Sunday, October 20, 2013

Foragers' Favorite

Breakfast perfection
Autumn has come to New Jersey, making me realize that frost, and the end of growing season, is imminent. Now is the time to pluck the last tomatoes and corn, harvest apples, haul squashes into the root cellar, dig pungent horseradish roots, and gather sweet, abundant fall red raspberries. And of course it's also the season to forage mushrooms. Porcini are up. So are Hen-of-the-Woods, Sweet Tooth, Gypsy, Agaricus, Grayling, and many other delectable edibles.

The mushrooming club to which I belong, The New York Mycological Society, meets for a fall fling in a few weeks. We rent a house in the Catskill Mountains and fan out into the damp forests. Evenings are filled with culinary wonder - and learning. There are so many species out there!

And then comes morning. Every Catskill weekend for the past 5 years (And every July Chanterelle weekend too), I've prepared buckwheat pancakes for the group.

Buckwheat pancakes from my mother's family's recipe (see the index card from her collection, below) were a cold-weather staple of my childhood. The batter was always fermented in the same stone bowl. When I'd come home from school and see it on the kitchen counter, I knew the next several days would begin with delicious hot breakfasts. She'd serve those buckwheat cakes with molassas and maple syrup, bacon on the side, and she'd save leftover batter to use as a starter. Eventually the output became sourdough buckwheat. It was my first taste of sourdough; the experience destined to become a passion. 

Fast forward to 2002 and my diagnosis of Celiac Disease. Mom's buckwheat pancakes, I feared, were one more food I'd never eat again. But then I discovered that 100% buckwheat flour could make a batter that held together nicely. It did not need gluten. What I needed was to replace the taste of wheat with a parallel mouth experience. Enter unbolted buckwheat - flour that's ground to random amounts of fine-ness, then not sieved to be consistent. It's chewy and crunchy, but at the same time, smooth. Because the grains of buckwheat are broken in different amounts, unbolted buckwheat flour develops a long range of flavors as it ferments.

Mom's buckwheat pancakes - which are now gluten-free and also happen to be egg-free and dairy-free - are totally easy to make. Time does the work: you mix a batter with a bit of yeast and sugar and let it ferment overnight. In the morning, add brown sugar, oil and baking soda and fry away. (Recipe below)
Caramelized berries and melting butter ... YES!
The hard part is finding unbolted buckwheat flour. Shortly after discovering that I could make gluten-free buckwheat pancakes I learned that my unbolted flour source, an historic water-powered mill in Youngstown, Ohio, ground wheat and rye flours in the same room as buckwheat. When I Elissa-tested my batter it ran off the charts. I searched far and wide for substitutes and found none. Eventually I decided to grind the grain myself. Lucky for me it made a superior bread mix - Bold Buckwheat Premium - as well as terrific pancakes.

I've packaged freshly-ground, organic, unbolted buckwheat flour in half-pound re-sealable bags and sell these for $2.25. You can find them in the Accessories section of my website, or just click HERE.

The first time I made these cakes for my New York friends I was a bit intimidated. Buckwheat cakes are rustic food, and these were New Yorkers - foodies to boot. They not only loved the cakes, they demanded I make them for every weekend getaway. That's why I call them Foragers Favorite.

A note: Foragers Favorite Buckwheat Pancakes are superior when made with walnut oil, but any kind of oil, including melted butter, will work. I like to up the taste ante by tossing a few chopped walnuts in the griddle and then pouring the batter over them. The walnuts caramelize and soak up cooking oil and get wonderfully crunchy and tasty. And then there's those seasonal red raspberries. They're a perfect add-in for richly flavorful buckwheat.

Forager's Favorite Buckwheat Pancakes

yield: 10 - 12 cakes each @ 1 1/2 Oz. (40 grams)


1 1/4  cup coarse buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cup lukewarm (body temperature) water
1/2  tsp granulated sugar
3/4  tsp instant yeast
1/4  tsp salt
2  tsp dark brown sugar
1  tsp oil (walnut oil works best) or melted butter
1/4  tsp baking soda
oil, bacon fat or butter for griddle

You will also need:

A large stoneware, glass or stainless steel bowl
Stirring spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Griddle or skillet


The night before you are going to make the pancakes, measure the water and place in a large bowl. Add sugar and yeast and stir well to dissolve both. Add and dissolve the salt. Add the buckwheat flour and stir until batter is smooth.

Let batter stand at room temperature overnight. Batter will swell - sometimes to the point of overflowing the bowl - then fall back.

In the morning, heat a griddle to medium, or just below the smoke point of whichever oil you are using. To the batter, add brown sugar, oil and soda and stir until well incorporated and batter is smooth. (It may be necessary to add water if the night was dry and the batter has lost some moisture).

Use a 1/4 cup measure to pour batter into cakes on a greased skillet. Add nuts or fruits ad lib. Fry until edges start to dry and the center bubbles, then flip and cook the other side. Serve warm, preferably with maple syrup and molasses.

Farmhouse style: My mother and father both swore that their parents claimed the best way to eat buckwheat pancakes was with beef brisket gravy. Mom never made them like this this for us, but supposedly this is the most authentic serving mode.

