03 February 2009

Breton-style buckwheat pancakes

The kind of crêpes we made yesterday probably don't even qualify as the kind you are supposed to make for the French Chandeleur celebration. Those would be dessert-style crêpes made with white wheat flour — the kind you would use to make Crêpes Suzette.

Une galette de sarrasin, or crêpe de blé noir
a French buckwheat pancake used in savory dishes

What we made was buckwheat crêpes or, in French, crêpes de sarrasin. Farine de sarrasin, also called farine de blé noir ("flour from black wheat), is made from a plant that is not really a grain or a grass. Flour made from it contains no gluten, and it has a slight mushroom-like flavor.

Buckwheat pancakes with ham and mushroom sauce

Buckwheat was imported into France from Asia centuries ago. It gows well in Brittany, and buckwheat flour is used especially there to make savory (as opposed to sweet) pancakes. They are called crêpes but also galettes, which can describe any sort of flat cake. All French pancakes are unleavened and are made very thin and eggy. They are easy to fold or roll up, like Mexican tortillas.

Put a pancake or two on a plate and lay a slice of ham over them.
Spread a thick mushroom or cream sauce over the ham slice.

Usually, buckwheat pancakes contain a certain amount of wheat flour along with the buckwheat flour. The gluten in the wheat flour makes the pancakes hold together better. If you are allergic to gluten, you can however use buckwheat flour exclusively and maybe put in an extra egg.

Sprinkle grated cheese over the mushroom sauce.

French recipes for buckwheat pancake batter are all over the map when it comes to proportions of wheat and buckwheat flours to use. The one in a classic home cookbook by author Ginette Mathiot (Je Sais Cuisiner, 1970) calls for 200 grams of buckwheat flour and 90 grams of wheat flour. That's a two-to-one ratio.

Ginette Mathiot's recipe for Breton-style buckwheat crêpes*

The recipe on a bag of buckwheat flour we have in the kitchen says to use 250 grams of buckwheat flour and just 25 grams of wheat flour — a ten-to-one ratio. Using a higher proportion of wheat flour in the mixture makes pancakes that are more elastic and don't tear as easily when you try to turn them over in the pan.

Arrange the rolled-up crêpes over a layer of sauce in a baking pan.

After you've assembled a ham, sauce, and cheese pancake, roll it up into a log, or fold it into a triangle. Put a thin layer of the mushroom or cream sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and arrange the pancakes on it. Sprinkle any remaining grated cheese over the top. Of course, you could also make these without the ham.

Baked filled buckwheat pancakes

Bake the dish in a 175º (350ºF) oven for about 20 minutes, so that the cheese inside melts and the mushroom sauce gets good and hot. We had ours with poached eggs, but if you have cream sauce left that would be good instead, spooned over the baked pancakes at the table.

* Here's a translation of Ginette Mathiot's recipe. As usual, ingredients are measured by weight, not volume.
Buckwheat crêpes
Preparation: 20 mins. — Cooking time: 4 mins. per crêpe

7 oz. buckwheat flour (about 1½ cups)
3 oz. wheat flour (about ¾ cup)
1 egg
2 cups milk
pinch of salt

Put the two flours in a bowl. Blend in the egg and milk. If the batter is too thick, add water to thin it. Oil the skillet and get it hot. Pour in a small quantity of batter the spread it to cover the bottom of the pan. Let it cook 2 mins. on each side. Put a lump of butter on the cooked pancake and fold or roll it up for serving.
French-style pancake batter should be very liquid and it should just kind of film the bottom of the skillet you cook it in. I used this Flour Amounts Calculator on the Internet to determine American measurements, which are very approximate.


  1. Hi Ken, love the look af your savoury pancakes, I will have to try them soon, I love quick & easy things for dinner as I often work long days. I too make the buckwheat & flour pancakes, but I serve them with banana slow cooked in a little butter,then add some brown sugar to caramelise,tried putting in some fresh peach slices as well last time and that was delicious.

  2. I have been reading your blog, as well as Walt's, everyday for quite some time. Would you help me be more comfortable by phonetically spelling out how to say the name of your town? I stumble over it everyday in my mind. It would help my poor French tremendously. By the way, you guys can really, really cook. Merci.

  3. Buckwheat was also grown extensively near us in the Brenne. It is a plant well suited to lowland wetlands like this. Honey produced by bees who have foraged on buckwheat is a local delicacy – very strong and dark, but considered the only proper honey for making pain d'épices here. And of course, blinis are traditionally made from buckwheat too.

  4. There's an old mill at Burnt Cabins that still turns out buckwheat flour (maybe cornmeal too), though these days they only occasionally use the millrace to turn the grindstones.

    I've put buckwheat flour on my shopping list. I'm wary, though. Often the stuff on the store shelf is already past its prime. I guess I'll try the bulk grocery, where you can open a bag before buying.

    My word verification is expres. Short for expires?

  5. Hello Ken,
    Your preparation/presentation of these crêpes is also know as a 'ficelle picarde', a regional specialty of northern France. It's usually served as an 'entrée' or a snack in local restaurants and bistros. I don't think they use buckwheat flour, though. And I bet they are not as tasty as yours. Martine

  6. That looks so delicious!
    Yes there is an accent on the first E of Nadege. When I am homesick for the french countryside, crepes always come to my mind but also "the girl from Paris" movie. Jean-Paul Roussillon is in the movie "A Christmas Carol" with Mathieux Aleric and Catherine Deneuve (I haven't seen it yet). I just remember him being really good with Michel Serrault.
    Working in Hollywood for 30 years, I always yearn to watch good acting. JP Roussilon belongs to the Comedie Francaise, hence the good training and great acting.

  7. Thanks for another great recipe. To "replace" the gluten into buckwheat, you can use xanthan gum instead of flour or an egg. Ratios are usually on the package, athough it takes a bit of tinkering to get each recipe right. In the US, you can buy it in specialty groceries and food co-ops. It provides a binding quality similar to flour's.

  8. They look absolutely delicious ... I remember eating these years ago in Carnac with glasses of cider. Yummy memories.


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