4.02.2013

Consider the Waffle.



While ambling through a thrift store recently, I stumbled across a waffle iron touting itself as The Belgian Waffler. It gave me pause. Though I couldn't remember the last time I ordered a waffle from a menu, I knew for certain that, other than putting a frozen one into a toaster in or around the second grade, I had definitely had never made one. The colors and the font on the circa 1982 Belgian Waffler box reminded me, fondly, of Busch Gardens, an old-world European theme park back in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Old Country, as it was tagged, featured a number of 'hamlets' like Oktoberfest (Bavarian Germany), Killarney (Ireland), Heatherdowns (Scotland), Aquitaine (France) and Banbury Cross (England) to name a few, all with appropriately themed food, games and rides. For you Californians, if Solvang had skee ball and roller coasters, it would be a dead ringer for a hamlet in Busch Gardens.

And so, for a mere four dollars and ninety-nine cents, how could I not purchase this novelty kitchen tool that elicited so much nostalgia?


As I unpacked the day's treasures; two vintage pea green and ecru plates and a matching creamer made of genuine English china (must have been part of someone's wedding gift at some point), one ornate soup spoon, one floral Asian rice bowl and an old, wonky muted blue and white dish that I deemed a perfect pasta bowl, I stopped and stared at The Belgian Waffler. Once I got past another Busch Gardens flashback of taking the gondola lift from Banbury Cross to get to the Le Scoot Log Flume and then the steam train to get to Heatherdowns to ride the Loch Ness Monster, I contemplated the actual waffle iron and wondered:

What's the story with waffles? Who eats them? Who makes them at home? I think I miss Eggos. Should I go get some? I bet two of those would make great bread for a sandwich.

After some sleuthing I came across an article in Time magazine from November of 1999, covering the flooded Tennessee Kellogg plant that forced the company to ration its supplies for over six months. Apparently the shortage was called a “national calamity, further proof of global warming's reach, a sign of the apocalypse, evidence of a corporate conspiracy and a good opportunity to cash in.” (Witness the Katy, Texas, resident who posted a "rationed" box of Blueberry Eggos on eBay — "toaster not included.")

I guess we like our waffles.

I was not more than a little bit surprised to find the waffle's origin traced back to none other than ancient Greece. The original waffles were basically communion wafers called oublies made with grain flour and water, pressed between little irons embossed with Biblical scenes or allegorical designs.

From there, the waffle's journey is an interesting one. One of my personal favorite highlights of its trajectory involves a 16th century painting that not only shows waffles being cooked, but also features a man wearing three waffles strapped to his head, playing dice for waffles with a black-masked carnival-goer.

Detail from Pieter Bruegel's Het gevecht tussen Carnaval en Vasten - among the first known images of waffles.

In the 17th century sugar was so prohibitively expensive that waffles were pretty much reserved for only the fancies. And, finally, around the 18th century the word waffle first appeared in the English language and the recipe could be found in American, English, Dutch, Belgian, German and French versions. Rumor has it Thomas Jefferson even had waffle parties. Wild Man Jefferson, they must have called him.

By the early 20th century ye olde waffle craftsmen were diminishing and the waffle became something people primarily made at home. This decline was accelerated by the invention of the first electric waffle maker (GE), waffle mixes by the likes of Aunt Jemima and Bisquick and, of course, that wacky trio of brothers, the Dosas, who provided us with our favorite frozen specialty, the Eggo waffle. Bringing us back to me standing in the thrift store, thinking about putting a waffle in the toaster oven in or around the second grade.

Upon my research, I was pretty excited to learn that some of the very earliest French waffle recipes, dating back to the late 14th century, were savory ones; “Beat some eggs in a bowl, season with salt and add wine. Toss in some flour, and mix. Then fill, little by little, two irons at a time with as much of the paste as a slice of cheese is large. Then close the iron and cook both sides. If the dough does not detach easily from the iron, coat it first with a piece of cloth that has been soaked in oil or grease.” Some other variations explain how cheese is to be placed in between two layers of batter, or grated and mixed in to the batter. Wine? Cheese? Sounds right up my alley.

For my fist experience with The Belgian Waffler, I was going to use one of the recipes on the back of the box. But then I thought to check in on my all-time favorite breakfast maker, Marion Cunningham, for her advice. She has never, ever done me wrong. Not when I need to make biscuits, or granola, or muffins, or breakfast breads, or pancakes, or even pancakes with fruit. Never.


Plus, my logic reminded me that in the eye of the frozen waffle storm sweeping this country, in or around when I was in the second grade, was also exactly when Marion Cunningham actually took the time to make her family waffles for breakfast. Even more precious, in her description above the recipe she goes so far as to explain that this is “ideal for spur-of-the-moment breakfast when you haven't time for yeast-risen waffles”. I mean, come on. Often mornings for me in or around the second grade involved my dad gulping exactly a cup and a half of coffee (half decaf, half caf) while watching The Today Show, and then standing by the front door, impatiently, with a banana in hand as I was grabbing my waffle out of the toaster, smearing butter on it, wrapping it up in a paper towel so I could catch a ride to school. But only as far as his work, mind you. I walked the rest of the way eating my breakfast. Yeast-risen waffles, yeah right, Marion.

So, yes, I went with Marion's classic waffle recipe but I added a little health. A little now. I added some chia seeds and some flax seeds.

And as Fred prepared macerated blackberries with fresh mint to go on top, I began to heat up The Belgian Waffler for its maiden (at least in this decade, I would imagine) waffle voyage.

Though it's clearly been a very, very long time since I've had a meal of waffles, and I rarely opt for the sweet breakfast over the savory, I enjoyed this one immensely. The waffles were steamy warm, crisped light brown on the exterior, and substantial but moist inside. And they were only as sweet as what you put on top of them. I went for heavy on the butter and light on the maple syrup. We had the good stuff a neighbor brought back from Vermont. I enjoyed the texture and also the look that the seeds added. Fred piled his high with the sweetened berries and mint, in addition to the syrup. We cleaned our plates and then bickered over the last square.

There will be more waffles. I will make the recipes on the back of the box. But mostly, I keep thinking about using two waffle squares as sandwich bread...


Chia & Flax Seed Waffles with Blackberries & Fresh Mint

Waffles

Makes about 8 waffles

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed slightly
1/3 cup vegetable shortening, melted
1/3 cup (2/3 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon flax seeds

Put the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a mixing bowl and stir the mixture with a fork until blended.

In another bowl, beat the eggs well and stir in the milk. Combine with the flour mixture until mixed. Add the melted shortening and butter and beat until blended.

Blend in chia and flax seeds.

Pour about 3/4 cup batter into a very hot waffle iron. Bake the waffles until they are golden and crisp. Serve hot & top with macerated berries, butter & maple syrup. Or whatever you want.


Macerated Blackberries

2 cups fresh blackberries
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon shredded fresh mint

Combine blackberries, sugar, and mint. Refrigerate for 1 hour.



Three years ago: Potato Fennel Hash

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