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Lefse: A Guide to the Norwegian Classic

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Rolled lefse in Norway

From a traditional homemade staple to a quick on-the-go snack from a gas station or even a fancy dish at a wedding, the Norwegian lefse has a long history. Here's what you need to know about this classic of Norway cuisine.

When I first moved to Norway, it wasn't long before I encountered the lefse. It's hard to avoid, especially when driving around the country.

What is lefse?

This flexible food is a staple of traditional Norwegian households, cafes and even ferries up and down the country. Certain types are also popular in the USA.

In Norway, the lefse is sweet or savoury, thick or thin, can be made from wheat or potatoes, and can be served with a wide variety of accompaniments. Depending on the variety, the lefse can be eaten an alternative to bread or as a sweet pastry with coffee.

A quick note on language: when writing in Norwegian, lefse is singular, lefser is plural. We'll pretty much stick to lefse in this article.

The history of lefse

The story of lefse is intertwined with Norwegian history. Just as the Norwegian flatbread was developed as a way to store food over the harsh winter months, lefse served a similar purpose.

During the 19th century, the lefse was a popular way to store wheat or potato, which would otherwise be unusable. The lefse was stored in a dry state, much like flatbread, and would be soaked before use.

Traditional lefse, the Norwegian pancake

Norwegian pancake v Norwegian tortilla

I see the terms pancake and tortilla used often to describe the Norwegian lefse. I think both are accurate in different ways, but neither offer a complete picture.

Lefse is often described as a ‘Norwegian pancake' on American recipe blogs, and I understand why. It's a flexible food, and can be made thin like British pancakes or thick and fluffy like American ones. However, there are only eggs in certain kinds of lefse, and it's not considered a Norwegian breakfast food.

So, what's the tortilla comparison? Well, just like tortillas can be made from flour or corn, lefse can be made from wheat or potatoes. The flexibility of how lefse is served and eaten also reminds me of a tortilla.

Types of Norwegian lefse

Recipes and even names vary considerably across Norway, so it's difficult to provide a complete breakdown of all the different types. However, I'm going to try and cover as many as I can!

In many parts of western, eastern and central Norway, lefser are used as an alternative to bread. They are eaten with savoury, salty foods or with sweet foods.

Common savoury fillings include cured ham and cheese. They can also be served as wraps, with fillings such as smoked salmon and cream cheese. Common sweet fillings are sugar and cinnamon. These are often served folded or rolled into tubes. As with waffles, the combination of brown cheese and jam is another sweet option.

Norwegian lefse at a wedding party

In parts of western Norway and northern Norway, a lefse usually refers to a slightly thicker, sweet pastry-like item served with coffee. They are typically filled with a sweet, cinnamon butter. These tend to have different names in other parts of Norway. For example, here is Norway, it is klenning.

At many gas stations and ferries up and down the country, mass-produced lefser are popular sweet snacks. You'll also see lomper, round potato-based tortillas commonly used as a hot dog holder, among other uses. Whether these are classed as lefser or not I'm really not sure, but they're pretty close all the same!

Lefse in Norwegian-American communities

More than a hundred years ago, thousands of Norwegians left the country to pursue their dreams in the new world. Today, several million American citizens can trace their heritage back to Norway. As a result, many Scandinavian clubs and societies have sprung up all over the country to keep traditions alive.

But as with traditions from other countries, the American version has changed over time. Today, the lefse is considered a traditional celebration and christmas food among Norwegian American communities in the USA. Its preparation often becomes a family activity ahead of the holidays.

It's also almost exclusively a potato-based product in the USA, simply because potatoes were the most commonly available crop to the Norwegian immigrants back in the day.

I've heard from several people that serving lefse alongside lutefisk is very common at Christmas time. That's something you are unlikely to see in a Norwegian household.

But of course, there's no right or wrong here. It just serves to highlight the flexibility of the Norwegian lefse!

Savoury and sweet lefse examples from a Norwegian supermarket
Different store-bought lope and lefse

Where to buy lefse

In Norway, lefse of both the sweet and savoury variety are available in all Norwegian supermarkets. The above picture shows just a couple of examples.

It's the equivalent of store-bought tortillas. If you're in a rush to make wraps or just need a sugar-fix, these options are fine and relatively inexpensive. But of course, they're not a patch on the homemade varieties!

Lefse recipes: How to make Norwegian lefse at home

There is no one best lefse recipe. Hopefully if you've read this far, you'll understand why! Do you want to make a thick, sweet lefse, or thin ones for savoury wraps? With potato, or without? There are so many options, not to mention the countless ‘secret' family recipes handed down through generations.

In the coming weeks, I'm planning to try several popular recipes for myself. Of course, I'll share them on here when complete! In the meantime, here are some links to the most basic lefse recipes, followed by some other recipes from around the world wide web.

