsonia (cafejohnsonia.com)

Hardanger lefse

Photo: Lindsey Johnson
The finished product is delicious with butter, sugar, and cinnamon.

2 cups buttermilk
1 stick (8 tbsps.) melted butter
3 large eggs
¾ cup corn syrup (or another syrup like brown rice or golden syrup)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
7-8 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
butter, for serving
cinnamon & sugar, for sprinkling

Whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, eggs, and corn syrup together. Add the sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the flour a cup at a time, stirring with a large, heavy-duty wooden spoon, or using an electric mixer, until the dough is smooth and a little tacky to the touch.

Divide dough into small balls, about the size of a lemon.

Heat a cast-iron skillet or griddle until moderately hot. Do not add any oil or grease. (I keep two cast-iron skillets on medium heat.) Working with one or two balls at a time, roll each one out on a well-floured surface and cook the lefse for about one minute and flip over and cook for another two to three minutes, or until nicely browned and cooked through. (If the heat is too hot, they will burn before they are cooked through.) Transfer to a plate to keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, spread softened butter on the warm lefse and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and sugar.

Makes between 12 and 24 depending on the size and thickness. Keeps for several weeks if well wrapped and refrigerated. To rewarm, heat in a microwave for 30 to 60 seconds or in a warm oven for about 10 minutes, until soft and warmed through.

Lindsey Johnson is the granddaughter of a proud Norwegian. She is a recipe developer and food photographer based in Boise, Idaho, where she lives with her husband and three children, who are also proud of their Norwegian heritage. Lindsey’s website, cafejohnsonia.com, features (mostly) healthy, seasonal recipes that she makes for the people she loves.

This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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