A Saracen grain cake was in her mouth…adventures in cooking with buckwheat

 Several weeks ago I was at the Italian version of Whole Foods Market (only much smaller). I was getting some nice organic flour for my bread making and on the aisle on the way to the register I ran across a package of ‘mixed seeds’ on sale, it had pumpkin, sesame and sunflower in there (some of my favorites) and then ‘grano saraceno tostato’. Thinking the Italian version of ‘hmmm, well, what d’ya know?’ which is the much shorter ‘boh.’ – I plopped the little package into my basket and went on with my day.
Of course when I offered some to my curious 5 year old daughter – “Hey, want some of these seeds on your yogurt?”, her inevitable question: “What kind of seeds?!?” was not to be fobbed off with a quick, “Lots of different ones.” So, I had to lay one of each kind out on the table in a row from smallest to largest, and give them their appropriate names in English and Italian:

semi di sesamo = sesame seed
semi di lino = flax seed
grano saraceno tostato = boh, I don’t know, toasted Saracen grain?
semi di girasole = sunflower seed
semi di zucca
= pumpkin seed

And of course mamma’s “I don’t know” was pounced on.
Robin Kay: “What’s Saracen grain?”
Mamma: “It must be these little triangular ones that are so crunchy.”
Robin Kay: “But is it called that in English?”
Mamma: “I don’t think so, but I don’t know exactly what it’s called in English…let’s look it up”

On behalf of mamma’s the world over, I offer my profound thanks to Wikipedia! I found the entry in Italian and went down the language list to English and in a click there it was:

Mamma: “Oh look, it’s Buckwheat, like in Ol’ Suzanna (singing) ‘a buckwheat cake was in her mouth, a tear was in her eye…”
Robin Kay: “What’s a buckwheat cake? Can you sing the rest of the song?”
Mamma: sigh…

Needless to say the next time I went to the store I bought some buckwheat flour and I’ve been experimenting with using it in bread. Today, because I don’t feel like making something as complex as a cake, I found a recipe for a buckwheat shortbread cookie on the L.A. times website.  I made only a few changes based on what I had in the pantry and what I didn’t: I used wholewheat flour rather than white for the 1/2 cup of ‘not-buckwheat flour’, I used brown (turbinado/demerara) sugar and, for lack of walnuts or almonds, I toasted a mix of pine nuts, oatmeal and flax seeds which I then went over a few times with the mezzaluna…

Yes, I know, it looks like a log of compressed wood; buckwheat flour is, well, gray. The dough has to be rolled up and put in the fridge for a few hours before slicing and baking so I’m hoping that, with a dusting of powdered sugar, the finished ‘Saracen grain cakes’ will look as good as they promise to taste (the the bit of dough that stuck to the bowl was delicious!). We’ll let you know how they come out…

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.

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