Did you grow up eating buckwheat pancakes and loving (or hating) kasha? Maybe you’ve tasted buckwheat crepes in Brittany, slurped soba noodles in Japanese restaurants, or have a passing acquaintance with blinis and caviar? If so, you might think that you know buckwheat.
Its name notwithstanding, the buckwheat plant is a pseudo-cereal—neither grass nor grain—and has nothing to do with wheat. Gluten- and grain-free, organic buckwheat flour has more protein, dietary fiber, and B vitamins than an equal weight of oat or whole wheat flour, and is an excellent source of potassium and essential amino acids. If you are an avid omnivore (like me) such details are incidental; you’ll fall in love with buckwheat for its robust, earthy, grassy, slightly bitter (in a good way), hoppy flavors, which also has hints of rose. I also just love how the flour looks—it’s a slate-y lavender brown, flecked with darker bits of hull.
In the past few years, riding the wave of alt-flours and -grains, buckwheat has officially, decidedly crept (no pun intended) into the repertoire of pastry chefs and home bakers, alike. We find buckwheat beguiling in all kinds of desserts and baked goods. The Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies from my book, Pure Dessert, attracted a minor cult following in blogs and pastry kitchens ten years ago. Buckwheat is one of my favorite flours—these days I make buckwheat soufflés, biscuits, scones, sponge cakes, butter cakes, gingerbread, cookies, and crackers.
Buckwheat can be purchased not only ground into flour, but as toasted or untoasted whole groats (little pyramid shaped seeds). Of course, you can make the iconic “kasha” side dish (rather like pilaf) or porridge, by cooking groats according to the packet's instructions. But why not get a little creative with this unique faux grain? Toasted buckwheat groats are crunchy and flavorful, like tiny nuts, and can be used like nuts, to top salads or enhance granola.
As a general baking rule, replacing all of the (gluten-full) wheat flour in a recipe with (gluten-free) buckwheat is a recipe for disaster, unless other alterations and changes are made to the recipe to avoid the outcome falling apart, tasting like sawdust, or otherwise misbehaving.
Some of you know this from sad experience—and that’s why whole books are written on gluten-free baking! Buckwheat flour can be particularly tricky in batters because excessive mixing or beating may produce some rather scary (and bad tasting) cement. All of this to say that specific recipes—rather than freestyling it in the kitchen—are usually needed to bake successfully with buckwheat.
If you are not living gluten-free, it’s fun and easy to experiment by introducing small amounts of buckwheat flour to your favorite baked goods. Buckwheat flour can be found in two forms: light (made from hulled buckwheat) or dark (unhulled). The latter has more fiber and flavor, while the former is finer-textured and subtler in taste. You can generally swap 25 percent of the wheat flour with buckwheat flour (by weight or volume) in cookies, muffins, scones, or biscuits, and even cakes and quick bread, and crackers, without a problem. Some results may be extra delicate or tender due to the reduction in gluten, but this can be a plus—like in shortbread cookies or a genoise cake. If you like your results, swap a bit more of the flour next time.
Pancakes, waffles, and crepes provide exceptions to the usual perils of freestyle gluten-free baking. These breakfast favorites get plenty of structure from eggs, so it’s relatively safe and easy to replace regular all-purpose wheat flour with a gluten-free flour such as buckwheat. And, these recipes call for mixing just enough to blend wet and dry ingredients without beating or whipping—so there is little risk of reinventing cement! Simply take your family’s favorite recipe and replace the all-purpose wheat flour for an equal amount of buckwheat flour (by weight or volume).
Adjust the fluidity of the batter with extra liquid or flour, as you might ordinarily do when a batter is a bit too thick or thin. Just one thing: If you are new to the distinctive (and arguably assertive) flavor of buckwheat, do start gently, by using a half and half combo of buckwheat flour and rice flour (white or brown) to replace the wheat flour. (If gluten is not a problem for you, simply replace half or any part of the all-purpose wheat flour with an equal quantity of buckwheat flour.) Other recipes where you can substitute buckwheat for flour one for one include intentionally dense quick breads, cakes, and soba noodles.
Cookies, Scones, Biscuits
Buckwheat add a can’t-put-your-finger-on-it heartiness to these biscuits. Apples tease out the inherent sweetness of nutty buckwheat, but can be happily subbed with dried cherries.
From blogger Sarah Kieffer (of pan-bang fame) come these sweet spirals. Buckwheat replaces half of the flour here, making for nuttily crumbly coils.
Our team’s favorite (and not just during the holidays). Sultry buckwheat, coupled with oat flour, render simple sugar cutout cookie dough unforgettable.
As Bien Cuit’s chef and owner, Zachary Golper, explains it, buckwheat adds a unique crumbliness and distinct toastiness—and also “makes gluten-free people happy.”
Recipe developer Chihiro could not sell these any better: “ I can’t think of any American baked goods with the texture of these cookies. They have the lightness of meringue, but with a toasty and substantial crunch.”
Cakes & Quick Breads
Buckwheat, almond, and all-purpose flour add just enough structure to this crisp-edged, upleveled banana bread, rich with peanut butter and buttermilk.
Buckwheat flour adds a distinct toothiness to this moist loaf studded with currants and walnuts.
Lacy-edged crêpes are layered with honeyed goat cheese, chopped walnuts, and aromatic orange zest. And they’re gluten-free.
Packed with eggs, oats, grated zucchini, walnuts, and buckwheat flour, these sustaining breakfast-friendly muffins are not only dairy- but gluten-free as well.
The perfect accompaniment to a morning coffee or afternoon milky tea, this moist, nutty, jam-sandwiched cake is very forgiving. Forego the apples and ground almonds for a denser, grainier crumb.
This seedy gluten- and dairy-free granola is perfect sprinkled atop yogurt and ice cream alike. Buckwheat groats add body and a satisfying crunch. Sub the mashed banana with sweet potato or pumpkin puree, or a dollop of nut butter.
Shredded cabbage and beets get tossed in an umami-laden dressing, then topped with furikake’d kasha.
13. Kasha Carbonara
Pasta, who? From Big Little Recipes columnist Emma Laperrque, comes this hearty swap. And when you’re done, how’s about kasha cacio e pepe? Kasha marinara? Kasha not-mac and cheese?
Buckwheat figures into this recipe in two ways: as the cereal and the crunchy topping. Don’t have cream of buckwheat? Simply blitz buckwheat groats until finely ground.
15. Kasha Varnishkes
Toasty kasha gets boiled until just tender, and folded into al dente bow-tie noodles, shmaltzy onions, and garlicky mushrooms.