No ordinary waffle

I have an uncomfortable confession to make today, one that has put me on the receiving end of many gasps and furrowed brows of late: Until July 14th, 2013, I had never made a waffle.

Now, there happens to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this failing, namely, that until just a few short months ago, I’d never consumed a waffle worth replicating. In fact, I think I’d sort of given up on the whole waffle genre. The waffle, I decided, may be a fine enough vehicle for maple syrup or whipped cream –or, in the case of a waffle I once had on Aza Street in Jerusalem, a heavy slick of Nutella– but it’s not much of a thing on its own.

I think you can see where this is going.

These waffles, the ones pictured here, changed everything. I’m a waffle eater now. I’m a waffle maker now. I’ve even fallen in love with a waffle iron. I’m a woman transformed.

If you’re from around these parts, Cambridge, MA, or somewhere nearby, maybe you recognize where these photos were taken. It’s a fromagerie-charcuterie-grocery-bakery-wine shop called Formaggio Kitchen that, as luck would have it, is just a quarter of an hour walk from where I live. When Mia was brand new and each day was approximately 3,479 hours long, and I had not a clue what to do with her or myself, I’d tie her onto my chest and we’d walk. Very often, we’d end up at Formaggio.

It was the perfect destination. The space itself is a tight squeeze, with an overflowing cheese counter and rows of jams, olive oils, heirloom beans, nuts, and produce arranged in nooks rather than aisles. You’re always walking a little sideways in there, inching your back along a shelf lined with chocolates to check out the honeys, for example, so tiny Mia got a close look at everything. Meanwhile, I got to talk to living, breathing, fully-grown humans! About food! (I’ve learned so much from these folks over the years.) Mia would bobble her head at the pastas. I’d taste some cheese. She’d pull my hair. I’d order a tub of anchovies. She’d pass out on my chest. I’d buy a Florentine for the walk home. These were proper outings.

Now that Mia is somewhat less tiny, she demands her own square of cheese on a toothpick when we go. Even on this Sunday morning in April, when we were there not for cheese, but for waffles.

Behold, the fate of that cheese.

This was Mia’s first-ever waffle, and it may as well have been mine. It was no ordinary waffle, not even an ordinary Belgian waffle. These were gaufres de Liège. I had heard of the famed Liège waffle, but I’d never tried one. Have you? They start out as a rich, yeasted dough studded with pearl sugar. The crumb bakes up elastic and tender, like brioche, interrupted throughout by oozy sweet spots where the pearl sugar has melted. Any beads of sugar along the outside of the dough caramelize against the iron to form a crackly crust.

Alyssa, the bakery manager at Formaggio, had tasted gaufres de Liège for the first time when she was working at a crêperie after college, and this past winter, she decided to develop a recipe of her own. She did a bang-up job (you can read about her process, here) and in the spring, her waffles started showing up at Formaggio on select Sunday mornings. I was perfectly happy to trek over there for my fix, but a few weeks ago, I noticed there hadn’t been a waffle Sunday in a while. When I asked why, I was told that, for whatever reason, summer wasn't the season for waffles. People weren't snapping them up the way they had in cooler months. I do not know who these people are, these seasonal waffle eaters ruining it for the rest of us. They are not invited to waffles at my place, waffles at my place being a thing that happens, now that I’ve learned how to make them.

First, I had to buy a waffle iron, of course, a task that set me back a couple of weeks as I searched up and down for a model that anyone, anywhere was actually excited about. Even the best options out there are bulky single-purpose appliances that are, by all accounts, impossible to clean. Then, in the archives of Cook’s Illustrated, I found a review of the humble stovetop waffle iron. I liked the idea of something slender, easy to store, easy to clean (no electrical components, so you can drop it in the sink) and less expensive than many of the machines. I bought the one highest up on the Cook's Illustrated list, and friends, I love it.

This is going on a bit, so let’s skip ahead and I’ll say more about stovetop waffling, below, for anyone interested.

The waffles: I began with Alyssa’s painstakingly tested recipe and produced a truly excellent waffle. But I wanted a chewier, fluffier interior, a real contrast against the crisp, caramelized crust. So I did some research, got some first-rate guidance from my friend Andrew, a supremely talented baker and editor at Cook’s Illustrated, tweaked the ingredients, altered the procedure, and tried again. After three variations (all variations of awesome, you should know), I had my –and now your– waffle. I took it for one more spin last week, just to be sure. I am sure.

I don’t normally get my camera so close and personal with my plate of food, but when I broke open a waffle from my final batch, I just had to show you this crumb. (Click on the photo to see it bigger.) (Do it.)

Happy waffling.

