Late Winter Buckwheat Cake

Toasty, crumbly buckwheat cake

Toasty, crumbly buckwheat cake

Putting aside for a moment the homemade Snickers bars, this might be the most unhealthy recipe I’ve ever posted; five egg yolks, half a pound of butter, and nearly half a pound of sugar. But since we’re going to be stuck in Moscow winter for all eternity, there’s no need to prepare for swimsuit season.

This cake is based on the traditional French Gâteau Breton, which tells me right away that it will be satisfyingly old-fashioned: butter, flour, sugar and eggs. No leaveners, no stabilisers. In fact, there’s nothing light about this at all.

Couldn't resist a hot slice of cake.

Couldn’t resist a hot slice of cake.

Buckwheat Cake (adapted from, which was in turn adapted from David Leibovitz’s recipe from The Sweet Life in Paris)

Click here for another buckwheat cake, from almost exactly this time last year

  • 140g buckwheat flour
  • 140g all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp plus 1/3 tsp sea salt (this is the place to use any fancy salt you have lying around)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 240g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g sugar (any kind will do)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • seeds of one vanilla pod (alternatively, 3/4 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp vanilla sugar)

The glaze: 1 large egg yolk and 1 tsp milk

Butter a 9- or 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan or, failing that, use a pie dish as I did. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

In a small bowl, mix the buckwheat and all-purpose flower together with 1/2 tsp salt and the cinnamon

In a separate bowl, cream the butter until it’s soft and airy. If you’re too lazy to wait and put the butter in the oven to melt as I did, it won’t be any great harm. Mix in the sugar and cream together until it’s uniform.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the 4 egg yolks and the whole egg. Stir in the vanilla. Give it a few good whisks or a good pass with the electric mixer. Then mix the eggs into the butter and sugar, stirring well. Slowly pour in the flour mixture and stir until it’s just combined. Scrape into your prepared pan and level the top with a spatula.

Mix the glaze together and spread over the top of the cake with a pastry brush or your fingers. Then draw a lattice design over the top by raking your fork across the top in three parallel lines. Then make three parallel lines going diagonally, forming a criss-cross design. Sprinkle the rest of the salt over the top, and put your cake in the oven. The original recipe says it should bake for 45 minutes, but mine took 25. Judge accordingly: you want your cake to be golden and shiny, but not at all dry.

My cake got a little burnt in our manic Soviet oven, but even so I think it looks very pretty with its latticed top and glazed edges. A good cake for staying in while the last of winter plays out. This little guy understands:



Chocolate Chip Cookies (with Buckwheat Flour)

My little sister cooks too. And bakes. By now she and I know that if one of us is in the kitchen, the other should just stay away. Or do whatever I say. But one of the things I took from her was the chocolate chip cookie. If you need to bring something sturdy to a party, or you need to make something you know people will like, this is a winner. Most def. My sister’s secret ingredient, for a while, was Crisco’s butter-flavoured shortening. Something about that artificial fat makes for really light cookies. We’ve both switched over to real butter now, and I can tell you that these biddies are just as nice. Solid, yet slightly chewy and cakey. Nice with tea and milk.

If you have a bit of Crème de marrons, as I did leftover from France, do put that in. I think it worked well with the nuttiness of the buckwheat. These started as a plain-flour cookie, but I ran out of wheat flour. It’s OK, buckwheat is a healthier, more protein-rich substitute. Don’t forget the sprinkle of salt on top at the end. Fleur de sel is nearly impossible to find in Russia, but it’s good stuff.

Chocolate Chip Buckwheat Cookies (adapted from Joy the Baker, the cutest food blog in the world):

  • 200g salted or unsalted butter
  • 250g buckwheat flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 200g demerara sugar (golden cane sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g dark chocolate, chopped

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then set aside. Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda.

Add the sugar to the melted butter and whisk until combined. Slowly add in the egg and egg yolk, milk and vanilla extract. Stir again until uniform. Slowly stir in the flour, then fold in the chocolate pieces.

Chill the dough for around 4 hours (Alton Brown, whose recipe this was first, suggests 36 hours. But who can wait that long?) While it’s chilling, preheat your oven to 150C. Then scoop your dough out into medium-sized dough balls. This allows you to get a crispy exterior, with a soft and fluffy interior. Bake them for about 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven. I can’t wait to enjoy these as ice cream sandwiches, lying by Patriarch’s Pond.

Buckwheat Coffee Cake

This isn’t the prettiest of cakes. It’s brown–the most unloved of colours–and has a very different flavour from traditional cinnamon-/chocolate-/fruit-based coffee cakes. But this cake, befitting its sophisticated Italian roots, is subtly elegant, with a bit of cinnamon and a hint of lemon zest. This was originally supposed to be baked in a springform tin, cake-style, cut into wedges, but my lack of such a tin meant that this became moist cubes of buckwheaty goodness. Somehow cubes makes this seem more like breakfast, less like a giant slab of cake. And really, even though there’s a lot of butter and sugar, this wheat-free beauty isn’t too bad for you.

Buckwheat, гречка, is a hearty winter favourite here, especially in its whole-grain form. Really, as a relative of rhubarb, buckwheat is not a grain, but it can be eaten like one with mushrooms, especially at this великий пост (Lent) time, where many Russians aren’t eating animal-derived ingredients like dairy and eggs. This is no good for lent (because of its milk and well-beaten eggs) but the moisture from the ground almonds means that it will stay soft for many happy days, and you could eat it later. I’m rather surprised I haven’t seen too many buckwheat-based cakes here; this one is a goodie.

Buckwheat Coffee Cake (adapted from The Traveler’s Lunchbox)

  • 175g whole almonds (blanched if you want; I used almonds that were roasted with the skin left on)
  • 200g buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 300g sugar, divided
  • 180 ml milk
  • 4 room-temperature eggs, separated

Preheat your oven to 175°C. If your almonds aren’t roasted, put them on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool completely. Grease a 9-inch springform pan or similar-sized baking dish. In a blender, food processor or clean coffee grinder, grind the almonds together with 50g of sugar. In a medium bowl, stir together the ground almonds with the buckwheat flour, salt, cinnamon, lemon zest and baking powder.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and 200g of the sugar. Beat in the egg yolks one by one. Beat in the dry mixture alternately with the milk until everything is well combined.

In a clean mixing bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the remaining 50g of the sugar until you have stiff, glossy peaks. (I got tired shortly before the end point, but I’d suggest making sure they’re nice and puffy.) Stir one quarter of the whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the rest. Pour the batter into the tin/pan and smooth the top.

Bake the cake for around 40 minutes, covering it with foil if it becomes too dark (this wasn’t necessary for me). When a toothpick comes out clean, take the cake out and put it on a cooling rack for around 10 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with some powdered sugar, if you like.

Field of buckwheat dreams...

Photo courtesy of Echoing Footsteps