Breakfast For Dinner
With a buckwheat waffle and some bacon, what could be better?
My quest for buckwheat nirvana started with regular old pancakes and ended up in Brittany with a mug of hard cider. Figuratively, that is.
Like many of you, when I'm out of dinner ideas, I turn to breakfast for dinner. Just as leftover pizza is the ultimate breakfast, pancakes are never unwelcome at the dinner table. I started making them more often — first, plain buttermilk pancakes, then blueberry. When we got bored with those, I rummaged through the freezer and found a pound of buckwheat flour. I substituted half buckwheat flour for all-purpose in my usual pancake recipe and had an instant new family favorite.
Buckwheat elevated the pancakes with a throaty punch and a savory undertone. They're good with syrup; drizzling them with buckwheat honey would be poetic.
Another word for buckwheat pancakes is blini, the Russian flatbread generally found supporting crème fraîche and caviar. Somehow I was out of caviar, but I knew buckwheat would happily follow me in a savory direction when the time came.
Naturally, I tried buckwheat waffles next, and the result was disappointment. Where buckwheat pancakes are moist, flavorful and work fine with syrup and breakfast sausage, the buckwheat waffles were dry and coarse — not bad, but in need of a savory hookup rather than butter and syrup. I tried different recipes, including an overnight batter with yeast, and they were all similar. So for a while I gave up on buckwheat waffles as simply not to my taste.
Then I received the April issue of Saveur magazine, with a story about the crêpes of Brittany. Unknown to me, the pancakes of this French region come in many forms, the most traditional of which is a thin buckwheat crêpe. My eye was drawn to such a crêpe topped with caramelized onions and bacon. Now, that looked like dinner. I mixed up some crêpe batter.
Dinnertime approached, and I ladled batter into the hot pan. Total crêpe failure. Buckwheat flour has no gluten, the sticky protein that makes moistened wheat flour hang together. So these crêpes fell apart goopily when I tried to flip them. Bretagne crêpe mongers must have some tricks they didn't share with the reporter.
So I swiftly mixed up some buckwheat waffle batter, cooked the waffles, and topped them with the caramelized onions, bacon and (because everything tastes better with a fried egg on top) a fried egg. Brittany isn't known for waffles, but it's hard to imagine this dish could be any better with crêpes. Cider gives the onions just enough acidity to cut through the richness of the bacon, egg and waffle, and the sturdy waffle stays crispy even under all those savory goodies. The onions and waffle batter keep in the fridge, so this could make an extravagant breakfast without too much trouble.
Serve with a mug of hard cider. Did you know they drink cider from mugs in Brittany? Probably they use some kind of antique, hand-thrown number, but a university-logo coffee mug strikes me as adequately nostalgic.
I shopped around and couldn't find any Bretagne ciders in Seattle, but from neighboring Normandy comes the beautifully unfiltered Cidre Bouchée of Etienne Dupont, available at QFC and elsewhere for under $10. Aspall's English ciders are very good. But my very favorite ciders come not from Europe but from the Pacific Northwest. Try Westcott Bay Vintage Cider from San Juan Island, easy to find at Whole Foods or Bottleworks, or Cyderworks from Portland. Cyderworks is not easy to find, as it's sold only in Oregon. Don't let this stop you; it's a magnificent drink, worthy of your buckwheat waffle stack.
Buckwheat waffles with onion confit
Makes four 4-inch waffles, with some batter left over
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced
½ cup sweet hard cider
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons buckwheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg, separated
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 strips cooked bacon, broken in half crosswise
4 fried eggs
To make the onion confit.
1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
2. Add the cider, nutmeg and salt to taste. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are medium-brown, about 20 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring often, until onions are deeply browned, about 15 minutes more.
To make the waffles.
1. In a medium bowl with a pour spout, stir together the all-purpose and buckwheat flours, baking powder and salt.
2. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, milk and butter. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients all at once and stir a few times until dry ingredients are barely incorporated. The mixture will be lumpy.
3. Beat the egg white to stiff peaks. Fold the beaten egg white into the flour and yolk mixture, leaving a few streaks of egg white. Cook according to your waffle maker's directions.
1. Place one waffle each on four plates. Top each waffle with two half-strips of bacon, ¼ cup of the onions and a fried egg.