Have a great week, and happy (GF) dining!
Charles Luce


Sunday, September 22, 2013

What Polly Wants:

OMG Crackers with Chernuska seeds

This past July I had the opportunity of attending The Kneading Conference in Skowhegen, Maine. There I was privileged to attend many workshops, the best two of which were led by Naomi Duguid. Duguid is a flatbread-maker extraordinaire. Her work has inspired many meals in my house, including simple sip-the-soup-and-crunch-the-cracker affairs. 

The workshops: Artisinal Crackers and Using The Tandoor, produced foods I could not eat (The Kneading Conference was a wheat-eater affair) but I learned a tremendous amount - including that my OMG Flatbread mix could be used to make breads that "work" in a Tandoor.

The column and recipe below were published in my e-newsletter before I ever went to Maine, but as summer ends and I look back over its significant events I can't resist reprinting it here.


Creating crackers was never part of my summer program. After coming up with a flatbread that could be made on stove top or outdoor grill, I figured the test kitchen was closed until mid-August, when I'd put finishing touches on a Back-To-School bread. But if the forces of the universe conspire, you've gotta follow.

In early June I was lounging on the couch reading Diane Morgan's excellent cookbook, Roots, and discovered that if I wanted to make a classic Peruvian hot sauce for South American style potatoes (I did), I needed to use saltine crackers. Of course this got me thinking: Was there a gluten-free equivalent? I'd never tasted one.

A few days later, while picnicking with friends Sara and Claude, Sara began rhapsodizing about crackers. She doesn't suffer from celiac disease, so no grain is off-limits, but she'd just tasted a flatbread made from my OMG Flatbread mix and was certain it could make a great cracker.

And then I recalled how my wife Leslie preferred the baking experiments I rejected as too thin and crunchy. Yes, the universe was telling me something.

Digging into cookbooks I soon came up with a half-dozen good-sounding cracker recipes. Eliminating all but the easiest reduced the field to one: Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's rye cracker recipe, in their massive and wonderful volume, Home Baking. I didn't want to make my crackers with rye, of course, but I was sure the basic formula would work with OMG Flatbread flour, and it did.

cut crackers ready to bakeYou couldn't find an easier recipe than this. One needs only butter, sugar, salt, rice flour for dusting and some OMG Flatbread mix. You can complicate things if you wish with spices like Charnushka (to me this is an ingredient well worth finding), but the hardest part of making these crackers is tolerating oven heat on a summer day.

A thought on this: I suspect crackers can be made in a toaster oven or even a BBQ with a pizza stone and a lid. I never got around to trying, but if one of you does, kindly let me know how it works.

OMG Crackers
Yield: about 30, 2-inch-square crackers


1/2 cup OMG Flatbread flour mix 

1/8 tsp granulated sugar
1 TBLS unsalted butter
1/4 cup warm water - 100 - 115F
About 2 TBLS white rice dusting flour
Coarse salt to sprinkle on cracker surface
(optional) Charnushka - available at Savory Spice Shop

You will also need:
Medium bowl
Whisk, stirring spoon or fork
Large work surface or cutting board
Pizza stone or cookie sheet
Rolling pin or empty cylindrical bottle
Sharp knife or pizza wheel cutter
Water spritzer (you can dip your fingers in a bowl and flick the water if you don't have a spritzer)
Cooling rack

Optional first step: Using an immersion blender or small food processor, process flour mix for 1 minute, or until very fine.

• Using a medium bowl, add flour and sugar and whisk to blend. Cut butter into lima-bean-sized chunks. Toss into flour/sugar blend and rub in with fingertips until mixture has the texture of coarse sand. Add water and stir to mix. Let stand about 5 minutes, then beat dough vigorously until it is smooth - 50 or more strokes. (A power mixer may be used.)

• Thoroughly dust a work surface or large cutting board (It must be at least 12" X 16"). Turn dough out onto dusted surface and sprinkle dough with dusting flour. Pat and shape dough into a rectangle that is about 6" X 8", turning and dusting frequently. Dust a rolling pin or cylindrical bottle and roll dough very thin. (see photo).cut crackers with fork for scale Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut dough into rectangles or squares. Prick surface with tines of a fork. Cover with plastic wrap or a dry towel and put in a warm-ish place to rise.

• Heat oven to 425 F. If you have a pizza stone, use it. A heavy cookie sheet works well too. If your cutting board is plastic you'll need to transfer the crackers to a flat, heat-proof surface, such as a peel or a flat cookie sheet and then tip or slide crackers onto hot stone/cookie sheet. If the cutting board is wood, gently brush away excess flour and then tip the crackers onto the hot stone/cookie sheet in the oven. Spritz them lightly with water and sprinkle with salt and/or charnushka.

• Bake 10 minutes or until slightly browned (see photo at top of this page). It's a good idea to turn the pizza stone or cookie sheet 180 degrees halfway through, but be very careful moving a hot stone. Remove crackers to a rack to cook. They should be cool enough to eat in 10 minutes. Sit down in front of the tube, boot up an old episode of Dr. Who, and try not to eat every last one!