If you collect flours like I do, your kitchen sometimes resembles a mill more than a room in a normal house, and your kitchen drawers and cabinets become stocked with jars filled with finely ground powders that all look alike. That isn’t the case with buckwheat flour. Its color is so distinctive that it’s easy to spot on the counter. It’s dark, sometimes almost purple in color, with a sweet smell reminiscent of ripe fruit and a strong, slightly bitter flavor that can take some getting used to.
Traditionally, buckwheat flour is used in Brittany to make galettes, or buckwheat crêpes; in Russia to make blini; and in many countries—Japan, Korea, Italy—to make noodles. Because buckwheat is neither a grain nor a grass but a pseudocereal related to rhubarb, its flour has no gluten and is therefore difficult to bake with unless it is combined with other flours that can lend more structure.
Buckwheat flour is ground from buckwheat groats, also called kasha, which are interesting to cook with in their own right. The groats are hard little kernels, almost triangular in shape. The name “buckwheat” comes from the Middle Dutch for “beech-wheat,” as the groats resemble beech-tree nuts—and they have a great texture when cooked correctly. (Don’t overcook kasha; al dente it’s great, but as mush it’s not.)
In the right recipe, buckwheat can be astonishing, lending a rich color and an almost mineral flavor to cookies or scones. In baked goods that don’t require gluten, like the Poppy Seed Wafers in this chapter, buckwheat can stand alone. In recipes that need more rise, adding all-purpose flour, in equal or perhaps slightly greater proportion, to the buckwheat gives a muffin or pancake the lift it needs while allowing the flavor of the buckwheat to come through.
It’s no coincidence that buckwheat pairs extremely well with fall fruits, because of its assertive, almost winey flavor. In this chapter, pears—sweet, juicy, with a floral taste—add a fantastic dimension to a pancake batter. Persimmons and dark chocolate add sweetness and depth to a batch of muffins.
If, at first, the buckwheat flour is too strong for you use a greater proportion of white flour until you are used to the flavor and can use the amount the recipe calls for.
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