(My first step toward waffle enlightenment - Belgian Waffles, recipe in post)
"And in the morning, I'm making WAFFLES!" - Donkey, Shrek
This post has been a long time coming - ever since my Beer and Bacon Mancakes post, I knew I was making an unwritten promise to discuss waffles at a future date. Well, that future date has come.
I really enjoy waffles... No, that statement is incomplete: I really enjoy waffles when they're done well.
The last time I was at a Waffle House I was sorely disappointed by the thin, floppy thing that was delivered to my table. Like a pancake that had been pitched through the air and smacked by a hot tennis racket. I realize there are different preferences in terms of waffle fluffiness and density, but for the love of all that is syrupy, if I wanted a soft waffle I'd have ordered a pancake! And you call yourself a 'Waffle' House... *shakes head sadly*.
After getting together with The Dad to make waffles a few weekends ago, I realized it was time I did some testing to see if I couldn't come up with a good go-to recipe. Since that weekend I have tried five different variations, and still I feel there is room for improvement. I did land on a recipe I like, though, and will share my experiences here for the betterment of all who seek waffle enlightenment.
First of all, I have to comment as to the waffle maker - this is a huge part of making a good waffle. It has to be heavy, and heat quickly to achieve a high rise and a good, even exterior. A year ago I did a fair amount of research before purchasing a waffle iron I thought was a good buy, but still ended up saddened by the only so-so results.
Then along came The Boyfriend, who claimed to make delicious waffles every time with his Villaware waffle iron:
Which is not only solidly built, but heats in record time and produces golden waffles in about 90 seconds flat. Like most standard waffle irons, it has lights to indicate when it's up to temp. and when the waffle is done. And, unlike most, it has a handy setting control for how dark you want them. Fancy!
When I asked him how he had landed such a good waffle iron, he said it had been top rated on Consumer Reports - *skeptical* sounds like witchcraft, to me.
Looking around online I can't find the same waffle iron that The Boyfriend has, but Villaware does offer a flipping Belgian waffle iron which I presume works just as well if not better: http://www.villaware.com/Product.aspx?cid=456&pid=7922
A bit pricy when you consider the name-brand $25 irons, but trust me when I say you get what you pay for - a cheap waffle iron will have you well on your way to a plate full of grid-marked pancakes, and not much more.
This is the best waffle iron I've found so far (at least, in the range of non-professional prices), but it can't be the only one to produce a good waffle. If you love your waffle iron, please share the brand and what you like about it in the comments - it's about time a list be compiled!
Alright, so once you've got a waffle iron you trust, now it comes down to recipes.
There are a few common methods for achieving the light and fluffy, the tender, and the crunchy exterior. They are: A. Yeast, B. Whipped egg whites, and C. Straight up baking powder and baking soda.
I tried one recipe of each of these, and then played around with my favorite. I made a half batch of each, and kept all cooked waffles in a 200f. oven directly on the rack to keep them from getting soggy.
I judged the waffles on how tender they were inside, how crunchy on the outside, and taste. One of my primary tests was to hold the waffle above the plate with just a few fingers, to see how hefty it was and if it sagged.
This was the winner, weighing very little, tender inside but with a good crust, and zero sagginess:
This was the worst of the batches, being heavy, greasy, a little gummy inside, and nearly falling off my fingers floppy:
For the yeasted recipe I used the one presented in Shirley Corriher's CookWise (a book I've become quite enamored with), as it was what The Boyfriend already used and liked. He had already made minor adjustments, like playing with the amounts of yeast and butter, so I went with his very wise adaptation for these tests.
For the whipped egg white batch, and the baking powder/soda batch, I did some looking around before landing on two simple and fairly generic looking recipes, both of which had pretty good praise.
Let's start from worst to best, shall we?
#1: Those greasy floppy waffles pictured above? They were the ones with baking powder and soda, and no other leavening. This very pancake-batter technique is a much more American method, in contrast to the Belgian waffle.
I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they might have had a chance at decency if the butter were reduced significantly in the recipe - the greasiness definitely played a big part in what made them so unlikable. They didn't call for any more butter than the average recipe, however, so I'd be reluctant to give them a second chance.
Although they developed a decent color to the outside (probably because of a little more sugar in the recipe), there was no firmness to the exterior - even after sitting in the oven to dry out a little. Cutting into them with the edge of my fork I could tell they were spongy, and the flavor was bland despite the extra sweetener. On the plus side, The Dog enjoyed these very much!
#2 The egg white waffles.
A quick alternative to using yeast, whipped egg whites work to lighten the batter and add some crunch to the exterior.
These were light and tender inside, and crisp on the outside. I would happily make them again, although I personally find that getting out the mixer to whip egg whites is more effort than making the batter ahead of time, as is necessary for a yeasted waffle.
The other downside to this vs. the yeasted waffle, although this is entirely preferential, is the flavor. I like the character the yeast adds, and especially like that the batter can be made up to a few days in advance to increase the distinctness of this flavor.
Although waking up to beat some egg whites is always lots of fun, this recipe stayed my number two pick.
#3 Can you guess which one it is? It's the yeasted waffle!
(Belgian waffles, recipe in post)
This is traditionally how Belgian waffles are made, and what distinguishes them from any other kind of waffle. The yeast produces not only a depth of flavor, but a huge amount of rise to make the batter lighter and more tender inside.
A plus to using a yeasted recipe, in my opinion, is that the bulk or the recipe is made the night before - as long as planning a little ahead isn't an issue for you, this makes it quick and easy to wake up and turn out a batch of delicious waffles.
