Surprise, surprise. It’s the Germans who make the best buckwheat pancakes. At least in my humble opinion. I know that the French like to fancy themselves for their buckwheat crêpes but they often miss the secret ingredient to great buckwheat pancakes: coffee.
Yes, it might sound obscure at first. You certainly wouldn’t put coffee into regular pancakes. But in buckwheat pancakes, coffee is magic.
This is a traditional recipe from the Bergisches Land in North-Rine-Westphalia which lies in the west of Germany. Just as in Swabia, the soil there wasn’t suitable to grow wheat. While the Swabians mainly grew spelt and lentils, the people from North-Rine-Westphalia grew buckwheat. Buckwheat grows everywhere where nothing else will grow. Of course, today the “superior” wheat flour is widely available. However, buckwheat pancakes have never died out.
It’s an impossible task to find German-grown buckwheat in any grocery store though. It simply isn’t grown anymore. It’s the same as with Swabian lentils. The farmers here just gave up on it because the market is flooded with products from third-world countries. Luckily, the original Swabian “Alb-Leisa” lentil variety was recovered a few years ago and is now again grown locally. Swabia almost lost the key ingredient to its signature dish lentil stew with spätzle (‘Linsen mit Spätzle’). The same is true for buckwheat which is nowadays grown in small quantities on the Swabian Alb. So yes, I can get locally grown buckwheat from Swabia but it’s a challenge to source it.
Why is buckwheat flour different from wheat flour?
It’s a bit more challenging to work with buckwheat flour than it is with wheat flour. Even though both share the same name, they are not related. Buckwheat isn’t a grain but a plant that produces grain-like seeds that are gluten-free. Buckwheat flour can’t form an elastic dough network and is therefore not suited for bread making. Buckwheat pancakes are thus much more fragile than wheat pancakes. To compare wheat to buckwheat pancakes is as if comparing corn to wheat tortillas.
You need to leave the buckwheat flour to hydrate for at least 30 minutes before you can fry your pancakes. Never prepare them when you are in a hurry. They take their time. Not much effort but time.
These German buckwheat pancakes are not stuffed like French buckwheat crêpes. Instead, the fillings are directly incorporated into the batter. You pour the batter over some thinly sliced bacon. Please do yourself a favor and use a high-quality thinly sliced speck for this dish. As great as British or American breakfast bacon might be, it’s better to go with an artisanal European product here. I used a super delicious raw speck from Tirol. But you can use any cured bacon from Germany, Austria, Italy, or Spain. Yes, it might cost more to get a quality product. But there’s a real observable quality difference.
You need to be quick when spreading the onion slices on top of your batter. They won’t stick to the pancake if the batter has already set. Once it has set, that’s the sign for you to flip the pancakes.
I know that a lot of people flip their pancakes with a spatula. That is ok for wheat pancakes. However, buckwheat pancakes need to be air-flipped. They are too fragile. They will tear apart if you use a spatula. So be confident. It’s not that hard to flip a pancake in the air. You will get a hang of it very quickly. It’s best to fry the pancakes in a smaller pan. Smaller pancakes are easier to flip in the air.
Why apple jelly is the perfect condiment for buckwheat pancakes
There are many condiments that buckwheat pancakes can be served with. My favorite is apple jelly which the people in North-Rine-Westphalia refer to as apple kraut (‘Apfelkraut’). But don’t worry, there’s no kraut in there. It’s apple juice that is reduced to a thick syrup. Once cooled, the syrup will solidify and can then be used as a spread for bread and pancakes. Besides buckwheat pancakes, apple kraut is also very popular with potato pancakes.
The traditional way to win the apple juice is to cook an apple sauce and then wrap it in cheesecloth and squeeze out all the juice. If you have a juicer, you can, of course, use it to win the apple juice. It’s much easier and faster. It’s important that you use a tart apple variety like ‘Belle de Boskoop’ to achieve a nice balance between sweet and sour.
I know it might sound weird to use a sweet jelly on a savory pancake. But it really is a harmonic combination. Bacon and apple pair very well. This dish has a perfect balance of taste: sweetness and acidity from the apple, savoriness and saltiness (umami) from the bacon, and bitterness from the coffee. So these are truly the best buckwheat pancakes in this world.