Everyone has a bizarre cooking shortcut that they love, and it’s usually some kind of appliance. It could be a mango peeler, a multi-edged brownie pan, or an all-in-one egg sandwich maker. (Yes, that’s one thing.) My guilty pleasure: the waffle iron.
A waffle iron can bake almost anything. National Waffle Day, on August 24, is my favorite made-up holiday. making waffles need a vacation? No. But now’s a good time to tell you how I feel about my waffle maker, which can make everything from burgers to hash browns to chocolate chip cookies. And that’s just the beginning.
My Waffling Origin Story
My first acquaintance with non-standard things in a waffle iron came at a campsite. My family and I had recently moved into our 1969 Dodge Travco RV to live full time on the road. I stripped and restored the RV, but one thing I was never able to fix was the oven.
We were at a campground in New Orleans one day and some guys? #VanLife travelers had invited us for dinner. They also lacked a working oven so they served us cornbread waffles instead. If you’d been there, you could have audibly heard the tune that went off in my head as I tried my cornbread waffle. Waffles… cornbread? What sorcery was this? If they made cornbread in a waffle iron, what else could we make?
Traditionally, the waffle was a leavened bread-like thing, made from a dough rather than the runny batter we’re used to now. It seems to have evolved from a Greek tradition of pastries cooked between two hot plates pressed together. From there, the idea of squeezing batter between plates spread throughout Europe. Europeans started adding yeast to make a leavened dough, and eventually the hobs found their modern grid pattern. The French were early waffle pioneers, although the Dutch soon dominated. Now the word “waffle” is often preceded by the word “Belgian”.
We weren’t traditional waffles – just a family without an oven, desperate for new ways to heat food. After that first taste of toasted cornbread, we grabbed the cheapest waffle iron we could find and started experimenting.
We started by replicating the cornbread waffles. After some tinkering, we had mastered the recipe. Our first homegrown success was chocolate waffle cake. The brilliance of cake as a wafer is that all those dents are filling with icing. To this day, despite access to ovens, my kids want chocolate waffle cake for their birthdays.
After the cake success we tried banana bread (excellent). Then we made chocolate chip banana bread (even tastier). Then chocolate chip cookies (hard to perfect). Later, after experimenting with hash browns, we became a little obsessed with trying just about anything in a waffle iron.
Remarkably, almost everything has worked, although it’s possible that two years of living made our palettes more forgiving.
Not long into our waffle days, we discovered that we weren’t the first family to adore the waffle maker. There was a blog, Wafflizer.com, now known as Will It Waffle?, which spawned a wavering cookbook of the same name. There were other cookbooks, though I haven’t read them. Experimenting – especially with kids eager to learn how to cook – is more fun.
We also found that companies often adapted recipes themselves to work in the waffle iron. Info on the box of a cornbread mix stated that the secret to better cornbread waffles was more oil. (This is actually true in a broad sense, as long as you don’t get carried away.)
As we explored the growing world of online waffles, we came to realize that there is very little that a waffle machine can’t do. Daniel Shumski, author of Will It Waffle, includes recipes for things as exotic as Miso maple glazed salmon, waffle tamale pie, and even filet mignon.
You probably have a waffle iron (or waffle maker) hidden somewhere in your kitchen, neglected and sad in the dark of a distant closet. I say pull it out and put it on the counter with pride!
If you don’t already have one, this Black and Decker Waffle Maker ($23) is a good entry-level model. It has some extras that my waffle maker (which is no longer sold) does not, including several plates for sandwiches or grilling. That might be cheating, but I won’t tell you if you don’t.
If you’re looking to upgrade your waffle experience, Shumski likes the very nice Breville BWM620XL Waffle Maker ($199). Personally, I haven’t felt the need to upgrade, although I can see where precise temperature controls like the one on the Breville could potentially open up a new world of waffle-making possibilities.
There are also flipping waffle irons, which claim to spread your batter more evenly by letting you turn it upside down. It’s usually the much deeper Belgian style waffles, which I don’t recommend for all round waffles. (If your waffle desires are limited to visions of tasty strawberry-braised Belgian waffles, these irons are a great way to make them). I also recommend a high heat cleaning brush ($15) to remove the grooves of your waffle iron between the waffles.
If you want to skip the experimental stage of dry cornbread and exploding chocolate chip cookies trickling down the counter like lava, pick up a special waffle maker cookbook. I enjoyed Shumski’s Will waffle it.
Waffling was born out of necessity for me, but when I finally figured out what was wrong with my oven six months later, I didn’t even care. I never ordered the replacement part. We had already made our way to the victory of life – in a culinary sense, anyway. Except good Southern style cookies. Do not attempt to bake cookies in a waffle iron. Believe me.
Nothing is perfect, but a good waffle iron is damn close.
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