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Aretha Frankenstein's Waffles of Insane Greatness

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Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius. Today, Shirley Corriher, Harold McGee, and Rose Levy Beranbaum weigh in on the silkiest waffle around. 



- Kristen

I'm not the type of person who normally plans my breakfast the night before. This is probably something I should aspire to in life.

Lucky for me, this week's genius recipe is the ideal I-just-woke-up-from-a-waffle-dream waffle, a morning-of alternative to the overnight yeasted kind (which is, admittedly, a whole other kind of genius).

Full disclosure: There is a 30-minute stretch of down time while the batter rests (we'll come back to that), but I reckon this is about how long it takes for your caffeine to seep in enough for you to safely operate sizzling machinery. Meanwhile, crisp up some bacon, set the table, and pull your butter out of the fridge to get spreadable.

cornstarch  buttermilk  batter

I discovered this recipe, which sports an intriguing addition of cornstarch to the batter, while reviewing waffle makers for the Wall Street Journal last winter. I needed a respectable array of batters to test my subjects, and was delighted to find that Molly Wizenberg of Orangette had already polled her audience, doing my homework for me.

Among her readers, a little waffle with a big name kept coming up: the Waffle of Insane Greatness (WIG) from a funky restaurant called Aretha Frankenstein's in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (The recipe was first published on the Food Network after Rachael Ray popped in for an early $40 a Day episode -- it set her back $4.25.)

Mind you, I did try a number of batters, in the interest of thoroughness and journalistic ethics and all that. I kid you not: both crisper drawers of my fridge were filled with Ziplocs of waffles. It was one of the best months of my life. But this one is the batter that I come back to always.

waffle batter  waffle iron  waffle iron

This waffle -- whose name abandons all notions of subtlety and restraint -- is perfectly, surprisingly delicate. The crust is thin and crisp as an eggshell, a dappled golden brown that gives way to a spongy, steaming crepe-like interior. Cookbook author Pam Anderson has developed a seemingly very similar, also wonderful recipe, which calls for the egg white to be whipped up with sugar to stabilize it (unlike the WIG, in which adding the wet ingredients is a total free-for-all). Anderson's waffle comes out more evenly poufed, with a well-distributed wingspan. It's the coifed up Chrissy to the WIG's clipped, shiny Janet bob. Take your pick, but I'm going with Janet.

When I couldn't make sense of the Greatness -- what's going on with that cornstarch? why rest the batter? -- I turned to a few people who could: Rose Levy Beranbaum (of The Cake Bible), Harold McGee (of Keys to Good Cooking) and Shirley Corriher (of Bakewise).

All three agreed that the heroic role of the cornstarch (which is inherently gluten-free) is in tamping down the gluten formation that goes on any time you make a batter with all-purpose wheat flour.

making waffles  waffle batter  waffle

Some gluten here is helpful. Gluten strands "help hold the batter together," explained McGee -- "but they can also toughen the cooked texture." According to Corriher, this is partly because gluten molecules greedily tie up available water, which otherwise becomes steam "to make the waffles puff and to make them moist inside." Like in this recipe. Nice work, cornstarch! Beranbaum even makes her crepes using 100% cornstarch: "They are incredibly silky and delicate."

And the rest period? Beranbaum explained this is because "flour takes longer to hydrate than cornstarch." This hydrated and swollen starch crystallizes as it dries, creating a crisp surface like a well-starched collared shirt, Corriher said, adding, "You may have felt a piece of rice on the outside of take-out Chinese that was hard as a rock. It is a rock -- crystallized starch." Crystallized starch that tastes reaaally good with syrup.

One last tip: I will add that these waffles make an excellent last-minute pantry dinner, for when you and your fridge are both running on empty. And breakfast for dinner is never, ever a bad idea.

Waffles of Insane Greatness

From Aretha Frankenstein's restaurant in Chattanooga, TN.

Serves 4.

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup cornstarch
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup whole milk or buttermilk (or a combination)
    1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
    1 egg
    1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
    3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Butter and pure maple syrup, for serving

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Want more genius recipes? Try Eric Ripert's Crispy-Skinned Fish or Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom


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