Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Works, with Buckwheat

Sometimes, things work out.

Whiskey is poured and not a drop is spilled. The plant you thought was dead all of sudden has new leaves sprouting up it's brown stalks. Jobs are offered. People you forgot from years ago send you good wishes. New people send them too. The dress fits, the car runs, the cakes bake perfectly...

For one moment, everything seems to conspire, in the best of ways, in your favor.

Sigh, sit back, breathe a moment.

And then, back to the cake: Buckwheat, Bourbon, Fleur de Sel.

First of all, I must seem like a skipping record with this whole fleur de sel thing. Or maybe just a bit of a snob? Let me clarify: I can never get enough of the sweet and salty. It hasn't always been au courrant either.

I remember a few years ago, a French family, connected to us through various bloodlines and histories, some dating back over 30 years, came to visit my family in Cazadero. My mom was going through a mango salsa phase. It was summer, and soft mangos were practically falling in our laps from every direction. She had finally struck upon the perfect combination of mango, red onion, and cilantro for her mango salsa. Served with the saltiest of tortilla chips, the mingling of sweet mango and salt had been a favorite of ours for a while.

The Frenchies, although gourmandes and lovely people to boot, politely passed over the salsa, nibbling warily on a few tortilla chips. After the rest of the meal my mother, slightly crestfallen, finally got up the nerve to ask about their mango snubbery. There was no one word answer. What followed was a long conversation about where sweet was appropriate in a meal: breakfast and dessert, neither places where salt would take a turn.

I remember being astonished at the rigidity of this approach. At the time, I thought it was just this family, or maybe, all people from the south of France??

And then, in Britain last year, on more than one occasion did I have someone whisper fearfully in my ear: Are you one of those Americans who puts syrup on her bacon?

It seems my family, in a global context, has committed horror upon horrors. Because needless to say, we love mango on our chips, syrup on our bacon, and salt on our cookies.

Not that I'm claiming to be original, or even controversial by loving salt and sugar together. I'm just pointing out my commitment to these staples, even if it means betraying myself to Europeans as "one of those Americans."

Back to the buckwheat. From David Leibovitz's new book about living and eating in Paris, it's kind of ironic that I stumbled upon a Breton recipe for a cake sprinkled with fleur de sel. Not one to complain, I'm always happy to try a new cake recipe, especially one involving alcohol.

Before I go on, let me warn you: it's humble, this cake. Or maybe rustic is the proper word. It's moist and buttery, with gentle whiffs of that special buckwheat leaping up as you slice through it, and it sneaks up on you. With that crumble of crunchy salt on top, the first bite you might think, oh this is just alright. But have another bite, and another, and another. Just put the whole plate next to you while you read or write or chat with a friend, and watch it disappear, sliver by sliver. 

I'm not sure if buckwheat actually has anything to do with stars aligning, but if eating this cake means things will keep going well, I'm all for it.

Breton Buckwheat Cake with Fleur de Sel
adapted from David Leibovitz's The Sweet Life

Note: The changes I've made are subtle, but to me, necessary. For one thing, I sprinkled much more salt on the final product than David recommends. His recipe calls for 1/3 tsp, and while I didn't exactly measure the amount I used, it was at least 1 tsp. Also, the original recipe calls for dark rum. Since whiskey and bourbon are the drinks of choice in our house, I used Bulleit Bourbon (I wasn't about the break into the Auchentoshan for baking).

7/8 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 tsp plus 1 tsp fleur de sel 
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp bourbon or dark rum
1 egg yolk
1 tsp milk

1. Grease a 9 or 10 inch tart pan. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Mix first four ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. 

3. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy, set aside.

4. With a fork, stir together 4 egg yolks, 1 egg, vanilla and rum, then slowly add to the butter while beating. Stir in dry ingredients until just incorporated.

5. Smooth into the pan. It will be very sticky and might not do what you want it to, but persevere.

6. Stir together the last egg yolk and the milk, and brush over top of cake. 

7. With a fork, scrape whatever design strikes your fancy into the top of the cake, then sprinkle remaining fleur de sel over everything.

8. Bake 35 to 45 minutes, checking frequently after 30 minutes so it doesn't dry out.

9. Let cool, serve, enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. buckwheat astrology!

    tess, this is a lot to digest (har har)
    but i'm thrilled to look through all of this, and hopefully to experiment with some of these recipes.

    oh, and my mom told me about your blog.

    matt h.