A pile of traditional lefse just baked in Norway

Jølstralefse: A traditional recipe from Sogn og Fjordane region, now part of Vestland county. The easy recipe produces a dough that can be used for a savoury dinner accompaniment, or filled with a sweet butter for a coffee snack. You can also follow these tips and tricks for beginners.

Potato lefse: For a potato-based version—and also one in English—try this American take on the lefse. There are many different versions out there on the internet, but this one is one of the simplest.

Lefse with brunost cream: This recipe (in Norwegian again, sorry!) is for thin lefser and an intriguing brown cheese cream filling. I'm sure this isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but once again it shows the flexibility of the lefse!

I'm looking forward to testing out some of the many recipes for myself in the weeks and months to come.

Traditional lefse grill

If you spend any amount of time investigating lefse recipes online, you'll soon come across this handy contraption.

Typical homemade Norwegian lefse on a traditional griddle in Norway
Lefse on a traditional griddle. Photo: Lance Fisher (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

The lefse griddle is a somewhat pricey countertop appliance that is ideal for those of you wanting to make traditional giant lefse. But a stovetop griddle pan that you use for tortillas will work just as well for trying out the recipe.

Do you like the traditional Norwegian lefse? What's your preferred type?

Norwegian lefse with butter

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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26 thoughts on “Lefse: A Guide to the Norwegian Classic”

  1. Many thanks for the background information. I never knew lefse could be a preserved food.

    My father’s grandparents were Norwegian immigrants, and our Christmastime potato lefse was always served with brown sugar and butter.

    We just harvested some purple potatoes, which should make our lefse very pretty!

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  2. I’m looking forward to your recipes to look for a close match to my grandmother’s family recipe. She was a Thordesen from Minnesota. Her parents immigrated from Oslo. I loved her lefse.

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  3. I like the Hardanger (I may have not spelled it correctly). My grandparents were from Giske and Spjelkavik. It’s made with flour, buttermilk (and other things). We cook it on a griddle, and it gets hard. When ready to serve we soften between two damp cloths. When soft put a lot of real butter on it, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on it and enjoy.

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    • In our family the thick potato lefse was eaten only on Christmas eve with lutefisk, smoked cod, boiled potatoes and roasted pork ribs. When I was a kid in the 70s I would butter the lefse put on potatoes and lutefisk and roll it up. I called it a Norwegian fish taco! Family from Hoddevik a small fishing along Nordfjord. I visited there in July 83 for a month.
      The thin floor lefse was more of an “everyday” lefse for us put whatever there was in it. Both kinds my mom cooked in a big cast iron skillet
      I don’t think you can classify lefse regionally. It’s all about family history, traditions, preferences etc.

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      • My family came from Straumgjerde, near Alesund. We also use the potato lefse and would mix the Lutefisk with mashed down boiled potatoes and melted butter and pile it on the Lefse. Rolled up it would look like a giant burrito ! Every time we go to a Sons of Norway Lutefisk dinner everyone would stare at us making our rolled up burrito. Obviously I don’t think there’s any one way to eat Lutefisk and each region did there own thing.

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    • This was my mom’s favorite kind of lefse. We bake it in a hot oven. She preferred it to potato lefse because her mom’s potato lefse usually had burnt spots from cooking on a wood stovetop.

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  4. Ahhh…lefse. Now my mouth is watering. My mother was from the north, not far from Mosjoën, and her relatives make a thickish lefse usually served with cinnamon and sugar and often also with a thick sweetish gooey substance (often with raisins) appropriately called “gomme.” Every time I visited my aunt knew just what to make me! I must really learn how to make it!

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  5. My favorite is Hardanger Lefse but also like the potato Lefse and Lømpe. We always considered the potato Lefse as a bread equivalent while the Hardanger Lefse was a dessert type item. There was one cousin of my mom’s who made her Hardanger Lefse a little different than everyone else. She made hers a little thicker and filled it with a cinnamon sugar filling that tasted of sour cream rather than butter. I have not met anyone else familiar with this so I do not know if it was regional or a family or personal tradition.

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  6. Are you set with a recipe yet? If not, maybe just pick a simple recipe and post it here in English as a place holder. I checked the links to the other peoples’ recipes, but it would be better if you had one that you made, to go along with your article. 🙂

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  7. “Do you like the traditional Norwegian lefse? What’s your preferred type?”

    I am from Brazil, so the other ingredients are not in many stores. There is no experimental chance for me like you I wanted you to write down the best one of yours, but I realized later I couldn’t find some of the stuff anyway. The translation maybe is not going Portuguese either. I don’t know. I just tried to copy paste everything.
    So, then I just made the potato one last night because it is what was here. It is really good. But I can tell it will make me fat if I eat them all the time.
    The Viking series is one of my favorite shows. It looks like a cold place, but I want to go there and feel snow and try to live Viking.

