Saturday, February 7, 2009

Anson Mills Buckwheat Flour: A Cake

Nearly 2 and a half years ago I had my first introduction to the world of food blogs. I was volunteering for CUESA's Sunday Supper. CUESA is the organization that runs the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, and the Sunday Supper is their annual fundraiser. It is quite the event if you are into food and the restaurant scene in the Bay Area. I would say that there is somewhere in the area of 30-50 local chefs that are involved. I was a bit star struck that night because to me, these people are celebrities.

I was fortunate enough to be in the room where first courses and desserts were being plated up. It also meant that I was able to taste most of them. One of the desserts that has remained in my mind was a Buckwheat Gateau with Brown Butter Creme Anglaise and Poached Fall Fruit prepared by Shuna Fish Lydon. It was simple, seasonal, and outstanding. It had a dense and chewy texture that I found completely addictive. I even stole a piece to bring home for later. I don't think she minded (I hope not, wink).

Keri had met Shuna before and told me about her blog. So I checked it out and quickly realized that a whole world of food blogs existed. I suddenly had quite a bit of surfing to do on the web. I mean really, I had a lot of catching up to do.

After browsing Shuna's Blog, I realized that she had posted a recipe for her Buckwheat Gateau Breton. Of course I had to recreate it! Ahem, unfortunately mine did not come out like the one I had had at the Sunday Supper. It did have the same dense and chewy texture, but it was much thinner, like less than half the height. Maybe I did not beat the butter mixture long enough to incorporate enough air bubbles? I assume that is an important step since there is no other leavening agent like baking soda or powder added. Shuna's post also talks about the use of Anson Mills Buckwheat Flour which I did not use. I used the organic bulk buckwheat flour from Berkeley Bowl which I thought would be good but maybe there really was something intrinsically special about the Anson Mills Buckwheat Flour?

Finally, 2 years later I decided to give it another go. I even mail ordered some Buckwheat Flour (among others) from Anson Mills. I can't say that my attention to the details of the recipe made much of a difference. The recipe states that the batter should be split between 2 pans, but I added it all to one pan. It still resulted in a cake that was just 1 1/2 inches high. The cake that I remember was definitely over 2 inches high.

Despite the height, I think the cake is delicious. Louis said that he thinks the cake needs to be served with "something". I guess if I were to serve it to guests, I would adorn it with some fruit and perhaps that Brown Butter Creme Anglaise. But it did go really well with my coffee this morning. It is only slightly sweet and a bit earthy. This cake is quite moist and would keep well for about a week (as stated in the original recipe). I can imagine that it will serve me well throughout the week as a lovely afternoon treat when I get home from work.

Buckwheat Gateau Breton
(Adapted from Shuna Fish Lydon)

12 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 egg yolks at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons orange flower water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt (I used Maldon)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 egg white, room temperature

Preheat oven to 325F.

Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan (or 2 flouted tart pans, perhaps a better presentation). Beat butter until smooth and light in color in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Scrape down bowl. Add egg yolks one at a time and incorporate fully after each addition. Add orange flower water and sea salt, scrape down bowl and beat for at least 2 more minutes.

Sift both flours and turn mixer down to lowest setting. Add flours gently in thirds just until batter is uniform. Divide batter equally between 2 tart pans or one cake pan. Press batter into pans with a small offset spatula. The batter is quite thick.

Whisk the egg white vigorously until very frothy. spoon on top and spread evenly. Sprinkle a bit of turbinado/raw sugar on top. This creates a lovely crackly top and provides a bit of contrasting texture to the cake.


  1. That's definitively a recipe I want to try. I always have buckwheat flour on hand, but I only used it for crepes and pancakes. That's a good way to get out of buckwheat rut!

    But only ONE egg white? you are right, that's not much of a levening...

  2. Sylvie,
    You're right, not much leavening and the egg white is for the top of the cake. It doesn't even go into the batter! Please let me know what you think when you've tried it! I found that it was better the 2nd day...