Waffling

A simple way to tell whether or not you're leading la dolce vita is, in my opinion, waffles. I'm not talking about that rubbery travesty not worthy of the name found in the frozen food section, and I'm not talking about those huge, heavy discus' made with pre-packaged batter that all the breakfast joints use and then try to disguise with a huge mountain of faux whipped "cream." 


I'm talking about the real deal, the delicate golden honeycombs your mother makes in the waffle iron she bought for you for $3 at a garage sale but then kept the waffle iron because it turns out perfect waffles - blistery crispiness on the outside, buttery tenderness on the inside, fragrant with yeasty goodness and as light as eiderdown.  It goes without saying that she only puts real maple syrup on them or homemade jam.  When you bite into a hot one of these, the only thing you can think is "mmm, life is good."


My mom's waffles are so good that people beg her to open a restaurant that serves only breakfast so that they can eat them all the time.  But since she hasn't opened that restaurant and I like to get that "life is good" feeling on a regular basis, I've learned to make my own waffles.  


I was looking at a history of waffles (originally called "wafers") and waffle irons which have apparently been around since the 1300s.  The mediaeval methods of making waffles had at least a level 8 degree of  difficulty - much more than with the great Scandinavian 5 heart waffler (or vaffelhjerter in Norwegian) that my mom ended up buying for me new. In the olden days, not only did you have to contend with a couple of hot, hinged metal plates with handles to make your perfect waffles, you also had to make sure you had the right kind of fire. It still sounds delicious, but you'll thank your lucky stars for your vaffelhjerter when you see what you did in the 1800s for perfect waffles:


"Put two pints of rich milk into separate pans. Cut up and melt in one of them a quarter of a pound of butter, warming it slightly; then, when it is melted, stir it about, and set it away to cool. Beat eight eggs till very light, and mix them gradually into the other pan of milk, alternately with half a pound of flour. The mix it by degrees the milk that has the butter in it. Lastly, stir in a large table-spoonfull of strong fresh yeast. Cover the pan and set it near the fire to rise. When the batter is quite light, heat your waffle-iron, by putting it among the coals of a clear bright fire; grease the inside with butter tied in a rag, and then put in some batter. Shut the iron closely, and when the waffle is done on one side, turn the iron on the other. Take the cake out by slipping a knife underneath; and then heat and grease the iron for another waffle. Send them to table quite hot, four or six on a plage; having buttered them and strewed over each a mixture of powdered cinnamon, and white sugar. Or you may send the sugar and cinnamon in a little glass bowl."
---Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches, Miss Leslie [Philadelphia, 1849]


The holidays are the perfect time for waffles, when you're spending entire days in your pajamas or at least getting up late. Because the best waffles require some pre-planning, it's good to have relaxed time so you'll remember the 5 or 10 minutes you need to get the batter ready the night before. You can make good waffles without it, but I have long believed that my mom's yeasted Raised Waffles from Marion Cunningham's Breakfast Book were the last word in waffles. They are simply perfect and one of the best things you could hope to put in your mouth.  However, there's a new waffle in town and the last word in waffles is going to have to share its spot.


Before they left for Seattle, our excellent neighbors Mark and Jill left me with a jar of Jill's grandma's sourdough starter.  I'm a sourdough waffle convert. I've started making the sourdough waffles from King Arthur's Baking Book. Not only are they delicate, crisp and yeasty, but they also use half whole wheat flour and much less than a stick of butter.  They're good for you!  And I have to say, they are excellent with homemade jam and a cup of B.'s most excellent coffee.  Next time my mom comes over, I'm making her some waffles. 


Compare and see for yourself which waffle is best and don't blame me if you eat too many. 


Raised Waffles from The Breakfast Book

(about 8 waffles)


1/2 C. warm water

1 pkg. dry yeast

2 C. milk, warmed

1/2 C. butter, melted

1 t. salt

1 t. sugar

2 C. flour

2 eggs

 1/4 t. baking soda


"In a large mixing bowl (batter will rise to double original volume) put the water and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand to dissolve 5 minutes. Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar and flour to the yeast and beat until smooth and blended. (Marion uses a rotary blender, my mom just uses a whisk). Cover with plastic and let stand overnight at room temperature.


Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs, add the baking soda and stir until well mixed. Batter will be very thin. Pour about 1/2 to 3/4 cup batter into a very hot waffle iron. Bake until they are golden and crisp. 


This batter will keep well for several days in the fridge."



Sourdough Waffles from the King Arthur Baking Book

(Twelve 8 inch waffles)


Sponge

1 C. unbleached all purpose flour

1 C. (white) whole wheat flour

2 T. sugar

2 C. buttermilk

1 C. sourdough starter (fed and ready to use)


Batter

2 large eggs

1/4 C. butter, melted

3/4 t. salt

1 t. salt


"Sponge: Mix together flours and sugar in medium bowl. Stir in the buttermilk (If you're doing this at the last minute, take the chill off it; a microwave does this nicely. Don't worry if it separates a bit.) Add 1 C. of your refreshed sourdough starter and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temp overnight, or for whatever shorter time span is practical. 


Batter: Next day, beat together the eggs, butter, salt and baking soda until light. Blend this mixture into the sponge, and see dramatic chemistry begin to happen.


Spray waffle iron with vegetable oil spray if needed.  Pour 1/2 to 1 C. batter onto the iron, depending on its size, close, and cook for approximately 2 minutes, or until the iron stops steaming. Remove gently with a fork. 


Waffles are best eaten as they come off the iron; they don't take well to stockpiling. This makes for serial eating, but it builds anticipation and probably contributes to general squabbling about who deserves the next one."


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One of the best things in la dolce vita is eating one of these waffles hot off the iron with nothing on it.  It's like street food - hot and crisp and best eaten NOW.  You know where to come if you need some sourdough starter, but King Arthur has some tips on making your own too. 



Something to ponder:

"If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she makes you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is better in arithmetic, you or your mother?"  -- Carl Sandburg



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