I’ve accepted this time of year tends to be a bit bland for my taste. The grayness that lurks in the crevice of February and March usually forces me into hibernation. During this time I keep to myself, and try to keep out of trouble. This year I failed, miserably.
The two-day affair I had with an unforgiving frozen yogurt recipe is one I’d rather forget. An encounter with a slab of pork belly shot me straight out of a dead sleep, our earlier romance lingered violently on the cold bathroom floor for the next few hours. In a last-ditch effort, I looked for solace in a lackluster bouillabaisse, wasting saffron and drinking too much wine in the process.
Of course none of this helped. I just felt puffy. I stopped interacting with others. Bright lights became irritating. I growled at people showing signs of affection. I began to wonder if maybe I had Asperger’s.
But then I made this cake. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. As the sugar and butter fluffed up, I started to breath again. Once the smell of cinnamon and dark rum crept through my apartment, I stopped grinding my teeth. When I took the cake from the oven, its glossy, yellow crosshatched pattern smiled at me with a cakey gap-toothed grin. And for the first time in quite a long while, I didn’t feel compelled to roll my eyes. Or scoff.
I heard Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” start up in my head. Fish in the sea, you know how I feel. Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel. Everyday cake lovers, you know how I feel.
This is a rich cake that uses nutty buckwheat to its advantage, playing off the butter and rum. The fleur de sel melds these flavors, supports them, and serves as a salty backbone for the cake. It’s a simple cake. A very pretty cake. A special cake that looks and tastes far better than its ingredients would lead you to believe.
And so I’m leaving my hole. Winter recluses, you know how I feel. The end bits of February never seem very pleasant. Not that this cake is a cure-all, but it is certainly a welcoming recipe. A worthy end of winter companion. Amazing what a little butter and buckwheat can do. It’s a new dawn. A new day. And a new cake. And I’m feeling good.
Breton Fleur de Sel Buckwheat Cake
Adapted from Diary of a Locavore
For the cake
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
a scant ¾ tsp fleur de sel, plus a few extra grains to sprinkle on top of the cake
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light muscovado sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp dark rum
For the glaze
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp milk
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch pie pan with butter. In a small bowl, sift the flours, ¾ tsp salt, and cinnamon. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. While the mixer is on low speed, add the egg yolks one at a time and finally the whole egg; then add the vanilla and rum. Mix in the dry ingredients, a third of the flour mixture at a time. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula until it just comes together and the flour is no longer visible.
Pour the batter into your prepared pie pan (it will be thick). Use your spatula to smooth it over.
Whisk the egg yolk and milk together for the glaze. Brush it generously on top of the cake and then, using the tines of a fork, rake three parallel lines across the cake in one direction and three parallel lines in the other direction. For a picture of this, see here. Sprinkle the cake with just a little bit more of fleur de sel, a pinch or so; use your judgment. Bake the cake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean when inserted into it. Let cool slightly on a wire rack.
-Be careful not to overbake this cake. I almost did. It was saved in the knick of time. Diary of a Locavore also warns of this.
-This recipe was originally attributed to David Lebovitz; it comes from his book The Sweet Life in Paris. Which doesn't surprise me in the least. (The cake also freezes brilliantly.)
-I used muscovado because the time called for something fancy. Light brown sugar can be substituted.
-Where Nina Simone is high priestess, Jay-Z and Kanye West are kings. They use Nina's "Feeling Good" in their song "New Day" from their Watch the Throne album. It's also a go-to for me, of a different sort.