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Waffles, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: You’re glorious for breakfast, doused in maple syrup. You’re perfect for lunch or dinner aside fried chicken with plenty of hot sauce. And you’re most excellent topped with ice cream as my favorite sundae of all time. One of my best buds uses waffles as a measure of happiness: When things are going great, she’ll choose to mark the occasion with waffles. And no waffle article would be complete without a nod to Leslie Knope, who ate them for every occasion finished with towering swirls of whipped cream from a can. There’s no way around it: Waffles are wonderful, and while there are many great (even genius!) waffle recipes out there, I have a favorite. And it’s one worth waiting for.
I say "wait" because these are classic yeast-raised waffles. They need plenty of time to rise and build their yummy flavor (thank you, once again, fermentation), but aside from this one factor, they couldn’t be easier. They have all the things I look for in a great waffle: golden in color, crisp on the outside, light on the inside, excellent flavor that’s both rich and not overwhelming (so as to be the perfect base for any toppings). Plus, they can be adapted to suit any waffle whim, be it sweet or savory.
Many waffle recipes have the same ingredients, but it’s the ratio of those ingredients that are the true key to success. The major difference in this recipe to a standard waffle recipe is, of course, the leavener. Yeast is used instead of baking powder or soda, and that means we have to add time to allow flavor and structure to build.
There’s a few rules to know when making waffles. First, the thinner the batter, the crispier the waffle (generally). This can be achieved by adding the correct ratios of liquid (milk, buttermilk, etc). While I love the flavor of buttermilk in a traditional waffle, I think it competes with the yeasty flavor of these waffles, so I stick with regular milk. Next, the presence of fat is responsible for the level of golden-brownness. This can be achieved by adding oil, melted butter, or even cream. I use a combo of cream and melted butter in my waffles. Decadent? Yes. Insanely good? Yup. Worth it? Absolutely. Finally, the structure of waffles comes largely from eggs—not just from the flour. If you like your waffles super light, you can even opt to separate the eggs, adding the yolks to the batter with the liquid ingredients, then whipping the whites to medium peaks and folding them in at the very end of mixing.
Mixing this waffle batter is super easy and takes just moments. Pick a large bowl for mixing; the batter will rise a bit, so make sure it’s big enough to allow for a little growth once it’s refrigerated.
First, whisk the dry ingredients together. Whisk the liquid ingredients together separately, then add them to the dry. The only real thing to be aware of is to mix thoughtfully: It’s very important that the ingredients are fully combined, but you want to avoid over-mixing, which can make the batter tough. Make sure you’ve got no un-mixed pockets of flour and that everything is fully combined.
Once you’ve mixed your batter, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The batter needs to rise for at least 10 hours, and up to 15. During this time, the yeast feeds and fermentation begins. The fermentation leads to excellent flavor but, perhaps more importantly, the structure that leavens the waffles. The recipe is designed for an overnight rise, because you’re most likely going to be eating the waffles for breakfast or brunch. Don’t be tempted to try to speed up the rise by using warm milk and letting the batter rise at room temperature—the flavor will suffer. The long fermentation time makes the whole thing, but luckily, the batter is quick to mix. The waiting is really the hardest part.
Tweaking the Recipe
One of the great things about this recipe is it’s so adaptable. I make changes to it all the time, while keeping the same basic structure.
Sometimes I sub dark brown sugar for the regular sugar to give the waffles a light caramel flavor. Or I replace half of the flour with whole wheat flour to give it a nutty texture and remind me of the perfect pancakes my dad would make when I was growing up. Sometimes, I add 1 cup or so of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and some herbs for a savory twist (these are especially good with fried chicken). I’ll even treat the waffles like doughnuts and toss them in cinnamon sugar when they’re warm from the oven and then dip them in chocolate sauce, like churros.
The only rule to remember is that inclusions that aren’t replacing a basic ingredient (like cheese or herbs) should be stirred in after fermentation time. Otherwise, the sky’s the limit!
Prepping the Waffle Iron
Many waffle irons have nonstick surfaces, but they still benefit from being greased. Depending on my mood and what’s handy, I’ll use any one of the following things: nonstick spray (for it’s convenience and evenness), butter, oil, or bacon grease (for flavor and additional coloring).
Also, make sure the iron gets nice and hot. Many irons have lights that flip on and off to let you know it’s ready, but in my experience, it’s more about knowing your iron. I let mine preheat for a solid 15 minutes before greasing it. Then I ladle the batter into the iron (a heaping 1/2 cup for smaller irons, 2/3 to 3/4 cup for larger or Belgian irons), close the lid, and let it cook. Again, the light on my machine isn’t a good indicator of baking time for me—I leave it in for almost two light cycles.
Allowing enough in the iron is the key to evenly golden and crisp waffles, rather than pale, soggy, or spongy ones. While times will vary drastically based on your waffle maker, keep an eye on the steam. The batter will steam like crazy when you first add it to the iron, and the steam will die down considerably once the waffle begins to brown.
Flip, Flip, Flip
Some waffle irons flip, allowing for better browning and heat application on both sides. If your iron doesn’t do this (mine, sadly, doesn’t), you can flip the waffle yourself. Wait until the waffle has browned well—basically, it should be almost done. Then stab a fork into your waffle and flip it, nestling it back into the grooves, and close the lid again. You should only need to cook it for 30 seconds to 1 minute on this side to help encourage even browning and a little more crispness. If you attempt this maneuver before the structure of the waffle has set, you may end up with a mess, but if you wait long enough, it’s a quick and easy extra step.
Toasting Isn’t Just for Frozen Waffles
I love to toast my waffles—and I do it at different times for different reasons! First, I like to oven-toast waffles fresh from the iron. It’s an extra step that’s beyond worth it. It removes any excess moisture from the surface, and it also keeps the waffles crisp while you finish cooking the remaining batter. Place the finished waffles on a rack set on a sheet tray. The rack ensures proper air circulation so no steam builds up on the base of the waffle, which might cause unwanted sogginess. Toast the waffles in a preheated 350° F oven. The temperature doesn’t need to be too high, because you don’t want the waffles to dry out entirely or continue to brown; you just need it to be hot enough to keep things crisp.
I also like to toast leftover waffles. I regularly make big batches of waffles, allow them to cool on a rack, then wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and freeze in plastic bags. You can toast the waffles straight from the freezer in your toaster, toaster oven, or under your broiler just like waffles you buy in the store (except way tastier). It also makes an awesome make-ahead breakfast option for large groups.
While you can serve waffles any way you like, I can’t help but encourage my favorite way: as dessert. Place a waffle (or two) onto a large plate and top with a few scoops of ice cream and your favorite toppings. I dig Marcona almonds for crunch, salted caramel sauce for a salty contrast, chocolate sprinkles (because sprinkles), and a few cherries on top. Ice cream and waffles were made for each other—so don’t let the summer go by without at least one waffle sundae, y'all.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons butter, melted
- 3 large eggs
- Ice cream, caramel sauce, Marcona almonds, chocolate sprinkles, and cherries if you want to make a sundae (you know you do...)
Describe your perfect waffles in the comments below.