Making the batter even further ahead, or saving left over batter in the fridge for a few days, will lead to an enormous change in flavor which some may like or not like, depending on taste.
I found that some yeasted recipes called for the addition of a tiny amount of baking soda, or even to use whipped egg whites as well as the yeast. I tested my yeasted recipe with both, and found very little difference between the addition of baking soda vs. egg whites. I do think that a pinch of baking soda helps to stabilize the recipe slightly, though... maybe it's all in my head, but seeing as a pinch of powder is easy enough to manage on a groggy morning I go ahead and add it anyway.
After landing on a recipe I liked (the one The Boyfriend already knew he liked - thanks for letting me take things at my own pace), I went ahead and tried a few different variations.
As I said earlier, everyone has a difference preference of consistency - while The Boyfriend's definition of a good waffle is one that is light as air, others (like The Dad) may want something with a little more heft. There had to be a way to please everyone.
Since the batter for the featherweight yeasted waffles was so thin, my first inclination was to reduce the amount of liquid. I tried the batter with half the called for milk, only to find that this resulted in a very tough waffle. It was definitely heavy inside, but not in a good way.
Next I played around with the flour - would whole wheat flour do the trick, I wondered?
(Whole wheat v.s. all-purpose flour)
Although I would normally recommend using a mix of whole wheat and white flour, for the purposes of testing I went ahead and did 100% whole wheat, to really get a clear idea of the difference it would make.
Because whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid, I found that the batter was thicker than usual. Having already gone down that route and found the waffles to be tough, I increased the called for liquid by about 1/4 the amount called for, bringing the batter up to its normal consistency.
These turned out heavier than the all-purpose, but still tender inside and crisp on the outside - surprisingly so considering I hadn't used a mix of flours. I was pleased with this, and while the recipe worked perfectly with 100% whole wheat, in the future I would likely choose to mix flours for a more balanced flavor. I may even try doing a blend of buckwheat flour, as I find that flavor to be good in pancakes and a nice compliment to maple syrup.
(All-purpose on top, whole-wheat on the bottom)
I regret to say that this is where my testing came to an end... to put it lightly, I was getting a little sick of making waffles. I'm happy with all that I've learned, but I'm sure there's more for me to discover later on down the road.
Until then, however, I had a lot of waffles on my hands, which leads me to my next important topic of discussion: Toppings and fillings.
Of course, we all love our waffles with a bit of maple syrup, but for those who are a little more adventurous the possibilities truly are endless. Whether it be nuts or chocolate chips in the batter, or peanut butter and jelly on top; from fresh or frozen fruit and berries, to whipped cream, a dusting of powder sugar, or a drizzle of honey... your imagination is the limit!
One of my favorite ways to eat waffles, thanks to influence from The Mother, is to mash fresh strawberries and mix with plain yogurt and a few tablespoons of maple syrup.
This is my waffle heaven - what's yours? Let me know in the comments how you like to top your waffles!
Tried and True: Yeasted Belgian Waffles
(Slightly adapted from Shirley Corriher, CookWise)
2 Cups all-purpose flour (or a mix of whole wheat, or buckwheat)
2 Cups whole milk or milk substitute, warm (if using 50/50 whole wheat flour, increase by 2 TBSP - if using 100% whole wheat, increase by 1/4 cup)
1/2 Cup water, warm (110-115f. - if the water is too hot it may inhibit bacteria growth, rather than promote it. I suggest an instant read thermometer)
2 tsp. active dry yeast powder
4 TBSP (or half a stick) unsalted butter, melted
1-2 tsp. sugar, depending on your preference
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Optional: 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Optional: 1/2 tsp. almond extract (or other flavor)
Optional: Any additional add-ins, such as nuts, chocolate chips, fruit, cinnamon or other spices, etc....
In a large bowl (bigger than you think you'll need, the yeast will expand) sprinkle the yeast over 1/2 cup warm water. After a minute or so, add the sugar. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes so the yeast can dissolve a little and start doing its thing.
Once the yeast has rested, add the melted butter, warm milk, flour, and salt. Mix thoroughly until smooth (a whisk works well, here).
Cover loosely with plastic wrap, or a clean towel, and let sit at room temp. overnight. If it's particularly hot the batter can be stored in the fridge. If making the waffle mix more than one night in advance, leave un-chilled for the first night and then store in the fridge for up to three more days.
When ready to use, preheat your waffle iron, and preheat oven to 200f.
Whisk eggs in a small bowl, then sprinkle in the baking soda and whisk to combine - be sure there are no lumps of baking soda remaining. Pour egg mixture into the batter and whisk until smooth.
Depending on your iron, you may need 1/2-1 cup batter per waffle. The batter will be very thin, so just pour into the center of your iron and let it spread. Cook according to manufacturer's instructions, or to desired done-ness.
Transfer finished waffles directly to the rack of the oven to keep warm and fresh until ready to be eaten.
Serve with your favorite toppings, or try my recipe for a yogurt fruit spread!
Yogurt Fruit Waffle (or pancake) Topping
1 Cup fresh strawberries
1 Cup plain yogurt (Greek or regular)
1/4-1/2 Cup maple syrup
1-2 TBSP Sugar (optional, depending on the ripeness of your berries)
Slice strawberries into a bowl, discarding the leafy bits. If berries are under-ripe, or not very sweet, sprinkle with a little sugar.
Mash berries with a dough blender or potato masher, either until mostly smooth or leaving some chunks - as you like it.
Serve as a dollop of yogurt, spoonful of berries, and drizzle of maple syrup, OR add yogurt and syrup to the berries and stir to combine.
Garnish with fresh fruit, and serve.
Good morning, Breakfast!