Liège Waffles (Gaufres de Liège)
Adapted from Alyssa’s recipe at Formaggio Kitchen and a recipe from the Liège Waffle Recipe blog, with guidance from Andrew Janjigian

A few notes:

On waffle irons:  If you already own an electric waffle maker, then by all means, use it. Alyssa makes her waffles in a CuisinArt Belgian Waffle Maker, sets the heat to just below 3 (on a scale from 1 to 5), and cooks the waffles for about five minutes. If you’re in the market for a waffle maker, I highly recommend a stovetop model. I have this one, from Nordic Ware. It’s made of cast aluminum with a water-based silicone non-stick coating (not Teflon) on the inside. The top and bottom of the iron come apart for easy cleaning. My one complaint is that the outside scratches easily, but that’s aluminum for you. Of course, stovetop waffle making requires more of your attention than throwing dough into an appliance, but no more attention than frying an egg or flipping pancakes. It may take you a burnt or underdone waffle or two to get the hang of it, but soon you’ll have them just right.

In the recipe below, I’ve included instructions for cooking the waffles on a stovetop iron. I’ve found that the key to perfectly cooked waffles is keeping the heat at medium-low. Cast aluminum heats quickly and retains that heat well; anything hotter and the exterior will burn before the waffle has cooked through. Also, you want the bottom plate, the one against the stovetop, to be plenty hot when you add dough to the iron. Which means that when you remove the finished waffles from the iron, do not flip the iron over before beginning the next batch.

On weight versus volume: I’ve been baking more and more by weight instead of volume and I’m hooked. It’s easy, precise, and my results are super consistent. If you measure the flour in this recipe by volume (cups) instead of weight, be sure to stir up your flour, spoon the flour into your measuring cup, and sweep off the excess with the back of a straight-edged knife. If you use the scoop and sweep method instead, you’ll end up with too much flour.

On yeast: This recipe calls for instant dry yeast (IDY) rather than active dry yeast (ADY). Instant dry yeast is all I ever keep around. It’s easier to use because there’s no need to dissolve it in liquid; you just add it to your dry ingredients and you’re off. I once assumed that there must be some kind of additive involved to make instant yeast “instant,” and I didn’t like the idea of that. But nope, it’s just yeast. I asked my friend Andrew about the real difference between IDY and ADY, and he gave me the scoop: ADY is coated with a layer of dead yeast that must be dissolved in order for the yeast to activate. That’s why you have to proof it. The reason that you use about 30% less IDY than ADY in any given recipe is because IDY is all viable yeast (no dead yeast coating). There’s no difference in flavor between the two.

On the sugar: If you’re having trouble finding Belgian pearl sugar in stores, you can find it online here. Alyssa's recipe calls for ¾ cup pearl sugar, which is great for the caramelizing action on the outside of the waffles, but so sweet that my tongue ached when I was through. I cut the sugar to ½ cup, and while you end up with fewer candied bits in and around the waffles, the sweetness is pleasantly toned down.

2 cups (240 g) bread flour (see note, above)
1 teaspoon (3 g) instant dry yeast
¼ cup (60 g) whole milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (40 g) water
1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (20 g) light brown sugar
¾ teaspoon (4.5 g) salt
8 tablespoons (113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon (15 g) honey
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla
½ - ¾ cup (100 g) pearl sugar (see note, above)

Whisk together the instant dry yeast and 2/3 cup (80 g) of the bread flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, water, and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the flour and yeast measure, stir to moisten the yeast, and sprinkle the remaining 1 1/3 cup (160 g) of bread flour on top. Do not mix in. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for 60-90 minutes, until the batter is bubbling up through the cover of flour.

Add the brown sugar and salt, and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until just combined. With the machine still on low, add the honey and vanilla, then the butter, 2 tablespoons (30 g) at a time. When the butter is fully incorporated, switch to the dough hook attachment. Mix for four minutes at medium-low speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Let the dough rest for 1 minute, then continue mixing until the dough stretches rather than breaks, and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it takes longer than 2-3 minutes (it did for me), let the dough rest again for 1 minute, then mix for another 2-3 minutes.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, mix the pearl sugar into the dough by hand. Separate the dough into 110 gram chunks (about 3 tablespoons per waffle), and shape each one into a ball. Place on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise for 90 minutes, until puffy.

If using a stovetop iron: When the dough is ready, heat your iron over a medium-low flame for 4 minutes, then flip it over and heat the other side for the same amount of time. Transfer the dough balls to your heated waffle iron (I’d start with just one, to get the hang of things), close the iron, and cook for 45 seconds. Flip the iron over and cook for four minutes. Your waffles should be done enough at this point so that they won’t stick to iron. Open the iron for a peek, and if the waffles are still looking pale, cook for an additional couple of minutes, until the crust is brown and the sugar on the surface has caramelized.

