I'm often asked if I have a favorite ingredient. The person asking the question is probably hoping I would say something like Indian long pepper or single origin, hand-conched chocolate. But to their disappointment, my answer is generally "sugar" because it adopts many forms and covers a very wide range of flavors. Nonetheless, this year I've been intensely interested in buckwheat. So if you were to ask me what my favorite ingredient is today, my answer would be without a doubt, rustic aromatic buckwheat flour.
It all began when Sonoko Sakai from Common Grains introduced me to the founder of Anson Mills, Glenn Roberts. Shortly after, I was playing around with buckwheat flours grown and milled by Anson Mills in South Carolina. I made everything from buckwheat bread to chocolate buck cake to buckwheat pancakes. I was fascinated to discover how buckwheat pairs beautifully with chocolate and honey in pastries and desserts, but the personality trait that I appreciate the most about buckwheat is that it is 100% gluten-free...and every baker in this day and age knows that the demand for gluten-free products in on the rise. I'll let the nutrition experts elaborate on the health benefits of incorporating buckwheat into your diet. But as far as its flavor, I can say that buckwheat has a deep earthy -almost dirty- taste. It reminds me of molasses and clove and it smells like beer. Not everybody is a buckwheat lover though, which makes me think that for some, buckwheat is an acquired taste.
This recipe for Buckwheat Pancakes is great for buckwheat lovers and skeptics alike. If you follow a gluten-free diet, you might be surprised to realize that buckwheat flour holds structure better than any other gluten-free grain (in my opinion). For those of you who are new to the world of buckwheat, it's natural to be somewhat afraid of its pronounced flavor and you may want to substitute 1/2 cup of buckwheat flour with 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour.
Makes four 6-inch pancakes
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter, plus a bit extra to pan-fry the pancakes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, vegetable oil or butter and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the well of dry ingredients and whisk to combine. The mix will be slightly thicker than a regular pancake batter, but if it feels too stiff you may add 1 to 2 tablespoons of buttermilk.
To make the pancakes, preheat a 6-inch skillet over a medium to high flame. Add about 1 teaspoon of butter and a drizzle of oil to the skillet and swirl to coat it. Pour about 1/2 cup of batter and use the back of a spoon to gently spread it over the entire hot surface. Cook over medium heat until you can see little bubbles forming on the top of the pancake and flip with a spatula. Cook for another minute. Make 3 more pancakes with the remaining batter. Alternately, you may use a larger skillet and cook a few smaller pancakes in one swoop. Serve immediately with maple syrup and/or fruit compote.
To learn more about buckwheat and other grains, visit commongrains.com and ansonmills.com