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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 01/27/2011

Obsessions: Belgian waffles, the beginning

By Tim Carman

First in an occasional series of Food section staffers' attempts to satisfy cravings for the really good stuff.

photo(39)_opt.jpg Looks 10, dance 3. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

One recent Saturday morning, I awoke early with a weird mission in mind: I was going to make Belgian waffles. Never mind that I had not a whiff of experience with making Belgian waffles (well, technically no experience with "Brussels" waffle, since there are countless variations in Belgium). All I could think about were Belga Cafe's light and crispy cakes, sprinkled with just enough confectioners' and brown sugars to keep the lid shut tight on the syrup bottle.

I was determined to make my own at home.

Of course, my first problem was obvious: I don't own a Belgian waffle iron, which was an easy problem to fix. I marched over to Strosniders and plunked down $34.99 for a Black & Decker WBM500 Belgian Waffle Maker. I then found a semi-decent recipe online, a cake-flour-based one that includes baking powder and whipped egg whites. They would help create light and fluffy waffle, but perhaps not as light and fluffy as a yeasted one. Right?

I used about every mixing bowl in the house to prepare the batter, which, once completed, I poured gingerly into the B&D wafflemaker, careful not to overfill my shiny new piece of kitchen equipment. When its orange light blinked off, as the B&D instruction manual informed me, the waffle was supposed to be done. If I wanted a crisper waffle, the booklet noted, I should let the batter cook a little longer. I let it cook a little longer.

And a little longer.

And a little longer.

Several minutes past the "done" point, when the exterior had turned a darker shade of gold, I dislodged the waffle and plated it, dusted it with confectioners' sugar, fanned a few strawberries at the center and drizzled some Grade A, dark amber syrup over the top. The thing looked tasty enough.

I could tell as soon as my fork touched cake that this waffle would not match the Platonic ideal I had been pining for since sunrise. The thing was soft, almost Eggolike in consistency, boasting the kind of crispiness usually associated with an empanada left in the fridge for a week. If I was disappointed, you wouldn't have known it by looking at my plate, which was spotless, virtually licked clean as if a dog had sneaked into our dining room. That's what the combination of desire, hunger and obscene amounts of sugar will do.

But disappointed I was. I related my tale of waffle woe to my colleagues here at the Food section. Recipe guru Bonnie Benwick (also known as the deputy Food editor) suggested that next time I use pearl sugar, which caramelizes during the cooking process to create an exterior crust. Food Editor Joe Yonan then suggested I turn this project into a recurring column, where a quest can veer toward public humiliation.

So here I go. My next attempt recipe will incorporate both yeast and pearl sugar. I'll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, what recipe suggestions do you have? Perhaps something like Lisa Yockelson's Waffles of Many Flours and Meals, but with a little more Belgian influence.

What I don't need: Directions to Belga Cafe.

By Tim Carman  | January 27, 2011; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Comfort Food, Obsessions  | Tags:  Obsessions, Tim Carman  
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Next: Cocktails That Complete Me: The Knickerbocker and Blinker


Tim -
Make these all the time to great applause:

Good Waffles

tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup of tepid water
(activate yeast/water and add to)-

2 cups of milk at room temperature
1/2 cup of oil or butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups floor

Beat/stir the ingredients
Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place overnight

Next morning beat in 2 eggs
Add a pinch of baking soda

I usually double the recipe which is the best I've ever found for waffles of any kind.

Posted by: maburr | January 27, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Anyone have a recipe for healthier waffles... whole grain maybe?

Posted by: LoveSnow1 | January 28, 2011 7:54 AM | Report abuse

You know, the recipie in the Joy of Cooking makes pretty darn good waffles. It sounds similar to the one you first tried, in that it incorporates beaten egg whites. When I make it, the waffles are crispy on the outside, and soft and creamy on the inside. My one trick that I will divulge is this - after I put the batter in and close the iron, I will actually turn the whole thing upside down and let it sit on the counter that way for a minute or so. I don't have one of those fancy ones that allows you to flip just the iron, you see.

Posted by: David90 | January 28, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Saw this in the catalog yesterday and thought of you:

Posted by: egengle | January 28, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The problem is the cheap waffle maker. You can really only turn out great (as opposed to only good) waffles with the more expensive/commercial grade models.

Posted by: bluespade | January 28, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Try Molly Wizenberg's "Make-the-Morning-of" Waffle:

They are superb!

Posted by: etravisono | January 28, 2011 1:40 PM | Report abuse

so happy to read carman's posts again! can't wait for more!

Posted by: vavavooom | January 28, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Tim, I feel for you. You are embarked on a journey that will teach you a lot about cleaning your waffle iron.

Briefly: translating European waffle recipes for US users is a pain because local US flours vary so insanely in moisture absorption and other qualities, and there's no way to tell what you've got until it's too late.

But briefly: after reading the "semi- decent" recipe you referenced, I felt like recasting Sean Connery's dialogue in HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. "I read your waffle recipe, Ryan! It was a terrible waffle recipe! Your conclusions were all wrong!" Well, not all. But seriously, what was Emeril thinking? He plainly didn't stay in Belgium long enough to grasp the basic theory.

Stick with the yeast-raised recipes. They make important changes in the gluten of the batter that mere mechanical agitation won't. Baking powder-based recipes come in a very, very distant second. And the perlzuiker may definitely help you, though as our article suggests, you can fake its influence a little.

Regards, and wishing you well on the journey (even though the Liege waffles are a whole lot better!!) -- EuroCuisineLady

Posted by: EuroCuisineLady | January 29, 2011 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I agree with some others, your first mistake - the waffle maker - was the biggest. I have used this All-Clad one, which produced amazing, crispy waffles:

Recipes can be experimented with, but if you don't have a decent machine to begin with you're never going to get the result you want.

Posted by: sanfranchristo | February 1, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

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