Transfer waffles to a rack and cool for several minutes before serving.

Makes 6 waffles.


Hannah said...

I can't tell you the last time I was this excited to try a recipe. These look incredible, dare I say perfect.

Also, you may have finally convinced me to get instant yeast. Hm. With all the bread we bake you'd think I'd have crossed over long ago, but I'm such a creature of habit. But if you can make waffles ...

Molly said...

I found pearl sugar at the Wegman's Westborough store a few months ago. I hid the package in my spice cabinet and took it out for Rich's birthday. We had the waffles in lieu of cake this year. Topped with macerated strawberries and fresh whipped cream, ohboy ohboy. I heartily recommend them for your next celebration.

And Formaggio. That place is magic. Ask them about the cheese cave if you haven't already.

Bookdwarf said...

Now you've convinced me of the merits of a waffle maker. My mother gave me an old one ages ago and it just sat there. I think we gave it away.

Formaggio is one of my favorite places. I made a New Year's resolution to shop there more during 2013. I like to go in and "visit" different countries, getting cheese and meat and snacks from France or Spain. Yum.

Shanna Mallon said...

Can I just say, for what I am certain is not the first or last time, that your Mia is crazy adorable? Seriously. That kid! Also, these waffles look incredible. Not ordinary at all.

Katie said...

I woke up this morning and asked myself what I should make for dinner tonight, and for some reason the answer was immediately waffles. Then I talked myself out of waffles to a much more sensible salad, and proceeded to open up my blog reader. Now here you are with waffles! It cracked me up, so waffles it shall be for dinner.

Love these images, too. Always admire your ability to bring us into a scene.

Jess said...

Hannah - Honestly, I've always wondered why anyone would use active dry yeast, when instant dry yeast saves you a whole step, while also alleviating any concerns over water temperature, "is it foaming? is it bubbling?" etc. Andrew thinks that ADY's still around mainly because that's what most home bakers know. Many classic recipes call for ADY, which makes sense since IDY wasn't "invented" (as in, they didn't figure out how to dry out yeast without killing as many cells) until the 1970s. In recipes that call for ADY, you can substitute IDY by using about 25% less, blended into the dry ingredients.

If you want to make these waffles with the yeast you have, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, and proof it in the (warmed) milk and water. Then add the egg, then 2/3 cup (80 grams) of the flour, and mix. Sprinkle the rest of the flour on top, and take this recipe from there.

Molly - That sounds like a fantastic birthday surprise! Oh, and I should have mentioned where I found my pearl sugar: at Formaggio, of course!

Bookdwarf - Appliances like that do that to a person, I think, stare you down, take up space, get on your nerves, make you feel guilty for not using them to cook the one thing they're meant to cook. Good riddance! Try the stovetop waffler. I think you'll love it. (p.s. I like your style of resolution, Megan.)

Shanna - Aw, thank you! I will pass the message along and hope it doesn't go to her disgustingly adorable head. xo.

Katie - Hey, I know! How about waffles for dinner and a salad for dessert? Only if you still have room, of course. Thanks for your kind words!

Sarah T said...

I've been debating getting a waffle maker for a while now. I have read so many blog posts extolling the virtues of raised waffles, but, like you (or rather past you), am not really sure I like waffles enough to warrant purchasing a single use cooking product. The stovetop waffle iron seems like a perfect compromise, but can it be used on electric (not gas, so there is no flame) stovetops?

If nothing else you've convinced me that I need to take a Sunday morning visit to Formaggio come September.

Jess said...

Sarah T - According to the Cook's Illustrated review, they tested the stovetop waffle irons on both gas and electric stoves. I would imagine that it's trickier to get the timing right on an electric range, but doable. In any case, yes to Formaggio! I may make waffles at home now myself, but I'll still be first in line.

Evelien said...

Liège is a city in Belgium, so you're making Belgian waffles after all ;-)
Belgian girl

Jess said...

Evelien - Yes, of course! How silly of me not to mention that Liège is a Belgian city. Thank you for piping up. From my understanding, there are two types of Belgian waffles, Brussels and Liège, is that right? Here in the United States, most of us mean something akin to a Brussels waffle when we say "Belgian waffle" - a thick, golden waffle made without pearl sugar. Liège waffles are far less common here. I would love to visit Belgium one day...

molly said...

I am so with you on the waffle-front: just not my favorite baked good, and I like ALL baked goods. The tendency toward sog is too great.

But. But! These I've had, and these I've loved, but these I've never made, oh HO. And by gosh if I don't happen to have pearl sugar in the cupboard! My only question being...

Do we think an ordinary waffle iron might work? Ours is no Belgian iron, and I wonder if that would spoil the gorgeous interior. (Because I clicked. You know I did.)

