Growing up in northern Minnesota, Christmas meant lefse, krumkake, rosettes, and the thinnest ginger cookies (my mom’s favorite). My mother’s family is Swedish and my paternal grandmother, Norwegian. Both of my grandmothers were lefse bakers. Lefse is a thin Norwegian flatbread made with potatoes and flour. It is typically eaten spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar or cinnamon-sugar.
My mother continued the Christmas-time lefse making tradition by teaching her own grandkids to make it, not in Minnesota but in Pennsylvania where we eventually moved. It was a great way to share her family’s story to a captivated audience of grandkids all waiting their turn to use the long wood turning stick to flip the lefse on the hot griddle.
My own kids are young adults now. I am grateful that they are skilled cooks and that they want to spend time with me in the kitchen. As our family has gotten smaller and more geographically dispersed, our time together in the kitchen, whether making dinner on the weekends or lefse at Christmas, makes us feel closer to our larger family. There is something about the taste of special foods that makes the family connection stronger.
2 C riced Russett potatoes – about 1 large potato 1⁄4 C melted unsalted butter
2 t salt or to taste
2 t sugar
1⁄4 C heavy cream
1 C all-purpose flour, more as needed
Clean and poke the skin of the potato and bake at 400 degrees until tender. While still warm, spoon the potato flesh into a bowl and use a ricer to remove any lumps.
Add the remaining four ingredients and mix until blended. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 4 hours or overnight.
Add 1 cup of floor to form a soft dough. Divide the dough into 8 balls and chill thoroughly – preferably overnight.
Heat a non-stick griddle to 500 degrees. Roll out each ball on a floured surface and poke the surface lightly with a fork. Place the lefse on the griddle until golden brown blisters form. Then turn to cook the other side until blisters form. Stack on a plate and cover with a towel to keep warm.
Notes: After my son did some online research of lefse recipes, we decided to try baking the Russett potatoes in the oven rather than boil the potatoes (from Chef John’s recipe on Allrecipes.com).
We ate the warm lefse spread with butter and sugar or raspberry jam. My son rolled thin-sliced ham in his lefse.
More Than a Hobby
Maybe it’s all the baking that I did at Christmas with my grandmothers and my mom when I was a kid, but people who know me know that I love to bake. Not just at the holidays but all year long. To me, there is almost no occasion that is not improved with warm, melty chocolate chip cookies (“CCCs”) or home-made pretzels soft and warm from the oven – perfect for movie nights.
My daughter and I will often share recipes that we read and put them on our “to-bake” list. And the kids and I often reminisce about our favorite bakeries from places we’ve lived or visited – the lemon poppy seed cookies with the hard layer of perfectly smooth white glaze at The Beanery – our neighborhood coffee shop – in Berkeley. The shortbread cookies at Spruce Confections in Boulder – so simple but so sublime! Of course, once we begin to reminisce, we must satisfy our craving!
Since I had Scandinavian baking on my mind for the holidays, this Swedish Almond Coffeecake recipe from King Arthur Flour caught my eye and went to the top of the “to-bake” list. We were lucky enough to visit Sweden several years ago and the filling in this Almond Coffeecake reminded me of the mazariner – small pastry tarts with almond filling covered in glaze sold at coffee shops in Stockholm. I love anything with almonds and decided to use the ground almonds rather than the almond flour to more closely resemble the mazariner that I remembered. I even managed to make the twists as described in the recipe. Even if it looked a little messy at first, its appearance was improved after proofing (yeast is very forgiving like that).
It was perfect with coffee for Sunday brunch with my family.
In case you are wondering, mazariner are now at the top of my “to-bake” list. In fact, shortly after returning from our vacation in Sweden, I searched for the small oval tins used for the tarts that we ate in Stockholm. I didn’t find the ovals but purchased a tin with round tart shapes instead. I think it’s time to finally try that pan!
These are French sablés – simple butter cookies that can be flavored with a variety of spices or left plain. So far, I’ve made them with cardamom and orange zest (front), and lemon zest (back). These are perfect to keep in the freezer to slice as needed. To keep the round shape, roll in crystal sugar and then encase in plastic wrap before sliding inside an empty paper towel tube.
I used Dorie Greenspan’s recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Baking” and followed her variation for lemon sablés to infuse the sugar with orange flavor:
Orange Sablés with Cardamom
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1⁄2 C granulated sugar
Zest of 1 orange
3⁄4 C confectioner’s sugar, sifted
3⁄4 t ground cardamom (or to taste)
1⁄2 t salt, preferable fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature 2 C all-purpose flour
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and very creamy. Using your fingers, rub the zest of the orange into the granulated sugar until the sugar is moist and aromatic, then add this to the confectioner’s sugar, salt and butter. Beat until well blended. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the egg yolks, beating until incorporated.
In a small bowl, whisk the cardamom into the flour. Turn off the mixer and add the flour, and pulse on low speed to slowly incorporate the flour. Once incorporated, beat the flour for about 30 seconds more until the dough is uniformly moist. If flour remains at the bottom of the bowl or the sides, use a rubber spatula to work the rest of the flour into the dough. You want to work the dough as little as possible.
Gather the dough into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece of dough into a log about 9 inches long and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. You can use the plastic wrap to help shape the logs. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or freeze up to 2 months.
When ready to bake, set the oven for 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk an egg yolk until it is smooth and brush the sides of the log with the egg yolk to hold the granulated, crystal or colored sugar to the sides of the cookies. Cut into slices 1⁄4 inch to 1⁄2” thick and bake for 17 to 20 minutes or just until lightly golden on the edges.