I’ve mentioned before that the problem with “Belgian waffles” as currently served by most American restaurants that offer them is that they are only “Belgian” in shape – it’s a regular waffle batter poured into an iron with deeper ridges, creating a dense, greasy, cakey waffle that bears no resemblance to the lighter, crispier waffles that earn the Belgian moniker. I’ve even seen recipes in reputable cookbooks that make no allowance for the different shape of Belgian waffle irons and assume that your straight-up chemically-leavened waffle batter will do the trick. Of course, it won’t.
It’s not clear to me whether there is a single waffle style that qualifies as an authentic Belgian waffle, but everything I’ve read points to the inclusion of one of two methods of introducing lightness into the final batter: yeast or an egg white foam. This recipe, adapted from The 1997 Joy of Cooking, uses both to create a waffle with a light texture and crispy exterior and that brings the virtue of on-the-fly extensibility.
A quick note on equipment: The model I have, from Hamilton Beach, has been discontinued – I got it four or five years ago for $10 on clearance. It has a 7-inch diameter and nonstick grids; they’re not removable, which does make cleanup tricky, but for ten bucks I wasn’t going to be picky. The heat setting runs from 1 to 5, and I found somewhere between 3 and 4 was perfect for this recipe. If you decide to buy a Belgian waffle iron, look for nonstick grids and a variable temperature setting; I vote for a circular grid since it’s easier to spread batter on a circle than on adjacent squares. Always preheat your iron before the first waffle, and after removing each waffle close the lid and allow it to come back up to temperature.
3 cups milk, warmed to 105-110 degrees
3 eggs, separated
11 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 Tbsp vegetable oil*
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour*
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast*
a pinch of cream of tartar
1. Whisk the egg yolks, butter, oil, and 1/2 cup of the milk together in a bowl.
2. Whisk in the sugar, salt, and extract.
3. In another bowl, stir the yeast into the two flours.
4. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the remaining milk (3 installments of flour, interspersed with two installments of milk), whisking thoroughly to combine each addition.
5. In yet a third bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until you achieve soft peaks. Fold the foam into the master batter. Seal with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about an hour, until roughly doubled, although any healthy rise will suffice.
6. Preheat your waffle iron about 45 minutes after you finished making the batter.
7. Stir the batter to deflate it, then pour enough batter to make one waffle on to the hot iron’s grid. For my 7″ iron, it took about 3/4 cup of batter; Joy says about 1/2 cup, which probably assumes a 6″ grid. Use an offset spatula or heat-proof silicone spatula to spread the batter quickly to the edges, then close the iron and cook until the steaming starts to subside and the waffle is golden brown; this took about two and a half minutes on my iron. Serve immediately; hold in a 200 degree oven; or cool on wire racks before freezing.
- The vegetable oil will help keep the waffles from drying out. It’s a tiny sacrifice of flavor for greater shelf life.
- I’m sure this recipe will work fine if you use 4 cups of AP flour, but I like whole wheat flour for both its flavor and nutritional benefit. Not that these waffles would qualify as health food. Pastry flour is lower in protein than regular whole wheat flour and is usually ground more finely.
- Instant yeast is infinitely superior to the crap they sell in packets as “active dry” or “rapid-rise” yeast. Instant yeast lasts longer – I’ve taken instant yeast that was in the fridge for over two years and baked successfully with it. It doesn’t require you to bloom it separately in liquid. And it uses less packaging than other kinds. Whole Foods sells a brick of the stuff for $5, so if you use yeast even a dozen times a year it’ll save you money. Just dump the contents of the bag into an airtight container and stick it in your refrigerator.
- If you decide at any point you want to add something to the batter – nuts, berries, dried coconut, chocolate chips (I’d grease the hell out of the iron before that one, though), even crumbled bacon – you can just drop it into the master bowl or even into one waffle’s worth of batter, stir quickly, and pour. Unlike a chemically-leavened batter, this one bounces back quite well from agitation and the resulting waffle won’t be heavier or denser for the intrusion.