Anyone who’s tried to make Norwegian flatbread knows that lefse is nothing short of a “pain in the butt.” So says Tacoma bakery owner Dagmar Simard, who I believe may be the only Tacoma baker still making lefse, other than brave home cooks and the volunteers who put on the annual Sons and Daughters of Norway events.
Simard — known for her wicked sense of humor — calls lefse “Viking tortillas.” For the uninitiated, lefse is a thin-but-sturdy, potato-based flatbread that can be turned savory or sweet. Most Norwegians I know prefer it slathered with butter and sugar. Simard enjoys hers rolled up with smoked salmon and cream cheese, or as the foundation for all kinds of roll-up sandwiches.
Simard charges $6 for a five-pack of 10-inch rounds of the potato bread, but it’s not something she makes regularly, which is true for most Norwegian baked goods around here. The Parkland restaurant 208 Garfield, owned and operated by Pacific Lutheran University, sells Norwegian sweets around the holidays, but the restaurant gave up on making its house-made lefse. They do still sell lefse, but it’s made by Granrud’s, the Montana company (see box).
Simard’s process at her Sasquatch Bakery is so labor intensive, I understand why she doesn’t make it consistently. It’s a two-day process with every step of the process done by hand.
Why not freeze it in batches and have it available more regularly? That’s something Simard said she simply won’t do.
“We won’t freeze it, it’s better fresh,” said Simard, who is a stickler for just the right texture. Open for just less than a year at Freighthouse Square, Simard has been struggling to stay in business creating cinnamon rolls and occasionally Norwegian baked goods. (Simard’s bakery is exactly where Tacoma baker Peggy Waldherr made her cinnamon rolls until 2007.)
Simard starts her lefse with hand-peeled red potatoes, which are then boiled. While some Northwest Norwegians insist on russets, Simard prefers reds in keeping with her recipe from North Dakota, where red potatoes are the standard. “I like russet potatoes, but I really do think the red potatoes are better,” she said.
Resting comes after boiling, and that’s an overnight process. “It absolutely has to sit overnight,” said Simard. “You can rush it in six hours, but it’s so much better when you refrigerate it for the night.”
The potatoes are mashed with butter and whipping cream — low-calorie fare, it is not — and flour is added only after resting. Day two is when the lefse griddle and lefse pin come out. “You have to griddle them with a really hot griddle,” Simard said.
Simard was born in Tacoma, but she is Norwegian by heritage. She grew up eating lefse at celebration events and festivals. “It was the reason my mom used to drag me to the Scandi Festival,” said Simard. “It honestly is the most authentic Viking food you can get other than lutefisk, which nobody wants to eat unless they’re dared.”
Aside from Simard’s penchant for Norwegian baked goods, she’s attracted quite a following in Tacoma for her cinnamon rolls, which are as big as a pie tin and available with flavored cream cheeses. Simard has a rotating list of hilariously themed cinnamon rolls, including nods to Farrah Fawcett, Guns N’ Roses and Star Wars.