I’m going to be honest, I love waffles. Even the cheap IHOP waffles are fantastic, because they hold whatever you want to add in these great crispy little pockets that let a fair amount of butter and syrup fill them up without drizzling all over your plate. The satisfaction of breaking into a great waffle is second to none because you know it’s great before you even taste the waffle. You grab your fork, hesitate forward, and you try ever-so-lovingly to use that fork to break the surface of the waffle. If the waffle sags, you know it’s a bit soggy. However, if the waffle holds its shape and your fork is able to break through that crispy outer crust with a satisfying crunch, you know you’re in business before the first bite.
…I think about food. A lot.
The thing about waffles is that they take a bit more effort than the simple and delicious buttermilk pancake. You can, of course, make waffles the same morning you want to eat them, but the best waffles come from either an overnight rise or a sourdough starter. Don’t worry, we will make sourdough starter waffles soon, but for today we will stick with the overnight rise. Taking your time will take a soggy waffle to the crispness stratosphere, where the crispness surrounds the moist core and the chewy mantle that make up our geeky geology analogy.
One more pointer before we get started: Get a Belgian waffle maker. These waffles are best as those thick, square shaped bits of goodness that make up a substantial meal. Heck, all waffles are better that way! We will not waste any yeast potential!
Waffle batter (makes 8-10 big, Belgian waffle Squares):
1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp yeast (active dry works fine)
2 cups of milk
2 tbsp honey or brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 stick (yep. 8 whole tablespoons) melted butter
For the morning of:
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Remember to use a heavy hand with liquids and a scant hand with the dry goods if you’re baking at high altitude. This isn’t as important with batters, but it does help with your end product. Start by dissolving the yeast in your warm water in a large bowl. Mix it up and let it sit for five minutes or so while you set up a saucepan and begin melting your butter over medium heat. If you are using honey, I suggest adding it to the butter that way it dissolves a bit and more evenly incorporates in the batter. Once your butter is melted, pour the cold milk right over it in order to cool it off-heat will kill your yeast. Make sure the butter and milk mixture is warm, not hot, and add your salt and brown sugar (if you’re using that instead of honey). Stir to mix it up, and add to the yeast and water and stir once more.
Once you have all your liquids put together, start adding the flour a cup at a time. You will want to mix the dough until it’s slightly shaggy and all the flour is wet so it isn’t clumpy. Once your dough is incorporated, cover the bowl with saran wrap and pop it in the refrigerator overnight. The slow rise will let this get a sweet and slightly sour yeasty taste that really compliments the most waffle-y prone taste buds.
One of the reasons I love overnight waffles is that it lets you prep on Friday night for the best possible way to start the weekend: buttery, crispy goodness. However, that prep work can also seep into whatever you choose to top your waffles with. Of course, if you have some good maple syrup and some butter you can very easily be in waffle heaven with limited effort. However, if you have some fresh fruit and a bit of inspiration, you can make a killer compote to go along with it.
One thing: DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THE WORD COMPOTE. A compote is an incredibly simple dessert consisting of fresh fruit cooked in a sugar syrup. That’s literally the ingredient list: Fruit and sugar. I love strawberries, so I typically grab a pound of strawberries at the grocery store and slice them up the night before, adding a few tablespoons of sugar over the top of them. If you add sugar the night before, the strawberry juices will seep out and the sugar will somewhat decrystalize, leaving a smooth and sweet mixture of berry goodness. You can also use blueberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches, pears, or any other fruit that is in season. Use prickly pears. Go hog wild.
Anyway, slice your fruit into manageable pieces and top it with a few tablespoons of white sugar. I also choose to add a healthy squeeze of lemon juice to my compotes to make for a bright and tangy finish. Then, you can just pop that bowl in the fridge. The next morning, while your waffles are cooking, all you have to do is plop that mixture in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer for ten minutes or so. Bam, you have a fresh fruit syrup.
We’re going to geek out and talk science here before we move on to our next topping: the reason your sugary fruit syrup turns thick is because of a sexy little chemical called pectin. Pectin exists in the cell walls of all vegetation, and it’s a structural component that seeps out as you cook your sugar down. Pectin also causes gelatin to form in jellies and jams. Essentially, when you cook your syrup, you cause the pectin to seep into the syrup and solidify in the sugar’s structure, making a gooey finish instead of a watered down fragment of what could have been. There-now you can say you learned something today. Unless you’re my dad and you’re reading this, as Dad taught me that little tidbit. Moving on.
Our final piece for exploring the noble waffle’s awesome potential is fresh whipped cream. Yeah, you can get whipped cream in the store or you can use one of those nifty little whipped cream charging canisters, but it’s not the same. Taking the time to whip your own cream will give a fresh and delicious window into the potential of sweets to become sweet AND awesome by placing a pillowy delight on top of whatever you are serving. Seriously delicious, and simple to make.
1 pint Heavy Whipping Cream
2 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon (optional)
All of these measurements are of the “ish” variety, meaning just add what tastes best to you. I typically go pretty heavy on the vanilla and lemon and a bit light on the powdered sugar. Lump all the ingredients besides the lemon zest into the bottom of a mixing bowl. If you have a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, use that as it will go faster, but you can also do this with a hand mixer. Start at low speed and gradually amp the speed of whatever your mixing device is as the mixture begins to thicken. Once you have stiff peaks whipped up, you have whipped cream. You can fold in the optional lemon zest at this time.
Of course, you can make whipped cream the morning of, but I love the way lemon zest brightens up whipped cream. If you make it the night before, the oils from the zest will infiltrate the whipped cream and make for a really nice and bright morning treat. Plus, it’s prep work that saves you time the next morning.
Speaking of the next morning, it’s quite simple as far as finishing touches go. Fire up your waffle iron, and pour your berries into a saucepan on medium low heat. Set the oven to warm to keep your waffles fresh, as you can only make a few at a time. Crack the two eggs and beat them up, and add to your waffle batter along with your baking soda. Next, mix until just incorporated, and make sure your waffle iron is completely heated up. If you are okay with a mess, you can spread butter over the surface of your waffle iron, but cooking spray does the trick if you don’t want a super messy kitchen. Ladle about half a cup per waffle square onto your sizzling iron, then shut the lid and cook until golden brown – 4 to 6 minutes should do the trick. Of course, you can sample a bit of crispy waffle goodness to make sure it’s perfectly done, as quality control is super important.
Once your waffles are done, put one or two on the plate and drizzle some of your syrup on top, then a dollop of whipped cream. Now THAT is how you make breakfast.