Best to you, Jess.


Jess said...

Hmmm, Molly, I don't know. My first thought was to separate the dough into smaller hunks and go ahead with the shallower iron. (12 waffles instead of 6!) But yes, I do think you'd lose much of that gorgeous crumb, since the dough wouldn't have room in there to rise. Then again, a caramelized waffle that's almost all crust? It would be a different beast, but a delicious one, I bet. If you try it, please let us know how it goes.

Evelien said...

You're right, there are two 'famous' types of Belgian waffles. If you ever make it to Belgium, you'll see (even in an ordinary supermarket) that there are soooo much more waffles. My personal favorite is a sugar waffle ('suikerwafel', that's what we call the Liège variety) dipped in pure, Belgian chocolate. Luxurious and sinful...

Jess said...

Evelien, you're making it awfully hard not to buy a plane ticket right this instant! Have a chocolate-dipped suikerwafel for me sometime soon, okay?

molly said...

You know I'll try it. And you bet I'll let you know how it goes!

Amy said...

These looks so good. So good in fact that you have persuaded me to take the plunge and buy a waffle iron and I am following your recommendation and getting the Nordic Ware one. Some commission owed to you?! I have 2 questions for you: when you take the dough out of the refrigerator in the morning, do you need to bring it to room temperature before adding the sugar or do you just do it cold, as with brioche? Also, when you then leave it for a further 90 minutes, is this at room temperature or in a warm place? Many thanks.

Jess said...

Hi, Amy. No need to bring the dough to room temperature before mixing in the pearl sugar. The dough will be firm, but totally workable. I do that last 90-minute proof at room temperature, which was probably somewhere in the mid-seventies when I've made them. I'm excited that you're giving these waffles and the iron a try. If you think of it, please do report back!

Anonymous said...

I've made these twice now, and they are fantastic. Thanks for a great recipe (the notes were especially helpful). I have a question for you. Because of their popularity, I'm tempted to make a double batch. Do you see any concerns with that about any of the different steps? I'm worried in particular about the first rise, that the extra flour on top would be an issue for the yeast action underneath. Thanks for any thoughts/guidance.

Kasey said...

This statement EXACTLY what it felt like to be a new mom for me: When Mia was brand new and each day was approximately 3,479 hours long, and I had not a clue what to do with her or myself, I’d tie her onto my chest and we’d walk. Very often, we’d end up at Formaggio. - also I am the owner of a brand new, unopened package of pearl sugar. Belgian waffles are happening!

Jess said...

Anonymous, hello! Your note got caught in my spam folder (as anonymous comments sometimes do). I found it just now during some end-of-year "cleaning!" I'm so sorry for the delay. I'm guessing by now you've figured things out for yourself, but just in case: a double batch works great. I've had no trouble at all. All you need is a large enough bowl for all that flour. Another option is to set aside the flour you'd normally sprinkle on top and just mix it in to the batter with the brown sugar and salt. I'm so glad you're enjoying this recipe! We're thinking about a batch for New Year's Day... Happy 2014.

Unknown said...

I love the small size and shape of the waffles and I would love to purchase the same exact waffle iron that Alyssa uses. You said it is a CuisinArt Belgian Waffle Maker...is it possible to get the model number? The internet searches I have done do not come up with a maker by them that resembles anything like the ones in the pictures...thanks!

Leige said...

Unfortunately, I'm one of the many who have tried to make the perfect leige waffle and failed through many cookbooks. I can't wait to try this recipe. :D

Harvesting Joy said...

Do you still love your stove top waffle maker? Do you think it could be used on a glass-top stove and still make good waffles? Thanks!!

Jess said...

Yes, I love it and use it all the time. I've never cooked on a glass-top range, so I unfortunately can't advise you. I'd suggest contacting the manufacturer. Or perhaps search through the Amazon reviews? Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Do you need to add the sugar or honey to the first step so the yeast will activate?

Jane Stevens said...

seems I'm coming late to the party. lol, have used the nordic ware stove top waffle iron for probably forty years. my son got the first one and I had to buy another.

anyway, will try this recipe. this week, I just tampered with another recipe using dry yeast. substituted sour cream for the butter and milk. thinned the batter with buttermilk. let the batter rise on the counter all day. refrigerated over night.

stirred it down, nice, thick batter. probably one of the best waffles I've made in years. it's worth the experimentation.

Susan said...

I love it, now and forever. Because it's associated with the image of my mother.
Great article! Thank you for such a valuable article on such a interesting topic. I really appreciate for this great information.

Healthoop said...

After reading your story with your little Mia and waffle, I am wondering whether I should get me a waffle iron and start learning to make waffles by my self? Thanks Jess for your post! I love it.