Buckwheat is not your run-of- the-mill grain. In fact, it is not even a grain, but a high-fibre, gluten-free ‘pseudograin’ — a seed that is consumed in much the same way as most other grains. Furthermore, it is considerably more nutritious than grains; it contains good levels of magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Interestingly, the immune-boosting minerals in buckwheat are better absorbed than those in grains, and it has a good amino acid profile, being rich in lysine and arginine.
This is nostalgic nosh for Naomi. Having spent some time living in Brittany as a child, I was raised eating buckwheat, in the form of galettes de blé noir — a traditional Breton pancake dish. Anyone who has visited France is probably familiar with a crêperie — France’s villages and cities are positively littered with them — but it terms of authenticity, the finest crêperies are located in Brittany. There, in rustic little restaurants, exposed kitchens reveal the hiss and sizzle of thin liquid batter spread on hot, large pans at lightening speed; a trace of butter on the pan crying out as the mixture hits the searing heat. Crêpes are spread evenly, expertly, on this circular plate, before a filling of choice may be placed in the centre (emmental and ham perhaps), and finally the crêpe is folded into an open or closed envelope shape. The simple delicacy seems to be ready for service in a matter of seconds — fast food, Breton style.
These piping hot pancakes can be kept simple, or dressed up elaborately; flambéed with calvados, piled high with whipped cream, pineapple and chocolate, or covered in ice cream and sliced bananas. Either way, they are wolfed down accompanied by a local, dry cider, knocked back out of bolées (red rimmed cups).
Buckwheat has strong Breton roots. In Brittany, a place of wild, rugged landscape and people, many crops failed, but buckwheat, or blé noir, decided to thrive. The galettes are tied in with Breton identity — and the Breton people are fiercely proud of their identity, believe me. Having spent some time working in a Breton bar (and earning the nickname Fil à voile (sailboat line?) — apparently due to my being thin but resilient), old gruff sea dogs propped up at the bar each day growled ‘on est pas français — on est Breton !’ (we are not French, we are Breton’) Alright, alright already.
Back to the buckwheat — star of the salty and buttery galette that is Brittany’s most famed culinary export; the simple, rustic fare that sprouted reincarnations that span the globe. I love baking with it; it behaves in much the same way as wheat, and has a lovely, nutty depth. It pairs fantastically well with fruit like pears and apples, and is enhanced further with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger (or all three). It would be a crime not to add a little Sel de Guérande (coasely ground fleur de sel collected off the coast of Brittany).
This is a simple, homely cake. It is very light and fluffy, with nutty undertones, and a hint of vanilla. It is healthy — sugar-free, gluten-free, high-fibre, and relatively low in fat. It makes a nice breakfast — I usually just sleepily throw it together in the food processor, but you can mix it by hand or in your mixer, if you prefer.
1 large pear, ripe, but not overly yielding to the touch
2 medium free-range eggs
100g buckwheat flour (you can also grind your own from groats)
160g fromage frais (you could also use yogurt)
100g xylitol/ erythritol
100mg stevia (or more xylitol, to taste)
20g ground almonds
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt (I used Sel de Guerande)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 180C, and prepare a cake pan (line with parchment paper or grease).
2. Dice pear, and toss with cinnamon, Set aside.
3. To your food processor or mixer, add wet ingredients.
4. Slowly add in dry ingredients.
5. Pour mixture into cake pan and mix in the pear chunks.
6. Bake for approx 20 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean.
7. Allow to cool and serve with greek yogurt or fromage frais, some more chopped pear, and a drizzle of Breton honey, if possible.