We had a very white and relatively quiet Christmas up here in North Dakota. This year I realized that there are a few things which really put me in the Christmas spirit (besides the obvious classic movies + music):
Frantically crafting my gifts at the very last minute.
I realized a few months ago that I only owned ONE cookie cutter! A little bunny one that I got from a thrift store (of course). So I headed to Target at the advice of Molly to check out the new Magnolia Home collection of cutters. These little houses were definitely calling my name and I immediately imagined them all decorated with royal icing in an illustrated style.
Molly’s glaze recipe is amazeballs. I had so much fun mixing up colors and dipping the cookies and letting the glaze spread evenly over the surface. I LOVE the way the frosting dries sort of matte-glossy – it was the perfect background for little line decorations. I used Alton Brown’s royal icing recipe and piped line drawings on the face of the cookies – one (okay maybe two) of them ended up looking like grain bins which was not a bad deal.
We had Christmas out at Seth’s dad’s house. It was kind of a special Christmas because our nephew got to spend it with us (which we know probably won’t happen very often since his dad’s a military man and they move quite a bit!). He did an awesome job as Santa and handed out everyone’s presents while still in his adorable Christmas pjs. Christmas is pretty fun when there are little ones involved.
My sister-in-law (who also loves to bake) brought over some krumkrake that she made which was out of this world. Cardamom is the king of Christmas spices if you ask me. Even though I will always love pizzelles + the nostalgia they bring – I definitely have to add krumkake to the repertoire next year.
I dubbed Seth the Krumkake King this year… mainly (and only) because I took this ridiculous picture of him in his new Christmas socks munching on a cone. That might have to be a thing next year too- whoever can eat the most krumkake can be the Krumkrake King!
Does doing something two years in a row make it a tradition? Probably not… but this is my second year making lefse with my dear friend Alex who is definitely a seasoned pro. The tradition has a long history in his family and he has been making lefse – the Norwegian dessert made from potatoes and topped with butter + sugar – since he was probably old enough to hold a rolling pin.
Alex was kind enough to share the tradition with me again this year and Randi joined in on the fun. She will be sharing highlights from our magical lefse making night on her podcast along with Alex’s grandma’s recipe in the new year!
There’s something magical about baking during the holidays. I think the magic gets elevated when you are making something that you know has been passed down for generations and when you are sharing those traditions with friends. Even though I didn’t grow up eating lefse during the holidays (I had NO idea what it was before moving to Fargo) I have grown to love my little “potato tortillas” during Christmas time.
Alex packed up his family lefse supplies, a special griddle, lefse sticks, lefse/pastry board, and fancy rolling pin and we headed to Randi’s to start the marathon of rolling and flipping and folding that is lefse making!
Alex had already prepped the potatoes for the lefse dough – a process that involves boiling, ricing, and letting the potatoes cool. He brought two huge bowls of prepped potatoes that we had to finish turning into dough which involved adding flour, mixing well, and rolling up into cute little balls.
Although I know that you can definitely make lefse solo (I am pretty sure that Alex has made a million pieces of lefse in his life, probably a ton of which he did all on his own) it is so fun to do with friends! 1. You can all wear your favorite Christmas aprons and 2. You can take turns forming the dough into balls, rolling out the dough, flipping, and folding and basically form a little mini assembly line.
Rolling the dough nice and thin and flipping the delicate pieces of lefse on the griddle are probably the hardest parts but with a little practice Randi and I were doing pretty well by the end of the night. Even the mess-ups were fun though because we justified eating those pieces straight off the griddle (which is hands down the BEST way to eat lefse!).
When you listen to Randi’s podcast of the night you’ll likely hear the fun we had trying to guess what each lefse shape looked like. There were a lot of old witch/troll faces and random countries that I am pretty sure we made up. None of them turned out perfect but that is the charm of homemade lefse.
Randi’s ridiculously adorable pup Junebug kept us company while rolling. She just always has to be where the action is at. With a fire roaring in the other room and plenty of Christmas tunes playing it was the coziest of nights.
We ended up with two huge stacks of lefse, all neatly folded and wrapped up in a towel + grocery bag to sweat overnight. In the morning once our lefse cooled we could fold it once more and freeze them. I’ll be bringing mine to our family Christmas where we will let them defrost, slather them with butter and plain white sugar and roll them up to enjoy.
Lefse is a simple little “dessert” (one that I literally laughed at the first time I had it) but once you realize the amount of time and love that goes into each piece it becomes something pretty special. Cooking is a hobby I usually do solo but there’s something to be said about spreading the love and spending time with your friends while making something yummy to eat – especially when you get to share the mess-ups and sing along to Christmas tunes together.
