“There are so many different varieties of lefse, from sweet treats to wraps”, says Gry Nordvik Karlsen, co-author of a Norwegian cookbook with traditional recipes for flat pastry, including lefse.
Karlsen and her sister Ane Nordvik Hasselberg decided to gather traditional recipes in a book because they’re not easy to find.
“No one is showing off their lefse baking skills on YouTube or dedicating a blog to baking lefse. But every region, fjord village and small town in Norway have their own lefse traditions,” Hasselberg explains. And, of course, countless secret family recipes are passed down from generation to generation.
“A lot of people have family recipes, but not everyone is happy to share them. We didn’t want these baking traditions to fade out and thought everyone should have the opportunity to learn how to make flat pastry like lefse”, Karlsen adds.
The sisters are passionate about Norwegian baking traditions and say that lefse has always had a special place at the table.
Ancient baking traditions
“Lefse is inspired by what we call flatbrød (flatbread), which is a super-thin crispbread often served with soup, cured meat and the weird Norwegian food tradition rakfisk (fermented trout)”, Karlsen explains.
Flatbrød doesn’t require a lot of ingredients. The tradition dates back to the Vikings and their brauðiskr (bread plate), and flatbrød consists of water, whole-wheat flour and a pinch of salt.
Lefse is a soft version of flatbrød, often made with a few more ingredients, like milk and butter. We use it to wrap all the goodies together – just like a tortilla.
“When I was young, lefse was considered a real treat. It required a lot of work, so we only made it for holidays and special occasions,” Karlsen says.
The magic lies in the perfect combination of pastry and filling.
Top the lefse with butter, sugar and cinnamon for a delicious treat …
… or swap bread for a healthy lefse-wrap in your matpakke (homemade lunch that you bring to work, school, hiking trips and so on).
A GUIDE TO NORWEGIAN LEFSE:
Vestlandslefse – A sweet lefse from Fjord Norway with butter, sugar and cinnamon.
Møsbrømlefse – A lefse from Salten in Northern Norway, served with a brown cheese spread.
Tykklefse – A thicker version of the sweet lefse with butter, cinnamon and sugar.
Kjøttlefse – Lefse with meat, similar to taco.
Potetlefse – Lefse made with potatoes.
Lomper – Another word for potetlefse, often associated with the small version served with hot dogs.
Krinalefse – Originally from Helgeland in Northern Norway, this lefse has a nice pattern and is served with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Back in the day, they served it with gomme, which is almost like a sweet cheese with cinnamon.
Gnikkalefse – A lefse variety that is fried with a “topcoat” called gnikk, which is made using skimmed milk, potato flour, wheat flour and salt of hartshorn.
Pjalt – A round flat pastry from Røros in Trøndelag.
Lemse – Lefse from Røros in Trøndelag.
Klenning – The Trøndelag region’s version of sweet lefse with butter, cinnamon and sugar.
Kling – The name for sweet lefse in Buskerud, Eastern Norway.
Lefse is a versatile pastry, but as Karlsen points out: it takes time to make it from scratch.
Luckily, you can easily buy potetlefser (lefse made with potatoes) in more or less every grocery store. They are perfect for lunch wraps and tapas. You can also use it as a blanket for your hot dog instead of buns! We just call it pølse og lompe (hot dog with lompe, a small potato lefse).
Some shops also sell lefse with sugar and cinnamon, but Karlsen advice you to visit farm shops and bakeries that have lefse as one of their specialities.
“Nothing tastes better than homemade lefse. It’s the first treat to sell out at Christmas markets and the one thing everyone eats at birthday parties or celebrations”, Karlsen says.
Labour of love
The passionate food enthusiasts explain that people often come together when making lefse, dividing the tasks between them to make the job easier.
“Whether you’re old or young, there’s always something you can do to help. Some people make the dough, while others use the rolling pin to make the dough flat. Then someone is in charge of frying the lefse on a large griddle, add sugar and cinnamon, or slice the large lefse into smaller pieces.”
This is how they pass the tradition down to younger generations. It also makes baking fun and social. The lefse is, essentially, made with love.
From dinner to dessert
How the lefse is made and what it is filled with, varies around the country. The lefse we use for dinner, tapas and similar, is not as sweet as those served as a dessert or a treat.
Møsbrømlefse is lefse with a filling called møsbrøm, a brown cheese spread. Karlsen also highlights kjøttlefse (lefse with meat) which is similar to taco, where you add meat between the lefse and heat it.
In Fjord Norway, the Vestlandslefse (lefse from Western Norway) is very popular. This is the sweet version with sugar and cinnamon.
“A similar version is the tjukklefse (thick lefse), which also has a sweet filling,” Karlsen says.
Another popular treat is the krinalefse. Originally from Nordland in Northern Norway, this lefse has a lovely pattern and takes a bit more time to make. Back in the day, the pattern represented the farm that produced the lefse.
Passion for flat pastry
Lefse is only one of many popular flat pastries to try in Norway.
Here, we never ride a ferry without buying a svele, and neither should you. Sveler are Norway’s version of American pancakes. They are eaten as a snack, often with coffee, and served with butter and jam, sugar or brown cheese.
Pjalt is a soft round cake, often served with butter and a delicious Norwegian cheese. The traditional Røros area is well known for its local food, from dairy products to reindeer meat, and the locals all have their own version of pjalt. Here, lefse is also often called lemse.
Make a quick lefse snack at home
Can’t wait to try lefse? Well, you don’t have to. It might not be the same as homemade lefse, but there is no reason you should try to make a quick lefse snack at home.
Perfect for tapas!
5 large soft lefser or lomper
125 g of cream cheese (or “Snøfrisk”, a creamy Norwegian goat cheese)
100 g smoked salmon (or sliced ham if you prefer that)
Spread the cream cheese.
Add thinly sliced smoked salmon and rucola.
Roll and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Sugar and cinnamon bliss
A sweet treat to go with your coffee.
1 large soft lefser or lomper
1 tbsp butter (softened)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon, ground
Spread the softened butter.
Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
Fold in two, or roll it together.
More delicious recipes
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