This is the first (but certainly not last) time on this blog I will profess a love for Paris. I know, I know: another food-lover who adores Paris. Yawwwn. But I don’t care. I’ve been there exactly once, during a semester abroad in Spain. Everyone tried to convince me I would be disappointed— that the City of Light was actually the City of Dirty Streets and Mean People. But it wasn’t. There were perfect croissants, well-coiffed women who seemed to have dabbed on Chanel No. 5 before breezing about town, street musicians, and beautiful buildings. Men walked home from work with baguettes under their arms, for heaven’s sake. Paris was everything it was supposed to be.
I’ve never been anywhere else in France though, which is a shame. I feel like I would love the French countryside. The Loire Valley. Provence. Burgundy. In my (sometimes overimaginative) mind, it seems that the French country would provide rustic counterparts to all the Parisian stereotypes that were reinforced on my visit: instead of croissants, pain au levain; instead of narrow 17th-century rues, rutted dirt lanes with quaint cottages.
Those are the kind of images that came to me when I read David Lebovitz‘s recipe for buckwheat Breton cakes in his lovely book The Sweet Life in Paris. Very dense, slightly spicy, and nutty with buckwheat flour, this is the kind of thing you can picture cooling on a kitchen table in some windswept seaside village in Brittany.
While the recipe is written for a 9-inch cake pan, I split the batter up into small cast-iron skillets for individual cakes. Also, the real recipe calls for fleur de sel, but we’re unfortunately not schmancy enough in the Yellow House for that—a sprinkling of kosher salt gave the desired effect and should not be skipped. I served once with plain yogurt and brown sugar; and again later for breakfast with preserves. It keeps very well for several days.
Breton buckwheat cakes
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris
You will need
1 scant cup buckwheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
1 cup turbinado sugar (you could probably use white sugar, but I think this went well with the cake)
4 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, rum, egg yolks, and egg, in that order. Mix dry flours, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cinnamon together; stir gradually into the butter and sugar mixture. The batter will be quite thick, almost like cookie dough. (Mine seemed too thick and dry–I actually added a splash of milk, but I think my eggs were a bit small.) Smooth batter into 4 buttered small cast iron skillets (or, alternatively, a 9-inch springform pan).
Whisk together the remaining egg and milk to make a glaze. Brush it onto the tops of the cakes; then, if you want, using the tines of a fork, create a cross-hatch pattern (as pictured above).
Bake for 20-25 minutes (I imagine if you made one large cake, it would take quite a bit longer). Keep an eye on it; you still want your cake to be tender, and if cooking in cast iron, it will still bake a bit more when it comes out of the oven. While still warm, sprinkle remaining 1/3 teaspoon kosher salt on top.