Sunday, December 02, 2007

Belgian Waffles

Today's post is courtesy of Mark, who in our house has kitchen duties as short order cook, occasionally reluctant sous chef, enthusiastic recipe sampler, and anything that involves cooking over an open fire.

For Christmas a couple of years ago, the kids got me a waffle baker. I had wanted one ever since the one we received as a wedding gift gave up the ghost a few years ago. I tried purchasing a very inexpensive one at Target but was not at all happy with the results. When choosing a waffle iron, there are a couple of things to consider. First and foremost, you need one that gets hot enough to quickly cook a waffle. This is important not only to maximize your throughput (sorry for the jargon--that's what happens when you put an operations manager in the kitchen), but also to produce the right crisp on the outside, moist on the inside waffle. If it takes more than three minutes to cook a waffle, your iron isn't hot enough. If you need the volume provided by a large waffle baker that cooks four at a time, just make sure that it cooks those four waffles quickly, otherwise you may get the same throughput with a single, hotter iron. Second, you need one that provides the type of waffle that you like. I like deep pockets in my waffles and so am biased towards that variety of iron--incidentally often referred to as Belgian wafflers, whether the waffles cooked in them are Belgian or not.

No matter how good your waffle baker, your waffles are only going to be as good as the batter they're made from. At first I experimented a bit, mostly using the options from Joy of Cooking and the in-box materials from my waffle baker, until I found one that I quite liked and used as my "go to" recipe on Saturday mornings. But through all my experimenting, I never tried the "real" Belgian waffle recipe in Joy, mainly because it requires about 90 minutes of prep time and is therefore neither "short order" nor suitable for breakfast if you like to eat your breakfast before lunch time. Ignoring that recipe was a big mistake.

A few weeks ago while Rachel was gone for several days, the kids and I decided to have waffles for dinner. And since it was dinner time, and I could start my preparations well in advance of mealtime, I decided to try the Belgian waffle recipe from Joy. Here's what they say about it:

Nowadays, any waffle with very deep pockets is often called a Belgian waffle, but when Belgian waffles were introduced to Americans at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, they were yeast-raised and served with sweetened whipped cream. This recipe is in the spirit of the original Belgian waffle.

Ordinarily, I don't find blog posts that just republish someone else's recipe to be all that compelling. In fact, a few months ago, I balked at posting about the banana bread I had made because I had simply followed the instructions from The Best Recipe. And even here, I feel like I am cheating a bit. But if you have never eaten a yeast-raised waffle, and this post convinces you to try one, then cheating or not, this post was worthwhile.

Yeast-raised waffles have a flavor and texture that their muffin method cousins simply do not. The texture is chewy without being heavy. The flavor is deep and complex. They have a nice crumb and complement whatever you top them with rather than just soaking it up; they taste good plain, but they also make your toppings taste better than they would on their own. I would even go so far as to describe the difference between quick and yeast waffles to be as significant as the difference between Wonder bread and a good artisinal loaf (such as Zingerman's Jewish Rye, my favorite bread in the whole wide world).

I like these waffles straight up with maple syrup (even though the "original" Belgian is topped with sweetened whipped cream). Rachel prefers hers drizzled with a bit of honey and then smeared with unsweetened yogurt. The tangy acidity of the yogurt is a subtle complement to the sour yeast flavor. My preference for maple syrup is not an assertion that they are better that way; it's simply a manifestation of my near-Canadian-like passion for real maple syrup. Either way, it's one of the few breakfast foods that is satisfying enough to take the place of dinner and dessert. Especially with a side of bacon.

So here's the recipe, courtesy of Joy of Cooking:

Whisk together:
  • 1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm (105 to 115 degree F) milk (30 seconds in the microwave is about right to get 1/4 cup milk straight from the fridge to temperature)
Let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about five minutes.

Whisk together in a LARGE (this is a large recipe that rises a lot!) bowl:
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm milk
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm (I find that cutting the butter into ~1 1/2 T pats before microwaving allows it to melt completely at a slightly lower temperature, expediting the cooling to lukewarm step. Whisking it a bit once melted but before adding to the eggs and milk also speeds things along.)
Whisk in the yeast mixture along with:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
Add, in three parts:
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
Alternating, in 2 parts, with:
  • 2 1/2 cups warm (105 to 115 degree F) milk
Beat until soft peaks form then fold into the batter:
  • 3 large egg whites
(I use the Kitchenaid stand mixer here--Rachel may try to whip these by hand, but I am entirely too lazy for that. I tried it that way once and gave up after about three minutes and egg whites that looked essentially the same as they did three minutes previously before my wrist was aching.)

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (for consistent results, try Rachel's trick of heating your oven to 170 degrees, turning it off, and sticking your dough in the oven to rise), until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Stir to deflate the batter.

Preheat your waffle iron (Set to the hottest setting, unless you have a really hot iron capable of burning your waffles. I actually do this step about five minutes before taking the batter out of the oven because I am impatient, among other things that Rachel is too nice to mention).

At this point, the recipe says to spoon 1/2 cup batter, or the amount recommended by your waffle iron's manufacturer. My waffle baker, a 7" round by 1 1/8" deep variety, actually requires 1 cup of batter per waffle. Mileage may vary, so start small and increase if you want to avoid cleaning spillover from the counter top.

Spread the batter evenly across the iron, to within 1/4" of the edge of the grids, using the back of a metal spatula, wooden spoon or ladle (I use the measuring cup that I use to scoop the batter). Close the lid and bake until the waffle is golden brown. Serve immediately or keep warm in a single layer on a rack in a 200 degree F oven while you finish cooking the rest.

* * *

In our house, nobody would hear of waiting for all the waffles to be cooked before digging in, so the youngest gets the first one and we work our way up from there, only reversing order with Rachel and me, since she is older than me by a few months, and I want everyone to have one so I can enjoy mine rather than jumping up to prep another one between bites.

This recipe is fairly substantial and should make enough waffles for all but the largest families or those with teenage boys who have nearly insatiable appetites. Our typical yield is eight 7" waffles, but results will vary significantly based on the volume of your waffle iron. Since our young family doesn't consume all eight waffles in one sitting, we let the leftovers cool on a cooling rack, and then stick them in the freezer. If you've got a nice wide toaster, you can reheat them there. Otherwise on a low rack under the broiler with one turn or same method in a toaster oven works well. Out of the freezer they are much better than an Eggo, and it saves you from getting up at 5:00 a.m. to have them prepped before work and school.

Buen provecho!


Rachel said...

And if you don't eat them all at dinner, you'll want to freeze them as soon as they're cooled, since the whole house smells delicious and has you craving waffles the rest of the evening.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that's yogurt on the top waffle photo. I thought it was butter, but I didn't think that either of you ate that much butter at once.

I have heard that yeast-raised waffles are good. We will have to try them sometime.

Anonymous said...

We tried these shortly after Christmas. When I first put a bite in my mouth, I thought that maybe they weren't worth the extra effort. As I continued to eat, I decided that I was wrong. These are yummy.

Unknown said...

This is my favorite recipe - from the Joy of Cooking. I make them at night and freeze them for the week. Reheating in the oven is perfect.

C Lo said...

I really like this recipe but mine turned out a bit too chewy. Any idea on what I might have done wrong?