We’ve tried all sorts of waffles— over the years, the boys have become de facto waffle afficionados. We’ve tried all sorts of different recipes: made with butter or oil; separating the eggs or just lightly beating them whole; with corn meal or just plain flour. On one annotation to a waffle recipe I made with yeast back in 2006, I recorded what our then three year-old Maximilian thought of them: “They smell.” This is not that recipe.
A lot of recipes you find nowadays have you separating the yolks from the whites. Why? Separating the eggs incorporates more air into the batter, making them lighter. Yet you also risk making them more rubbery by having to essentially mix the batter twice. Most people are too sleepy in the morning to worry about this technique, which is why we don’t recommend it. It is a few extra steps too many in the morning that simply don’t justify the results.
Whereas pancakes have a thick batter that is mixed just until the dry ingredients are moistened and whereas crepe batter is mixed until smooth, waffles are somewhere in between. They employ melted butter like a crepe but, like pancakes, use sugar and additional leavening agents besides eggs. Depending on which ingredients you are using, waffles can turn out to be delicate and light, greasy and flat or downright heavy and rubbery. Waffles are a bit of challenge when it comes to taste, compared to their other brunch counterparts. Our pancake batter is heavy on the delicate flavor of vanilla extract, which would otherwise dissipate with the high heat of the waffle iron. You can add all sorts of things to a pancake batter, rendering maple syrup a mere sideshow. Crepes can be filled with sweet or savory ingredients, so their otherwise neutral flavor is enhanced with the variety of fillings you have on hand.
Waffles somehow seem a bit less exciting alongside these other two shining stars of the breakfast menu. No amount of good syrup can help a bad waffle. This was a quest to figure out how to add in additional flavor, without compromising on texture; it’s not like you can put chocolate chips in batter that has to be smooth for an iron. Waffles that are crunchy on the outside and tender in the middle, that don’t go soft once you make them, was the target point. But a waffle that had some dimension to it, that was something more than a plain pancake with a pretty shape was the ultimate goal.
Of all things, brown butter is the secret ingredient. Yes, it got us a crispy waffle that had a subtle flavor without being greasy or rubbery. Yes, no special ingredient from some specialty store you never go to. And the joke is brown butter been around from the dawn of time (at least in France)! Surely it was discovered by chance, when the butter was left to melt on the stove for too long. It’s not exactly burned, but if you’re great at burning things, this one’s for you.
I learned to make brown butter (its proper term is beurre noisette, the French term for a butter that has a nutty flavor) when I was discovering cake making. It adds in loads of flavor when you are baking, and because the fat solids become separated from the butter, using brown butter results in a more tender crumb in whatever it’s used. It’s easy, a bit of stove-top chemistry, really. This controlled explosion err process occurs within seconds, so be sure to not step away from the stove. It’s like riding a bike; once you’ve done it the first time, you do it again without really having to give it much thought. (Merci, gastronomie de la France!) You’ll have a butter, the color of hazelnut that gives off a heavenly nutty flavor you’ll have to resist dipping your finger into for a taste…
Brown Butter Waffles
Collect a glass measure and a small strainer and place them next to the stove. In a small saucepan, melt:
120 gr. / 4 oz. best-quality unsalted butter
Once it is melted, continue to cook over medium-high heat. After a minute, the fat solids will begin to separate and dance on top of the surface. Suddenly the bubbling butter will foam and the fat solids will drop to the bottom. You now have brown butter. Remove immediately by pouring the butter trough the strainer and into the glass measure.
In a medium bowl, combine:
4 cups flour
2 T. baking powder
6 T. sugar
1 tsp. salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine:
3 1/2 cups milk
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
Mix on medium-low for one minute. Add dry ingredients just until moistened, mixing just a few seconds. Add reserved brown butter. Mix on low until the batter is smooth and mostly uniform, about 30-40 seconds. Be careful not to overmix.
Prepare your waffle irons (see Tips for Success below). Pour batter (about 3/4 of a deep soup ladle) with a ladle onto prepared iron. With an offset spatula, smooth batter quickly and evenly to cover entire surface. Close lid and cook for 3-4 minutes. If a crunchier waffle is desired, flip the waffle over and cook for another minute.
Finish with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) and serve with Grade A maple syrup.
Tips for Success:
•Pouring the finished butter through a strainer will remove any dark bits, which are the burned fat solids. If you have some specks in the processed butter, this is normal and won’t effect the taste. They will be unnoticeable in the cooked batter.
•Mixing the batter longer than the prescribed time will increase the gluten in the flour, making the finished waffles tough.
•One of the disadvantages of making waffles is that they are best enjoyed hot off the iron, so enjoying them with a large family or group is all but impossible. One way around this is to have not one but two waffle irons on hand, which make light work of the cooking. Make sure they are seasoned before using. The first waffles will need extra time, about 4-5 minutes to cook, before you can open the lid. Use an offset spatula to nudge the sides up, until you manage to pop the waffle off the iron. NB: Cooking time varies widely because of electric cooking, which is less consistent. Be patient.
•We use the round, heart-shaped irons, though the square ones are just as nice. You’ll need to use more batter in the square one, about a full ladle.
•Using the offset spatula to smooth out the batter ensures even cooking and a uniform waffle.
•Waffles are the perfect base for a big bunch of sliced fresh, seasonal fruit. Strawberries, just lightly sweetened with real maple syrup, are a family favorite.