This week, we’re observing National Waffle Day* on August 24!
The waffle, fancier than a flat pancake, but still a pretty basic breakfast food, is made from leavened batter and cooked between two hot, textured plates that give a particular size, shape, and surface impression. You can make them fresh, or make them ahead and heat them up when desired.
Most modern waffles are between the size of a grown-up’s hand and a dinner plate, and are impressed with a texture that looks like a grid. But over its thousand year existence, the waffle has taken on a broad range of sizes and textures, pressed and cooked between hot baking irons embossed with different illustrations or textures.
Honeycomb cakes. The word “waffle” first appears in English, in an early 18th-century recipe, but the Dutch wafel and the French walfre go back as far as the 12th century, and we think those names are derived from an even older Frankish word, wafla, which means honeycomb, or cake.
In the 17th century, waffles were already popular throughout Europe, but the sort that ordinary people ate were thick and fairly plain, made with grains other than wheat, and if they were sweet, were sweetened with honey. Rich folks ate thinner “fancy” waffles made with wheat, eggs, white wine(?) and imported sugar.
Beer and coffee waffles? Germany in the 1700s pioneered waffles that look closer to what we’d recognize as gourmet waffles today, using Hefeweizen beer yeast for leavening, and flavoring the cakes with cardamom, nutmeg, sugar, and even coffee. The French introduced the innovation of using only the whites of eggs, making even lighter, puffier waffles.
Basic or Belgian? Today, there are dozens of variations on the humble (and sometimes fancy) waffle. But for our purposes, and for the most part in the United States, we’ve got two basic kinds of waffles – classic buttermilk waffles, made with a thinner, more pancake-like batter, and Belgian waffles (which, in Belgium, are called Liège waffles).
Belgian waffles are made with a thick, yeast-based brioche dough (we let ours rise overnight) with pearl sugar embedded in it. The pearl sugar is hard and opaque, and resists melting, even at the high temperatures we use for baking and cooking, so little crunchy bits of sugar are scattered throughout the puffy, sweet waffle.
Our favorite go-to waffle recipe is something of a hybrid of the classic thin batter and the thick Liège kind. In this “Basic-Fancy” waffle version, we separate the eggs, whipping the whites into a stiff froth, apart from the rest of the batter, folding them in at the end or the mixing, for a fluffier end product.
What’s on top? Anything you like. We all know that fresh waffles are great with butter and syrup or honey, but what about more decadent sweet things? One of our family favorites, especially great in the morning for overnight guests, is Brownie Waffles, topped with ice cream. Anything you put *in* a crèpe, goes great *on* a waffle: Nutella and banana, strawberries and whipped or sour cream,
Another possibility with even more variations is making savory waffles – no sugar needed – topping them with savory breakfast meats, or having waffles for supper with any other non-breakfast savory toppings:
- Nashville and the deep south have a tradition of serving Chicken and Waffles for dinner.
- AllSpice owner Rory forgoes the normal waffle batter altogether. He uses leftover holiday stuffing in lieu of waffle batter, creating a toasted stuffing waffle “base” for turkey or ham, potatoes and gravy.
- There are also these Savory Cheddar and Mashed-Potato Waffles, which are an incredible brunch or supper item.
- We like a waffle underneath pulled pork, where it can soak up that delicious BBQ seasoning and sauce.
- A hot waffle also makes an excellent ground for Avocado Toast, capturing more avocado in the little recessed squares.
- A thin “classic” waffle works well as the “bread” in a ham-and-cheese sandwich, and as an excellent non-slip holder for your summertime BLT.
What are your favorite ways to have a waffle?
*Not to be confused with National Waffle Week, which is the second week of September.