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  8. I grew up with what my mom called kingpins lefse or wedding lefse. Just flour, lard & milk, rolled very thin and after cooking on one side, the other side was brushed with an egg glaze & cooked until set. We kept them frozen, softened with moist towel and then unglazed side brushed with butter & then brown sugar & cinnamon. Oh such a treat

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    • My ex’s family were Norwegian. My ex mentioned a lefse like you mentioned. I remembered it all these years but never quite figured out what it was until recently. It is called krina lefse. It is made just as you described with a glaze on it. I was never fortunate enough to taste this delicacy but I did taste some of her Norwegian sweets. I also have her recipe for brown bread. It makes 5 loaves at a time. It is best toasted with butter. Yum!’

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  9. My late Norwegian grandmother always made us lefse before we drove back to Washington State after a visit to Minnesota. Nowadays, I purchase Hungry Troll lefse at Nordic House in Berkeley.

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    • Hungry Troll is excellent. It’s made in Wisconsin and very similar to the lefse we make. I cheat tho and use potato flakes rather than fresh. It’s more predictable and easy for the occasional baker.

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  10. I just asked for ingredients from my cousin, still living in Norway. She recommends butter (about 100 grams), sugar plus 1 tablespoon soured cream sprinkled with cinnamon. That’s what I have usually had served to me in the Hardanger region.

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  11. I had never seen it made so my new husband and I had quite a time adding the right amount of flour and cooking it on a black iron pancake griddle that first Christmas in Indiana. The kitchen was dusted in flour (1962), my apron was white with flour, and the lefse was heaven even though it was much smaller than the Lutheran Ladies Aid made it in Black River Falls, WI in the 1940s and 50s. We’ve never been able to get Lutefisk except when my folks would mail it – frozen. At age 80, I altered the recipe – finally got my Dutch origin Aunt’s recipe from the huge Lutefisk and Lefse dinners the Sons of Norway in Los Angeles, and this year in Maine made the least messy, and consistently good Lefse even if no one makes it in the RARE New England Lutheran Church we have found. I’m the only one who loves Lutefisk, by the way. My folks would mail frozen Lutefisk to me when we lived in Rochester, NY – and our mailman – Fritz – had it out on the hood of his jeep – he had heard about it and was one of those deservedly beloved mail men. The neighborhood even gave a party for him with a nice bonus

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    • Judy I was from black river falls wi and class of 55 my sister was class of 57. I had a 5th grade school teacher by the name of krametbauer. Any relation? My Norwegian grandparents came from Norway and leaved in Blair wi. Their is a factory in blair wi called country side lefsa a that makes and sells and ships it over night.l now live in Beloit wi.

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  12. I make potatoe Lefse using a recipe from mother. I am now 82 years old and this recipe has been in the family for generations. Lefse is only made prior to Christmas but the family has decided that it is too tasty to only be served once a year. This past Christmas my four grandchildren learned how to make Lefse and we made it four different days because the demand for it from family and friends was so great. I was introduced to Lefse as a child when our church had lutefisk and Lefse dinners. It was wonderful to show my grandchildren how to make Lefse and a wonderful tradition was started with lasting memories.

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    • We make it at Christmas. Now my daughter makes it every Christmas 🎄 I was raised on it and the brown goat cheese Love both

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  13. What do you call a person who makes lefse? Cook? Baker? “Chefse”? Is there a Norwegian term? I already know what you call the person who eats it: happy!

    I have never tried store-bought lefse. Fortunate enough to be raised in a family where someone’s made it. I don’t think any of my cousins do, though, so I guess I’ll be the one for my generation!

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  14. Have you ever heard of Songekaker? It’s sort of like lefse, only thicker. We’re trying to find a recipe for it. I’m guessing in may be a regional dish from Sogn og Fjordane as that’s were my Norwegian roots are.

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  15. I need to know the trick for not having it rip and fall on the way from the table to the frying pan! I’ve tried the potatoe recipes that come up on Google and they taste very floury. Even though I roll them out on almost a half inch of flour they still are very sticky and rip to pieces.
    Any help out there?

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    • I found a you tube video from a couple that gave me a recipe and showed how to make it and ours turned out perfect this year. I believe they were The Hanson’s. We had tried previously and was not a good experience.

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    • The amount of water in your potatoes will affect the amount of flour needed, wetter potatoes=more flour. I always let the hot potatoes cool and dry out before ricing my potatoes. Also the more flour you use the tougher your lefser will be. I use the minimum amount of flour called for in the recipe and then add potato flour instead of AP flour if the consistency is still too wet. Since moisture content varies batch to batch for many reasons it really is learning what the best consistency feels like. As for the rolling, once the dough is the right consistency it is easiest to roll if you are using a well floured lefse board and covered rolling pin. I make mine thin and roll until I can see the printing of my mat through the lefse. I just lightly dust with flour using a pastry wand and actually just use a non-covered french rolling pin because I find it easier to control and make nearly perfect rounds. A lefse stick is necessary to pick up and deliver the lefse to the griddle.

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