My great grandma Mary passed away this October. She was the eldest link in the chain of 5 living generations in my family since my other great grandma (Sally) passed away a few years back. While all of the generations she left behind will surely miss her sass, her warmth, and her humor… Mary lived a long and full life. Nobody could say otherwise.
I’ve always been interested in my family heritage. My great grandma Mary was a proud Italian. Apparently the name on her birth certificate wasn’t the “Mary Louise” she always went by but “Maria Magdelena Carmella DeBortolo”. Her mother Tulia DeBartolo was apparently just as fiery and fierce – a trait that I am pretty all of the women on that side of the family directly inherited.
I grew up as a proud “Italian”. (Despite the fact that the last four generations of my family were born in the USA.) Nobody would believe me because my last name was “Dedin” and my red hair seemed to betray me. Everyone at St. Pat’s (my Catholic grade/middle school) probably assumed I was Irish, and then I’d open my mouth and talk with my hands and everyone would shut up about it.
I grew up naively believing that I was somehow “pure” Italian… or at least “mostly” Italian and I am sure a large part of that is because I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. We ate pounds of pasta, enjoyed our Italian beefs, made our lunch sandwiches out of stinky deli meats and were all Catholic.
Our holiday treats were not the lefse & krumkrake of the Scandinavian Plains but potica and pizzelles of the suburbs. It turns out that while I do have a ton of Italian ancestors (De Bartolos, Musaracas, Olivos, etc)… I am also a good chunk Lithuanian and a little Polish as well! I had no idea how much my understanding of heritage was really tied to food until I started making it myself.
A few years ago I decided to tackle pizzelles, the crisp wafer style cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar and often flavored with anise. My grandma Judi always made them during the holidays and I got my recipe from her. They were a simple bake, and apart from figuring out the perfect amount of batter to put on the iron- they turned out just like grandmas!
Last year I borrowed from my husband’s heritage and made lefse for the first time with my friend Alex. Lefse is a Norwegian treat made from potatoes mushed up (with a potato ricer) and rolled out paper thin… cooked on a hot griddle and flipped with a long lefse stick. You eat these bad boys with heaps of butter and plain old white sugar. Yep. That’s how Norwegians do dessert apparently… a sweet potato tortilla. I had never heard of lefse before I moved to Fargo and it isn’t part of my heritage… but in the 8 years I’ve lived here it has become dear to my heart.
This year I knew I wanted to tackle potica. This sweet, rich, dense, nut loaf was a real Christmas treat. If you could score of a loaf of potica back home during the holidays your celebration was complete. It turns out that potica is actually a Slovenian treat but for some reason it is super popular among Italians and hey, the two countries are sorta neighbors, right?
Good potica is so dense and so rich you can only handle about a 1/2″ slice of it. Bad potica is basically cinnamon swirl bread. It’s an intimidating bake especially when you grew up with stories about how your great grandma would roll her potica dough as big as the kitchen table and so thin you could read a newspaper through it!
I knew this was a recipe I wanted to revive and a tradition I wanted to bring to my family in Fargo and to future generations. Because I knew this wasn’t something I’d get right on the first try I wanted to start practicing before December. Naturally I decided a Tuesday night in early November was the perfect time!
The component parts of potica are simple… it’s the assembly that takes practice and skill. You really do have to roll that damn dough out thin as hell. I could have probably gone a little thinner with my dough but that’s something I’ll do on my next try! Since there wasn’t a recipe that got passed down in my family I used this one. It was simple and easy to follow and even has a companion step-by-step tutorial!
I was surprised that there was no cinnamon in the recipe because I was sure that was a flavor I recalled w/ potica but I followed the directions and to my surprise the taste was totally on point. I’m sure you could add a little cinnamon to the mix but it honestly doesn’t need it at all.
My favorite part of this process was rolling out the dough… it sort of gave me goosebumps. I thought back to my great grandmothers and their ancestors rolling out potica dough as thin as they could – a skill that requires patience that doesn’t necessarily come easily to fiery tempered gals like us. I have to say my first loaves turned out WAY better than I could have imagined… the roll was tight, the filling was the right consistency and I got the signature brown gloss on the exterior that comes from brushing on a nice egg wash before baking.
Next time I’ll be sure to roll my dough a little thinner (as big as my kitchen table will allow!) and to seal the ends of the dough a bit better (there were quite a few explosions of filling). It’s hard to describe the feeling that I get when I bake or cook something from my heritage but it’s a powerful, visceral sense of connection to my past that makes me willing to try even the toughest tasks in the kitchen!