Buckwheat pancakes

Buckwheat PancakeAs Shrove Tuesday, pancake day, falls this week (on Tuesday 9 February), I thought I would post my current favourite pancake recipe – a Breton buckwheat galette. I have always had a weakness for the crèpes you buy at the little market or street stalls in Paris, filled with crème de marrons, and I used to love the traditional thin pancakes my mother cooked for Shrove Tuesday, eaten hot from the pan with just lemon juice, sugar and butter. These days, though, I find they rarely live up to that childhood memory, and I prefer the taste of these buckwheat pancakes. Moreover, these are wheat and gluten-free, so ideal for those who are on gluten-free diets, and you can use water instead of milk. Filled with spinach and cheese, with or without a poached (or fried) egg, they make a great brunch, lunch or supper dish. With a slice of ham, some grated gruyère and an egg you have a Galette Complète – the Breton equivalent of British bacon and eggs.

I made them again recently because I found a packet of Farine de Sarrasin (aka buckwheat flour), bought the last time I was in Brittany, which needed using up. That sent me looking for my Breton cookbook – I found this recipe, but not a single one for a galette. Then I looked online and found a David Leibowitz recipe, but it uses a combination of buckwheat and plain flour, which wasn’t going to help me use up the buckwheat flour. So I based my recipe on the one on the packet of flour. Remember that you need to mix the batter at least a couple of hours ahead – or better still the night before you need it. This quantity makes enough for two savoury galettes with enough over to serve smaller galettes with a sweet topping (see below) for dessert.

125g buckwheat flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil or melted butter
250ml water or milk
20g butter for cooking

For savoury filling:
200g spinach
grated nutmeg
100g goat’s cheese or gruyère
2 eggs
2 slices of honey-roast ham (if desired)

Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the beaten egg into the well along with the oil or melted butter and a couple of grinds of salt. Gradually work them into the flour with a spatula, starting from the centre and adding the water or milk gradually until the batter has the consistency of double cream. Beat the batter briskly with a whisk for about 3 minutes until it is smooth and there are no lumps. Leave the batter to rest for 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.

To prepare the galettes take the batter out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Prepare the spinach: wash the leaves and cook them in a saucepan over medium heat, covered with a lid, in the water that clings to the leaves after washing. Stir once or twice until the spinach has all wilted – this should only take 3 or 4 minutes. Take off the heat, press the spinach with the back of a wooden spoon to squeeze out the excess liquid and stir in a good nut of butter, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and put over very low heat to keep warm. Fill a small pan half full of water, and put a piece of kitchen towel on a plate or small board. Grate the gruyère or if using goat’s cheese cut it into small chunks.

Turn the oven on low (about 120ºC) and put two plates in to warm. Put a large solid frying pan or crèpe pan, preferably non-stick, over a medium-high heat. If you wish, you can cook all the galettes and then warm them up when you’re ready to eat them, which is probably sensible, but I never do this as I think they taste best as fresh as possible.

Turn the heat on under the pan of water and crack the first egg into a cup. When the pan of water reaches a simmer, slip the first egg into the water, turn down the heat so that just the odd bubble rises to the surface and poach the egg until the egg white is set (about 3 minutes). Take out of the pan with a slotted spoon and put to drain on the kitchen towel you have put ready. Cook the other egg in the same way (you can use these poachies, which I’m told are very good and make it easier to cook two eggs at once).

Give the buckwheat batter a good stir and thin with a little more water or milk if necessary, as it may have thickened after standing – it should be the consistency of double cream. When the pan is hot put in a good knob of butter and swirl it round the pan – use a paper towel to wipe the butter around the pan if necessary. Pour a ladleful of batter into the pan and immediately tip the pan to spread it as thinly as you can. The professionals use a dinky wooden utensil for this, and I find a straight-ended wooden spatula very useful to spread the batter thinly and evenly around the pan.

When the underside of the first galette is cooked and releases easily from the pan (a minute or two) turn it over and cook the other side. Put the first galette onto a warm plate in the low oven. Add another nut of butter to the pan and cook the second galette in the same way.

When both galettes and eggs are cooked, put a slice of ham (if using) in the centre of each galette, mix the cheese into the spinach, add half the mixture to each and top with a poached egg. Fold the edges of the galette in to enclose the filling like a little parcel and serve.

When you’re ready for dessert use the remaining batter to make two more galettes and fill them with, for example:

  • warm stewed plums with vanilla ice-cream
  • sliced apples cooked briefly in a little butter and a tbsp of Calvados, ideally served with salted caramel sauce, or maple syrup
  • Crème de marrons with whipped cream (the French would whip in a little icing sugar to turn it into crème Chantilly)

I tend to serve the sweet pancake either open or just folded in half, rather than folded like a parcel.

The traditional drink with galettes is cider, but I find wine or apple juice go just fine too. Then retire to the sofa and plan your next holiday in Brittany…

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