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Kim Sunée: Whether sugared or savory, lefse is a welcome treat

Kim Sunée
Lefse with butter, sugar and cinnamon
Kim Sunée
Lefse with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and capers
Kim Sunée
Lefse, or Norwegian potato flatbread
Kim Sunée

These past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed watching crowds take full pleasure in the local farmers markets, buying everything from gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and Alaska oysters to breakfast radishes, snow apples and more. When it comes to spuds in Alaska, though, I always wonder: How is one to choose between such an abundance -- the deep purple-hued Magic Molly, the delicate Rosefinn or the hardier German Butterball?

I recently chose them all and have made everything from cheesy, creamy baked gratins and potatoes roasted in duck fat to latkes with applesauce and patatas bravas with Romesco sauce. It seems though, according to my family, that I might have gone a tiny bit overboard on the tubers. But before I put the spuds away, I did get in one last dish, a nod to both my personal culinary history and a moment to reminisce about back-to-school days, which are upon us.

I loved it when my Norwegian great grandmother, Nora, would come and visit us in New Orleans. She had lived in Minnesota most of her adult life but still spoke with a heavy, bouncy accent. She’d send my sister and me off to school with fingers still sticky with her homemade cinnamon rolls and we’d rush back in the afternoon, excited to discover -- between her “Uff-das” and having knitted matching Bert and Ernie sweater vests for us -- what Nora had baked that day.

She made the lightest yeast rolls, but my favorite was coming home to see the much-used griddle set on the stovetop and already smelling of nutty, melted butter. We would stand, eye level to the counter, and watch with wonder as Nora rolled out fresh potato flatbreads, lefse, that we would devour, hot off the grill, slathered in butter and sugar.

Over the years, I’ve tried re-creating her recipe, from memory and a piece of scratch paper with some of her handwritten notes that I’ve since, unfortunately, misplaced. But here’s a version along with a few notes: Keep in mind, this is a quick bread with no need for rising, but you do want to think ahead if making mashed potatoes to keep about two cups extra for lefse. It’s best to enlist a starchy all-purpose potato, such as Russet or something similar to a Yukon Gold.

Although lefse is traditionally enjoyed sweetened with butter and sugar -- and kids usually prefer the sweet version -- you can make it even healthier by using homemade fruit jam, fresh fruit slices, or almond butter. I’ve also experimented with savory versions, and have found that lefse is equally delicious topped with a smear of crème fraîche, some smoked salmon and capers, or rolled up with ham and cheese. Whether sweet or savory, this humble potato flatbread rises to any occasion. It’s not only a great way to use up leftover potatoes, but also serves as an after-school snack that might just be someone else’s pleasant childhood memory in the making.

Lefse, Norwegian Potato Flatbread

1 (1-pound) potato, such as Russet or Yukon Gold (or substitute 2 cups leftover mashed potato)
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
About 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
For serving: butter, sugar or cinnamon. Or, for a savory option: smoked salmon, crème fraîche and capers; ham and cheese

1. Cut potatoes into large, equal-size chunks. Place into a pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, let cook, about 15 minutes or until soft but not completely falling apart. Drain and place into a mixing bowl. Mash potatoes, using a masher (or place potatoes through a ricer into the bowl), until smooth. Add cream, butter, and mix to combine; taste and add more salt or butter, as needed. Set aside in refrigerator at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Note: If you're using leftover mashed potato, skip step one.

2. When ready to make the lefse, remove potatoes from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Stir in the flour -- the mixture might feel a bit crumbly -- and turn out onto a clean surface. Mix potatoes and flour together until smooth and well-combined; add more flour a little at a time, as needed. Form dough into a log and cut into eight or 12 pieces (depending on how large you like your lefse). Roll each piece into a ball, place on a clean surface and cover with a clean kitchen towel.

3. Heat griddle or pan over medium-high heat; add a tiny bit of butter and wipe any excess with a paper towel. When ready to cook lefse, take one ball of dough and place on a floured surface, dust with a little bit more flour and gently roll the dough, using a rolling pin, into a flat, thin round disk; turn the dough over or keep moving it about so it doesn’t stick to the counter. Gently remove disk from counter (using a pastry scraper or metal spatula) and place on hot griddle. Let cook about 2 minutes and check to see if it’s browning. If browning too quickly, reduce heat. Turn over and let cook on the other side until golden brown, another 2 to 3 minutes. Eat warm with butter and sugar or with savory toppings.