Buckwheat flour is perhaps my favorite flour to use in baking, even though I do not use it very much. In appearance it is of a soft gray or ashy hue and very fine grained. It smells richly of nuts, earth, and smoke. I always inhale deeply before I bake with it, delighted with the exotic possibilities that it holds. Buckwheat flour is not used in bread baking very often perhaps because it contains no gluten. It therefore must be combined with a strong wheat flour to ensure integrity and structure of the final loaf.
Buckwheat flour comes from the milled seeds of common buckwheat or Fagopyrum esculentum. The name is derived from the Dutch word bockweit or ‘beech wheat’. This Dutch appellation comes from the triangular seeds of buckwheat, which bear the resemblance of seeds from the beech tree, and the fact that the plant is used in manners similar to that of wheat. Common buckwheat was first used as a domesticated crop around 6000 BC in southeast Asia and eventually was cultivated in Europe, Central Asia, and Tibet. Buckwheat thrives in poor-nutrient, acidic, well-drained soils and is a short season crop that favors cool weather. Often it is used as cover crop, green manure, or for erosion control.
The buckwheat seed or fruit is an achene, or a single seed inside an outer, tough hull. The white endosperm contains high levels of starch, the seed coat tends to be green or brown, and the fibrous hull is dark brown or black. The dark color of the flour is derived from the addition of the seed coat and the hull. It is rich in iron, zinc, and selenium, essential amino acids, and antioxidants.
Buckwheat is used in a variety of food products. Perhaps most notably, buckwheat is used in noodles of various cuisines. In Japan, Korea, and the Valtellina region of Italy these noodles are known as soba, naengmyeon, and pizzoccheri, respectively. Buckwheat groats, or hulled grains, are used widely across Eurasia and are often referred to as ‘kasha’. Buckwheat pancakes are another common buckwheat food. In Russia they are known as blinis, in Brittany as galettes, in Acadia as ployes, and in Wallonia as boûketes. The American pancake tradition has adopted buckwheat for its lightly texture and nutty flavor. In addition, honey is also produced from utilization of buckwheat flower nectar and is distinguished by its dark brown color.
In spite of all these uses, buckwheat is not a common ingredient in breads. The following recipe is a sourdough recipe that allows for sufficient development of gluten through incorporation of strong white flour and the use of the autolyse method. The bread is crusty with a light, airy crumb and has an intriguing flavor of sourness, hints of earthiness, and the rich essence of nuts.
This recipe is adapted from Daniel Lepard’s The Art of Handmade Bread. (His website is http://www.danlepard.com/) I have made various adjustments to the amounts of ingredients, the fermentation times, and gluten development methods.
Yield: 2050 g
60 g buckwheat flour
240 g strong white flour
30 g sourdough starter (100% hydration)
300 g water
Break up sourdough starter in the water. Then add the flours. Stir until thoroughly combined. Let stand at room temperature for 16-20 hours.
All of levain build
660 g strong white flour
240 g buckwheat flour
490 g water
21 g salt
Mix and knead the flours and water into a very stiff ball of dough. Let autolyse for 30 minutes.
Add the levain build and salt to the flour/water mixture. Knead until thoroughly combined. This will be a difficult, sticky process if done by hand, but eventually the dough will incorporate and become smooth. Continue to knead this mixture until a medium level of gluten development has been achieved.
Let dough ferment for 3 hours with folds at 1 and 2 hours.
Divide dough into 4 pieces (~500 g) and shape the pieces into tight balls. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. Shape the dough pieces into batards. Let the shaped dough pieces rise for 1-1 ½ hours until the loaves have almost doubled in size. (Be careful not to overproof! This dough is wet and has a low level of gluten due to the buckwheat flour. Overproofing, as I found out in my trial runs, will result in a flat, squat loaf with a less holey crumb.)
Preheat the oven to 460 °F. Bake on a stone for 10 minutes with steam and another 25 minutes without steam. Turn off the oven and leave loaves in for another 10 minutes with door slightly ajar. Remove loaves from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before eating.