Tastes just like grandma’s
Bestemor’s Lefse Company shares authentic Norwegian baked goods in Southern California
CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
Lefse is a cultural touchstone for Norwegian Americans, especially around the holidays. In my family, it is a tradition to make it every year, with a two-day work party of peeling, cooking, ricing/mashing, rolling, and griddling to make this beloved flatbread. Thankfully, there are folks who take their love of lefse to a professional level and make batches of homemade lefse that taste just like grandma’s.
One of those people is Stephanie Loen Jerdin, the owner of Bestemor’s Lefse Company. She makes tynn lefser (thin lefse) and other traditional Norwegian and Swedish baked goods to sell in the greater Los Angeles area.
I thoroughly enjoyed my hour-long conversation with Stephanie, where we talked about family recipes, lefse, and more.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Christy Olsen Field: First of all, can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got interested in making lefse professionally?
Stephanie Loen Jerdin: I’m a third-generation Norwegian American, and I live in the Los Angeles area. I’ve been cooking professionally for about 30 years. I never concentrated on Scandinavian cooking, but I was raised with a deep appreciation for my heritage through my grandmother, and I use her recipe for my lefse.
I am one of five kids, and my grandmother was one of 10 kids. There are a handful of us who make lefse in the way that our grandmother taught us. I am trying to get the younger generation to make it. These traditions can die out very quickly, and when they are gone, they are gone in a single generation. Thankfully, my daughter knows how to make it, and my nephew does, too.
In 2015, I worked for Olson’s Scandinavian Café and Delicatessen in Los Angeles. That experience really cemented by cooking background plus my heritage foods. That experience catapulted me into starting Bestemor’s Lefse Company and helped me embrace a more professional view of my family recipes.
COF: Have you changed your grandmother’s lefse recipe at all?
SLJ: The recipe itself is the same, but I have tweaked the process along the way. I changed the way to cook potatoes [steamed in the oven, see sidebar], which makes them easier to manage. I cook the potatoes one day and then roll out the dough on the next day. Making lefse is still a mess: flour everywhere!
COF: I am doing an experiment with making lefse with red potatoes versus russet potatoes for my next article. What potatoes do you use?
SJL: I use russet potatoes in my lefse, along with sweet cream, butter, and flour. When my dad would make it, instant potatoes would get thrown in, and my grandmother would not be told.
One thing I learned, especially when I was working at Olson’s, was that ingredients in Scandinavia are different than what we can get in the United States. Potatoes are different, shrimp are different, the flour is different, even cabbage is different. Recipes have to be accommodated and adapted unless you can get your hands on those local ingredients.
Even lefse is different in the United States than it is in Norway. There are different types of lefse in Norway, and it seems like a lot of lefse in the United States is a mashup of lefse and lompe, which is thicker and smaller. I’m curious about using red potatoes in the United States and if they are similar to what they have in Norway.
COF: What inspired you to open Bestemor’s Lefse Company?
SLJ: When I was at Olson’s, they would ask me to make fresh lefse every once in a while. They sold Mrs. Olson’s packaged lefse, but the fresh lefse really drew in Swedes and other non-Scandinavian folks. I loved working at Olson’s and making it myself, and it felt like the time was right to see if I could do this on my own. That was around 2017.
COF: In addition to lefse, what else do you make?
SLJ: I sell a variety of cakes and boller, as well as smörgåstårta around midsummer and some seasonal items for delivery in the Los Angeles area, as well as some catering.
Last year was … well, unique, especially when it came to shipping and using commercial kitchen space. Lefse is such a delicate product with such a short shelf life. We made so many orders, and I hired my daughter and one other person to make lefse to fulfill all the orders. We were making lefse for 12 hours a day!
And with shipping delays, it was so unpredictable when the package of lefse would actually be delivered. I had an order shipped to New York that got there in three days, but another order shipped to northern California that took two weeks. Every time there was a delay, I had to give people their money back. I am reworking my whole process for orders out of the Los Angeles area.
COF: Any plans to go to Norway in the future?
SLJ: Yes! I am going in June 2022! We were contacted by a relative who we didn’t know on my grandmother’s side of the family, and they have invited us to a family reunion in Måløy, southwest of Ålesund. We will get to visit my grandparents’ farm, which is still in the family, and visit the area where my great-grandparents were from. The lefse I make is not actually from that region, so I am very curious how my grandmother’s lefse recipe came to be.
COF: Anything else to share with our readers?
SLJ: Last year, a customer took the time to email to tell me they ordered some lefse because she wasn’t going home for her family’s Christmas celebration because of COVID-19. She said that eating my lefse was like sitting at her grandmother’s table. This is why I do what I do: I want our Norwegian and Scandinavian food culture shared and embraced and continued. It’s really special.
A hearty tusen takk to Stephanie for sharing the love of lefse and Scandinavian cuisine in southern California!
Lefse tips from Bestemor’s Lefse Company
Make your best lefse yet with a few tips from Stephanie Loen Jerdin at Bestemor’s Lefse Company:
Potatoes: Use large russet potatoes, really big ones!
Steam your potatoes: Heat your oven to 350°F, scrub your potatoes and lightly score an “X” into the top of each potato. Fill a metal roasting pan or casserole dish with potatoes and fill ¼ the way with water. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour until cooked through. Let cool.
Mash: Use a handheld masher, food mill, or a ricer to process the cooked potatoes. Add butter and salt and mix thoroughly.
Add cream: Just enough to soften the mash, no more than ¼ cup for 10 pounds of potatoes. Even this small amount helps bind the potatoes and improve elasticity when rolling out.
Cool overnight: Cover the mix with a flour-sack towel, not plastic wrap. Let the hot potatoes come to room temperature and then cool overnight in the fridge. Do not rush this step.
Just enough flour: Start with 3 cups of flour for 10 pounds of potatoes. Your dough is ready when you can pinch it and comes right off your fingers. You can add more when you roll out.
Sizing: Determine the size you want. For 12-inch diameter lefse, I make dough balls that are a little larger than a golf ball.
Keep cool: Keep the dough balls in the fridge. Only remove a few from the fridge at the time, so they don’t warm up.
Rolling surface: Use a purchased pastry cloth or board or make your own by tightly taping a flour sack towel to a cutting board.
Use a pastry sleeve and keep backups: Use a pastry sleeve on your rolling pin so it doesn’t stick. If it does stick, change the sleeve.
Light hand: Do not put pressure on your rolling pin; let the weight of the pin do the work.
Thin lefse: I know my lefse is rolled enough when I can read the pattern printed on the pastry cloth through the dough.
Heat your grill: Heat your grill as high as it will go, then turn it down to 425°F.
Steam it: Keep the cooked rounds covered in a towel-lined cooling rack.
Properly store your lefse: After the lefse has cooled completely, brush excess flour from each piece as you stack them between pieces of parchment or wax paper. Wrap in cling wrap or place in storage bags. Lefse can be stored in the freezer or fridge.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 5, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.