After dipping my toast in the warm yolks and sliding the whites through the dripped-down melted butter, I can more leisurely turn my attention to things like sauerkraut and tea. It's a splendid breakfast, so splendid that when I make fancy breakfasts for other folks, I still make myself eggs and toast.
Indeed, I never, ever vary my breakfast routine. Except for yesterday. And today. The folks at the farmer's market didn't bring eggs on Wednesday, being too busy with tomatoes. I am such a snob that I just can't tolerate the sight of ordinary commercial eggs anymore, not even the expensive organic omega-3 faux-family-farm eggs. They look flaccid and mucilaginous, not at all muscular and perky and bright like real eggs.
So I went back to an old recipe I was saving for the dark of the year when real hens cease to lay. It's a recipe that was outdated before it was published a century ago. Helen Marsden, the endearingly nostalgic author, bemoans modern methods and the modern fear of inconvenience. But back then, "modern methods" meant baking powder instead of soda. And "inconvenience" was taking the time to soak your batter overnight. These days, breakfast itself is the great inconvenience.
Take heart, though! She assures us that "the setting overnight ... is in fact a very simple and convenient process, consuming only a few minutes and doing its leavening work in accordance with nature's chemistry during the long hours of the night."
It turns out that nature's chemistry is delicious, and truly easy. There's nothing in our modern repertoire quite like these buckwheat cakes. You know the spongey sour Ethiopian flatbread, injera? The cakes are spongey like that, but more delicate on account of the milk, and not sour. Like a cross between crepes and injera. They're tiny little chewy toothsome morsels. She calls it "light nothingness." Yes, that's true, but they're also satisfying -- they fill you up without the midmorning pancake crash. I ate a dozen and they kept me humming till lunch.
Real Buckwheat CakesThis recipe makes enough pancakes for two hungry people, with maybe a few left over for a third person who generally prefers coffee to breakfast.
The night before, put two cups of buckwheat flour in a large bowl with a cup of sour milk (buttermilk, kefir, whey, or clabber), and a cup of water. Whisk until all the lumps are gone. Add a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of molasses, and whisk in. I think Marsden assumes you're using toasted buckwheat flour (the grey-colored kind, readily available), but I usually prefer freshly ground untoasted buckwheat groats.
Put a tea towel over the bowl, a plate on top to hold it on, and a thick dish towel over the whole thing. Set it somewhere warm. I put it directly on my stovetop over the hot spot from the pilot light. A radiator would also work. It shouldn't be so hot that it hurts to touch -- that would kill the fermenting bacteria.
In the morning, heat a cast iron skillet over a medium-high flame. Don't let it smoke. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the batter, and whisk it in until it's all bubbly and evenly distributed.
Grease the skillet well (use ghee, lard, or bacon fat -- or butter, if you're careful not to burn it). Marsden says to use a "cooking-spoonful" of batter for each cake. It's not a lot. These are little guys. Put four or five in the skillet.
Flip them when they have bubbles in the middle. Remove when they're brown on the bottom and re-grease the skillet before you put the next round in.
Serve hot with gravy or butter. Or syrup, if you must, but I warned you about the pancake crash.