The reason I try recipes over and over: perfection, or something close to it. In my mind, most foods can always be improved upon and so I try different versions and recipes until it’s exactly what I’m looking for (or good enough for the moment anyway). Growing up we often had waffles on Saturday mornings. Crispy, slightly eggy, soaked in syrup waffles – at least that’s how I remember them. My dad was the waffle master, separating the egg yolks from the whites and beating them until they were fluffy and peaked. The beaten egg whites were supposed to make the waffles fluffy and so we continued to make our waffles that way even when it felt like more work than measuring out a few cups of waffle mix and adding water. I remember the waffles were crispy and that you knew that by the sound they made when you dug the side of the fork tines into the waffle for that first bite.
When I’ve tried to make waffles since, I feel like they haven’t been as crispy as I remembered. Is it that darn nostalgia, taking my memories and inflating them into much grander experiences than they were? Is it my waffle maker? Or is something I’m doing with my waffle recipes? I confess that I haven’t exhausted the possibilities of waffles recipes or even tried different waffle makers, but while looking through an old food book of mine, I stumbled across some food science that might help explain the crispy waffle. At some point, in my food obsessed life, I bought Harold McGee’s giant encyclopedia of cooking simply called On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. I flipped through it the other day to see if it might come in handy for the fourth graders I teach as they start their new food unit. Instead I found myself poring over the science of pastries and breads and soon enough pancakes and waffles. And what did I find about the science of crispy waffles?
“Modern waffle recipes are often essentially a lean pancake batter cooked in a waffle iron instead of on a griddle, and they often produce a disappointing result that is more leathery than crisp. Crispness requires a high proportion of fat, sugar, or both: otherwise the batter essentially steams rather than fries…”
Being the recipe-obsessed person that I am, I had saved this recipe from Food52* several months back, intrigued by the title of “waffles of insane greatness.” I’d been wanting to try a new waffle recipe because a) I love trying new recipes and b) my childhood waffle recipe seemed like a pain with the egg separating and egg white whipping, but I’d been afraid to try this one in particular for a few reasons. First of all the ratio of oil to flour seemed too high and I heard the health critic in me say: “that is not something you should be making for breakfast!” Secondly, the recipe required letting the batter sit for 30 minutes after making it, and most mornings I want breakfast pretty soon after I get up. Nonetheless, reading McGee’s waffle science wisdom made me return to the “waffles of insane greatness,” to try it out because, well, science. Even if it meant more fat than was probably healthy and waiting a little bit for my breakfast, I decided that I had to try this recipe for science.
The result: delicious and crispy! While I can’t directly compare these waffles to the real waffles I ate as a child (just their memory), I did thoroughly enjoy their crispy exterior (perhaps thanks to the copious amount of oil, which is maybe not copious at all), their eggy interior, and the way they soaked up my syrup, just like waffles are really meant to do. My only regret is that I didn’t make a bigger batch.
*The only change I made from Food52’s recipe was to use 2% milk because I hardly ever buy whole milk or buttermilk. In my waffle maker, a single recipe made three full waffles.