To commemorate the holidays, all of the families in Rhys’ nursery class were asked to bring in a dish that is meaningful to their holiday celebrations. My first thought went to lefse, a thin Norwegian flat bread made from potatoes. When I was growing up, the best part of the holiday buffet table was always Nana’s lefse. She spread them with a thin swipe of lingonberry jam, and rolled them into tight cylinders. Nana’s lefse were more tortilla looking than other lefse I have seen, which look almost like lavash in size and thinness.
When I was 16 my Nana passed away and over the course of a decade, my grandma passed down Nana’s recipes and cooking equipment. I put dibs on the recipes, her Jell-o molds and tins of various design (fish, tubes, Bundts, grape clusters), and Nana’s coffee pot. I also inherited her lefse pin (a large rolling pin with striations in it so the potato dough doesn’t stick) and like a total moron, gave it away. Ugh, that stupid decision still gnaws away at my soul and makes me want to cry. So when I spotted a lefse pin on sale at Sur la Table a few weeks back, I snagged it and thought myself the luckiest person alive.
Of course I’d make lefse for Rhys’s holiday party. Of course! I picked up lingonberry jam at a small Swedish sweet shop in the West Village. I had the potatoes ready to boil. I looked in the recipe box at Nana’s recipe at to my shock, it was a recipe FROM THE BACK OF A LEFSE MIX!!! No way Nana! Devastated (I mean, it’s like learning your mom’s mashed potatoes come from potato flakes!), I turned to the internet and discovered this lefse website and quickly became intimidated–would I need a lefse boogie board to roll out the dough? What about that lefse stick? A lefse grill? Did Nana have all those lefse toys (somehow, in her itty bitty Chicago kitchen without even a proper counter–she did all of her cooking prep work on a formica kitchen table)?
Okay, by now it’s nearly 10am and the party is at 2:30. In between which I have to drive and deliver my dad to Delta at the airport. Lefse was quickly escaping my grasp…should I try anyway? I quickly envisioned myself happily ricing potatoes, making the dough, rolling the super thin pancakes, the dough sticking, the frustration growing, the dough tearing, flour getting everywhere, nothing working, and me throwing dough across the kitchen, stomping my feet, and having a full-on potty-mouthed tantrum. Okay, skip that. I made mandelbrot instead.
Mandelbrot is known as Jewish biscotti. It is usually made with oil instead of butter and with almonds. Mandelbrot was probably the first baked good I ever made and the recipe has been the same since I was old enough to lick the dough from a spoon: butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour, salt. Done. no leavener, no nuts, no oil. My husband is not a huge fan. He thinks they’re boring and kind of plain. I think they’re quite simple, semi-sweet, tender, buttery, and lovely. “Can’t you dip them in chocolate,” he asked? I glared at him. “You dip them,” I threatened. That ended that conversation.
This is a simple cookie. You make the dough, shape it into two long flat rectangles on a baking sheet (like biscotti) then bake it off. When it’s blonde and just starting to brown around the edges, you slice the bricks into 3/4-inch wide pieces, and then turn each on its side. It bakes for another 20 minutes (flipping the cookies over midway through). These are delicious with coffee, tea, or just out of hand. It’s a straightforward cookie without sprinkles and frosting and chocolate drizzles or dragés. And this time of year, a little simplicity is kind of a nice thing.
Makes about 2 dozen
- 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon and elbow grease, beat the butter with the sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is airy and light, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, increasing the mixer speed to medium-high between additions to ensure the batter comes together before adding the next egg, and scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.
2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt. Mix on medium-low speed until just combined.
3. Set a parchment paper or silpat-lined half-sheet pan (18- by 13-inches) on your worksurface so the long sides are at the top and bottom and short sides are to the left and right. Place half of the cookie dough on the lower third of the baking sheet and place the remaining half on the upper third. Fill a bowl with cold water and set it next to the pan. Dip your hands in water and pat the dough out into two long rectangles. The rectangles should be about 1/2-inch thick and about 15 inches long. Re-wet your hands as needed so the dough doesn’t stick. Smooth out the top and square off the corners as best you can.
4. Bake the two long rectangles until they are golden and spring back to light pressure, about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway through. Remove the pan from the oven and slice each rectangle into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Remove the rounded ends of each slab (these are a treat for all of us impatient bakers–they’re super yummy hot, yum!) and turn the sliced pieces on their sides.
5. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the cookies are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer, turning the cookies midway through if you like. Remove from the oven and cool. They keep very well in an airtight container for up to ten days.