At a time when traditional European and Middle Eastern flatbreads are being mass-produced and offered not only in specialty ethnic bakeries but also in major grocery chains (primarily due both to their wonderful flavors and their ability to serve as healthful, low-carb sandwich "wraps"), it's worth exploring the wonderful flatbreads and varieties of lefse that, in some cases, have been produced in Scandinavia since the Middle Ages. Here are a few great recipes to get started with:
01 of 07
Perhaps no food is more beloved by Norwegian-Americans than potato lefse. Prepared on special lefse griddles and turned with a long lefse stick, this paper-thin potato bread is best served warm with butter and sugar. It ranks right up there with Advent calendars and wreaths as a herald to the joyous Christmas season.
02 of 07
Although not as well known to Scandinavian-Americans as potato lefse, Hardanger lefse has a much longer history than potato lefse, dating as it does to Viking days (potatoes weren't introduced to Norway until the 18th century). Use barley flour to dust your rolling surface in order to prevent the lefse from sticking (a trick shared with visitors at Oslo's Norske Folkemuseum). Hardanger lefse will keep, unrefrigerated, for six months; to serve, either steam the bread between wet paper towels for a minute or two in the microwave or moisten it with water and allow to rest between damp towels until softened.
03 of 07
8-layer "Flapra" Lefse Appetizers With Gjetost Cheese
When reader Elizabeth Christensen emailed me and asked if I'd ever encountered a recipe for the 8-layered gjetostappetizer that was one of her Norwegian-American mother's specialties, I was intrigued. Family history described this favorite dish - a gjetost filling layered between thin pieces of cracker bread - as "Flapra" - which I was fairly sure was how the Norwegian / Icelandic word for "flatbread" - flatbrauð had been passed down through the generations. Yet the only Norwegian recipe even slightly similar to this that I've ever heard of (and have included my recipe for in The Everything Nordic Cookbook), is Møsbrømlefsa - flour lefse that is spread with a sweet mixture of melted brown cheese (brunost) and buttermilk, unique to the Salten region of Nordland county. Yet Møsbrømlefsa isn't layered - it's basically rye flour lefse that's filled with a sweet gjetost sauce (about the consistency of nacho sauce), then folded into quarters and eaten.
When I shared my recipe for Møsbrøm sauce with Elizabeth, she agreed that it sounded like it might be quite similar to her mother's recipe. While I don't know if my version tastes like the treat she and her husband remember, it's so tasty that it may well become a tradition in my family. Thanks for the inspiration, Elizabeth!
04 of 07
Jean Johnson's New-Fashioned Flatbread
Jean Johnson contributed this innovative recipe for New-fashioned Flatbread to Anne Gillespie Lewis' must-have cookbook, Ingebretsen's Saga: A Family, A Store, A Legacy of Food - and I'm celebrating, since it gives me a chance to use my very Norwegian hob-nailed rolling pin (something I rarely pick up unless I'm making lefse! As Lewis explains in her introduction to the recipe, "Flatbread (flatbrød) was a staple of the Scandinavian diet in early years and to this day Swedes and Norwegians eat a lot of it. Jean Johnson, the author's friend, has perfected this recipe for flatbread over the years. Roll it with a hob-nailed rolling pin - available from Ingebretsen's - or a smooth rolling pin. Number of pieces will vary according to how thin you can roll it! Note that oat bran is available at food co-ops and other stores." Reprinted by permission of Ingebretsen's.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
06 of 07
Apple Spelt Flatbread
Spelt, raised in prehistoric times in Scandinavia and recently reintroduced into cultivation, has become as popular a grain as rye. And it's no wonder why - this subtle "miracle" flour provides all of the health benefits of wheat without dominating baked goods with an overpowering aftertaste. While the texture of spelt breads will be better if you combine the spelt with all-purpose flour, it's possible to use spelt only to make GI-friendly treats. Here, a yeasted spelt batter is lightly spiced with cardamom and topped with local apples to produce a raised flatbread that's perfect with one's first cup of coffee.
07 of 07