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a brief history of the waffle

(post, Elizabeth Stark)


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It stands to reason that if you have a waffle iron, you probably also know how to make waffles. Or at least you know how to find a waffle recipe. But, I made waffles so that's what I'm blogging about. As Brian frequently points out, the origins of waffle irons are mysterious. Why create a device so elaborate for a food you've never had?

The word origin of waffle is related to wafer, and a waffle is essentially a leavened wafer. In order to cook wafers, one had to press the thin batter between two irons and then stick it into the fire, or a coal bucket, to cook. So, if you're pressing the wafer anyway, you might as well make a design, and then you realize that texture makes things taste better, and then you add the leavening, and then you realize how perfect the basket pattern is for holding syrup, or, in this case, apple compote and syrup.

Ivan Day's site historicalfood.com has detailed information about the history of waffles and wafers. It's a pretty cool site. Once Brian sees it, he's going to want make every recipe featured--he is always threatening to make figgy pudding and stuff like that. The following recipe for a dutch style wafer, or waffle, is from 1724, and I am taken with the simplicity as much as the butter content.

The Right Dutch-Wafer (from Ivan Day's historicalfood.com)

Take four Eggs, and beat them very well, then take a good Spoonful of a Pint of fine Sugar, one nutmeg grated, Cream, and a Pound of Flower, a Pound of butter melted, two or three Spoonfuls of Rose-water, and two good Spoonfuls of Yeast; mix all, well together, and bake them in your Wafer-tongs on the Fire. For the Sauce, take grated Cinnamon, Sack, and melted Butter, sweeten’d to your Taste.

From Mary Kettilby, A Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts (London: 1724).

Since you probably don't have wafer tongs, allow me to offer a more contemporary recipe, served with a bit of fresh apple compote and maple syrup.

Easy Waffles (adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)
serves four or five

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar (more for a sweet waffle)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted and then set aside
1 teaspoon or so vanilla

Preheat your waffle iron. Combine the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and eggs, beating them together a little bit; then add the butter and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir until just combined. The batter should be a touch drippy, so add a little more milk if you need it.

Brush a neutral oil on the waffle iron, and ladle in a 1/4 cup of batter at a time. The waffles are going to get much bigger, so don't overdo it. If you have an electric waffle iron like mine, the light will change from red to green when the waffles are almost done. I keep a close eye and tend to pull them when they're golden, and the slightest bit crispy. Keep the waffles in a warm oven until you are ready to serve them. If you are totally classy, throw your plates in the oven too.

Quick Apple Compote

an amount of apples, sliced
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon or orange juice
1 teaspoon of lemon or orange zest
spices of choice
pinch of salt
honey

While you are cooking the waffles, combine all, or some, of the ingredients above, and cook on medium heat until the apples are falling apart and bubbly.

Serve the waffles with a ladleful of compote, and a drizzle of real maple syrup.