Everyone has a bizarre cooking shortcut they love, and its usually a device of some sort. It might be a mango peeler, a multi-edge brownie pan, or an all-in-one egg sandwich device. (Yup, that's a thing.) My guilty pleasure: the waffle maker.
A waffle maker can cook almost anything. National Waffle Day, on August 24, is my favorite made-up holiday. Do waffles need a holiday? No. But it's as good a time as any to tell you how I feel about my waffle maker, which can make everything from burgers to hash browns to chocolate chip cookies. And that's just the beginning.
My Waffling Origin StoryMy first encounter with non-standard things in a waffle maker came at a campground. My family and I had recently moved into our 1969 Dodge Travco motorhome to live full time on the road. I gutted and restored the RV, but one thing I never got around to fixing was the oven.We were in a New Orleans campground one day and a few fellow #VanLife travelers had us over for dinner. They also lacked a working oven, so they served us cornbread waffles instead. If you'd have been there you could have audibly heard the ding that went off in my head when I tried my cornbread waffle. Waffles .... cornbread? What kind of sorcery was this? If they made cornbread in a waffle maker, what else could we make?Traditionally, the waffle was a leavened bread-like thing, made from a dough rather than the runny batter we're used to now. It seems to have grown out of a Greek tradition of cakes cooked between two pressed together hot plates. From there, the idea of pressing batter between plates spread through Europe. Europeans started adding yeast to make a leavened dough, and eventually the hot plates found their modern grid pattern. The French were early waffle pioneers, though the Dutch soon dominated. Now, the word "waffle" is often preceded by the word "Belgian."
We were not waffle traditionalists—just a family without an oven, desperate for new ways to heat food. After that first encounter with gridded cornbread, we grabbed the cheapest waffle maker we could find and began to experiment.
We started by replicating the cornbread waffles. After some tinkering, we had the recipe down. Our first homegrown success was chocolate waffle cake. The brilliance of cake as a waffle is that all those dents fill up with frosting. To this day, despite access to ovens, my kids want chocolate waffle cake for their birthdays.
After the cake success, we tried banana bread (excellent). Then we made chocolate chip banana bread (even better). Then chocolate chip cookies (difficult to perfect). Later, after we experimented with hash browns, we became slightly obsessed with trying just about everything in a waffle maker.
Remarkably, nearly all of it all has worked—though it's possible that two years of van life made our palettes more forgiving.Not long into our waffling days, we discovered that we were not the first family to worship the waffle maker. There was a blog, Wafflizer.com, now known as Will It Waffle?, which spawned a waffling cookbook of the same name. There were other cookbooks, though I haven't read them. Experimenting—especially with kids eager to learn to cook—is more fun.
We also discovered that, quite often, companies themselves had recipes adjusted to work in waffle maker. Info on the box of a cornbread mix mentioned that the secret to better cornbread waffles was more oil. (This is actually true in a broad sense as long as you don't get carried away.)As we explored the growing world of waffling online, we came to realize that there's very little a waffle machine can't do. Daniel Shumski, author of Will It Waffle, includes recipes for things as exotic as Miso-maple glazed salmon, waffled tamale pie, and even filet mignon.
You probably have a waffle maker (or waffle iron) tucked away somewhere in your kitchen, neglected and sad in the darkness of a far cabinet. I say, pull it out and put on the counter with pride!If you don't have one yet, this Black and Decker Waffle Maker ($23) is a good starter model. It has some extras my waffle maker (which is no longer sold) does not, including different plates for sandwiches or grilling. That might be cheating, but I won't tell if you don't.If you want to upgrade your waffling experience, Shumski likes the very fancy Breville BWM620XL Waffle Maker ($199). Personally, I've felt no need to upgrade, though I can see where precise temperature controls like those on the Breville could potentially open up a new world of waffle making possibilities.There are also flipping waffle makers, which claim to spread your batter more evenly by letting you flip it upside down. They tend to be the much deeper Belgium-style waffles, which I do not recommend for all-around waffling. (If your waffle desires are limited to visions of tasty strawberry smothered Belgium waffles, then these irons are a great way to make them). I also recommend a high-heat cleaning brush ($15) for clearing your waffle iron's grooves between waffles.If you want to skip the dry cornbread and exploding chocolate chip cookies that ooze like lava across the counter experimental stage, grab a dedicated waffle maker cookbook. I've enjoyed Shumski's Will It Waffle.
Waffling was born of necessity for me, but when I finally figured out what was wrong with my oven half a year later, I didn't even care. I never ordered the replacement part. We had already waffled our way to van life victory—in the culinary sense, anyway. Except for good southern-style biscuits. Don't try to make biscuits in a waffle iron. Trust me.
Nothing is perfect, but a good waffle maker is damn close.
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