“Winter and lefse are required conversation topics for anyone new to the upper Midwest, apparently. Every time I met a new Egg or was introduced to one of their friends, the first thing they’d ask was “Have you survived a winter yet?” and the second thing they’d ask was if I’d tried lefse, the paper-thin holiday potato pancake from Norway.
I had winter covered from the beginning, with my bomber hat and dozens of new sweaters. Minus 15ºF isn’t actually that bad if you don’t breathe the air directly. It was the lefse that was difficult. Not because it was an entirely new food that took months for me to understand, but because lefse—or more specifically, making lefse—is sacred. It’s one of those things where everybody’s grandma has a lefse recipe and everybody’s lefse recipe is the best recipe, and when people make lefse, they commit. It’s not like flipping a latke where you could be leaning against the counter, drinking a beer with one hand, splattering oil all over with the other, and discussing the latest town gossip with your party guest, nope.
Making lefse, if it’s not in your blood, takes time, practice, online tutorial videos, emergency trips to the store for a new skillet, frantic calls to your great-aunt-in-law Ethel, and a long wooden stick. Talk about a way to make a girl question whether or not she belongs in her new town. What I later learned was that lefse making should also include a team of people, not just your sad frustrated self. There should be someone to roll out the dough, someone to flip the dough, and someone to stand guard in front of the finished sheets with a butter knife and cinnamon sugar. The ladies in the local church groups have this down pat.
But what I’m afraid to tell the ladies in the local church groups is that I like my lefse made with sweet potatoes. Hugely untraditional, but I love the flavor and I love how it produces a beautiful, floppy sheet of orange pancake. To sweeten the deal, I like adding rosemary cream, because if you’re gonna bastardize something, why not go all the way?
A typical lefse setup includes the following special equipment: a potato ricer, a pastry cloth, a ribbed rolling pin, a long skinny wooden lefse stick, a special lefse grill (which is large, flat, and very hot), and a jolly community of Norwegians who have been making lefse every year around the holidays for decades. Unless you live in Norway or the Midwest, some of these things might be difficult to find but that’s okay. The bare necessities are a potato ricer, a shallow skillet (ideally ½ inch deep or less), patience, a long skinny flipping apparatus such as an offset spatula, and a direct line to someone who knows what they’re doing or some how-to videos cued up online. And flour! Tons of flour.” – Molly Yeh
Sweet Potato Lefse with Rosemary Cream
MAKES 20 LEFSE
2½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled
and cut into 1-inch pieces
⅓ cup flavorless oil
¼ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups flour, plus a whole lot more
Softened butter and sugar or Rosemary Cream (recipe follows), for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the sweet potatoes and cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain.
Rice the sweet potatoes into a large bowl until you have 4 cups (there may be some
left over, reserve it for another use). Add the oil, evaporated milk, sugar, and salt and refrigerate for a few hours until fully cooled.
Stir in the flour to make a dough. Divide the dough into 2 portions and roll each into a log. Cut the logs crosswise into 10 pieces each and keep them in the fridge as you work with one piece at a time.
Heat a shallow skillet over medium-high heat (or a lefse grill to 400ºF). Roll out a piece of dough on a heavily floured work surface or pastry cloth until it is about as thin as you can make it, adding more flour as needed and flipping occasionally so it doesn’t stick. Using a lefse stick or offset spatula, transfer the lefse to the pan (or grill) and cook for about 1 minute per side, until small brown spots appear. Transfer to a plate and cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm.
Continue making lefse, stacking them as they’re finished. Spread with softened butter and sprinkle with sugar, or spread with rosemary cream and serve.
MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS
1¾ cups heavy cream
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
A pinch of kosher salt
2 large egg yolks
In a saucepan, combine the heavy cream and rosemary sprigs and heat over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring often. Do not let it boil.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt, then whisk in the egg yolks until combined.
Remove the rosemary sprigs from the heavy cream and discard. Measure out 1 cup of the heavy cream, cover it, and place it in the refrigerator to cool. Very gradually, pour 6 tablespoons hot heavy cream into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly (any remaining heavy cream can be discarded). Return it to the saucepan and heat over medium heat, continuing to whisk constantly, until the mixture thickens to a custard-like consistency. Pour the mixture into a heatproof container and cover it with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface. Refrigerate it for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
In a large bowl, beat the reserved 1 cup heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold in the custard mixture.