What does it take to make a good waffle?
We’ve made a lot of mistakes. We’ve researched new and traditional recipes and we’ve also spoken to chefs and bakers. A lot of the time it comes down to the ingredients you’re using. The ingredients don’t need to be the most expensive, rare finds, but they need to be good. Today we’re sharing a few of the things we’ve discovered.
Our waffle story started on December 22nd, 2014.
We don’t celebrate Christmas, thus we don’t buy each-others gifts. We usually spend our vacations eating at restaurants on our list, talking about food, or experimenting with food. So, we asked, “Hypothetically, if we were to buy something for each-other, what would it be?” Anna paused, joked about extravagant gifts, and then earnestly responded, “A waffle maker!” We quickly researched all of the options, ordered one on Amazon.ca, and then it arrived on the afternoon of December 24th.
Learn the rules before trying to break them
It started where most computer-literate people begin tasks, by Googling “Best Waffle Recipes”. We both had very little experience making waffles and didn’t know where to start. If we recall correctly, one or both of us may have said, “Can’t you just put pancake batter in the waffle iron?" While you could grab a bag of Aunt Jemima premix off the shelf and it would make a waffle, it would not be a good waffle. We didn’t do that, but we didn’t know much better at the time.
After trying a few recipes something was still lacking: not crunchy enough, not chewy enough, too light, and the outer crust wouldn't hold. It needed an investigation...
Time for qualitative research
We ate a lot of other people’s waffles. We referenced what we knew and mostly came back to, "Belgian’s are known for the best waffles". At the time, the best shop in Vancouver was (and debatably, still is) Cafe Medina. We also like Chamber, Patisserie Lebeau, and Yolks Commissary. After getting lost in a wormhole of recipes, blogs, and face-to-face question-and-answers we eventually experimented with pearl sugar. This seemed to be the key ingredient we were missing!
The "right" ingredients
We try to purchase most of our ingredients locally. This is an aside, but buying from big-box shops doesn’t really make sense when we can meet with local shopowners and get to know them. Sometimes we get to know their vendors, too. We like spending our money at local shops that we believe in… but pearl sugar is one of the ingredients that we can’t find locally. (Though we buy it from Gourmet Warehouse, who we love)
Waffles are pretty simple once you’ve made a few bad recipes. We found out quickly that there are a lot of recipes and what constitutes "a good waffle" really depends on who you ask. This is where we splinter into two factions; yeast-leavened (liege) and non-leavened. We’re going to write about leavened waffles later, so for now we’ll talk about the quicker non-leavened variety.
Good flour makes a world of difference. Generic all-purpose flour works, but there is a noticeable difference when you test them next to each-other. We like to use organic, white cake or pastry flour. On the spectrum of gluten, these two rise and provide a better amount of chewiness than all-purpose flour. Also, remember to always sift your flour to make it lighter and easier to combine with other ingredients.
Whether you’ve making leavened or non-leavened (non-vegan) waffles, milk is required. For non-leavened waffles we use full-fat buttermilk. Ignoring the obvious scowls about health implications… full-fat buttermilk binds to flour better and whole ingredients lead to a better taste. Just eat fewer waffles. It’s all good.
Some believe that buttermilk is there for flavour alone, but it’s a critical ingredient that leads to richer taste and more pleasing, lighter density. This mildly sour ingredient tastes that way for a reason; it has naturally-occurring bacteria that helps your batter rise and also breaks down the flour to help you your body digest it. Yay!
Good eggs matter, too. We prefer fresh organic eggs that come from free-run chickens. A chicken that has eaten and lived well tends to lay tastier eggs that are also more colourful. Eggs are important because they help to keep the waffle's structure. They have more elasticity and viscosity when fresh and those qualities diminish when stored longer than 7-10 days. The reason? Eggshells are porous. They absorb air which decreases their acidity and contracts (dries) the inner membrane. That’s also why it’s easier to peel older hardboiled eggs.
After reading what we’ve written above, you could probably guess where we’re going with this. Don’t sub margarine in for butter. It doesn’t work. You could spend a lot of money experimenting with single-cow $10/100g butter that tastes like the grass the cow ate, but it’s not necessary. We opt for a standard, organic unsalted butter. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. But, by all means, experiment and share your results with us.
That covers it for our ingredient basics for starting your waffles. We’re hoping that our stories will help you cook better. Let us know if you’ve had similar experiences. We’ll be writing more in the future about quality, special ingredients and helpful techniques.