Ashkenazi Jewish roots, plus an enthusiasm for smoked salmon-based breakfasts, meant I couldn’t help but have a stab at Dan Lepard’s Buckwheat and Onion Kugel (recipe in the Guardian here), along with the other cooks at http://shortandtweet.tumblr.com/.

Kugel means round, and yet – in Eastern European food – refers to  sweet or savoury dishes of noodles or pasta, mixed with an eggy custard and baked to set.  I grew up with the sweet versions (think spaghetti-filled baked cheesecake), but have never tried it savoury.  Usually the dish calls for supermarket ‘egg noodles’ (American?), but Dan’s was a little different.  Not only did he encourage one to make the noodles from scratch, but also more unusually, with buckwheat flour.

This was nearly a complete disaster.  Look!  Look at the noodles below!   Great thick ugly misshapen slabs of noodle (ok, the flavour was good, but the texture horrid!).  And to think I nearly left it at that…

I was lazy, the dough was too wet, and yet I ploughed on.  I barely kneaded it – thinking that buckwheat flour has no gluten – so what good would kneading do?  The recipe was in fact 100g buckwheat flour along with 75g of strong white flour.  Of course kneading would help.

The dough was squashed through the pasta roller; just the once, on the widest setting.  It stuck, it was sticky, I knew the dough would never make it through the rollers again.  “What the hell, maybe if I cut it up, then it’ll be ok?”  It really wasn’t.  To leave it, or start again…?

The one thing that kills pasta – and turns the making of it to misery – is having a wet dough.  However, when the quantities are right up front, there is nothing easier, nor more satisfying than to watch a firm, powdery flour and egg mixture transform into the waxy, smooth, strong sheets of dough.

Add only just enough water to hold it together.  Add a little, then mix and try to hold it together.  Keep adding in tiny amounts.  If you need any flour to help the dough through the pasta roller, it has gone wrong.

So I started again… This time perfect!  I probably added 30g of water compared with 60g the first time.  It made all the difference.

Buckwheat noodle recipe  (after Dan Lepard)
100g buckwheat flour
75g strong white flour
1 large egg
Pinch of salt
A little water (as little as possible!)

Mix the flours and salt, and make a well in the centre.  Crack the egg into the middle, and stir in, until as much of the egg as possible forms crumbs in the flour.  Add a tbsp of water.  Mix again.  Might it come together?  No, then add a teaspoon of water.  Might it come together?  Try very hard… No?  Then another teaspoon of water.  Continue until the dough only just comes together.

Place the ball of dough on very lightly floured work surface (you should need very little flour), and knead gently for about a minute.  It should form a very firm smooth-surfaced ball.  When ready, the surface of the dough may feel slightly colder, and – more importantly – when you make an impression in the dough with your finger, it should bounce back slightly.  If not, knead a little more.  Leave wrapped in clingfilm on the side for 30 mins; if you only have 15 mins, that’ll have to do!  At this stage, if you’re not quite ready for a kitchen covered in drying pasta at this stage, you can keep the dough for a couple of days in the fridge.

Unwrap, and cut the dough into 2 pieces.  Take one piece and flatten slightly to pass through the fattest setting of your pasta roller.  Cover any dough you’re not working with in clingfilm, to keep it malleable, and prevent drying out.

See how dry the pasta looks in the second picture below.  It’s perfect!  Fold it back up, and put it through the widest setting on the pasta machine for a second time (see pictures for folding ideas – fold any rough edges back in).  Repeat 4 or 5 times, and notice how smooth and elastic it becomes  – think of this as an additional ‘kneading’ stage.  Then start to reduce the thickness setting on the pasta maker.  With a KitchenAid, one roll on 2, then 3, then 4.  Here I’ve stopped at 5.  Repeat with the remaining half of the dough.

Lay out the rolled out sheets of pasta on a floured surface to dry slightly – 20 minutes or so – until when you press it, your finger doesn’t stick.  This additional drying prevents the strands from sticking together after they’ve been cut.  Cut by hand, or put through the spaghetti cutter on the KitchenAid (it’s great).

Boil for just 1 minute, and use for a kugel, or…  just to enjoy plain with a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil.  These were pretty damn tasty noodles.  The flavour is completely different from that I’d been used to, slightly nuttier, and with a beautiful colour.  They hold their own.

The kugel were good, but the buckwheat noodles were wonderful.  And boy, am I glad I made those noodles a second time.

Below, buckwheat and onion kugels, served with smoked salmon, sour cream, and rocket.