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Cooking off the grid

| Wednesday, May 31, 2006

When used as a verb, "waffle" isn't very nice. It means to talk or write in a vague or indecisive manner.

But present "waffle" as a noun, and people come running to the kitchen, plates in hand, any time of the day. "Waffle" means crispy, crunchy, homey honeycomb hotcakes, straight off the grill, piled high with any number of sweet or savory toppings.

Dutch settlers in the early 17th century are thought to have brought waffles to the New World from Europe, says Betty Rosbottom, author of "Waffles" (Chronicle Books, 2005). The Germans were thought to have developed the concept of waffles, producing thin communion wafers in the 13th century using hinged cast-iron plates over hearths. The French, Swedes and Italians picked up the idea, adding their regional interpretations.

Until waffles reached American shores, however, they seem to have been limited to the sweet kind, says Rosbottom. "During my research for the book, I couldn't find savory recipes from other countries," she says in an interview. "Americans appear to have turned them into a savory dish."

In her recipes, Rosbottom adds ingredients such as cornmeal, fresh herbs, Indian spices, cheese and citrus to waffle batters to complement toppings including asparagus, smoked salmon, mustard-glazed sausages, apples, poached eggs and creamed chicken for main dishes worthy of serving to guests.

There even is an interpretation of the French classic Croque-Monsieur grilled cheese and ham sandwich, using waffles to replace the bread.

The concept of savory waffles paid off handsomely for Austin, Texas, resident Anna Ginsberg earlier this year when her recipe for Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing won the $1 million grand prize in the 42nd Pillsbury Bake-Off. Its base ingredient was frozen homestyle waffle sticks, toasted and cut into pieces, then mixed with onion, chicken broth, seasonings, spinach and pecans.

Lou Seibert Pappas, a prolific cookbook writer, offers several savory waffle recipes in her book, "Pancakes & Waffles" (Chronicle Books, $14.95) -- a kalamata olive-based tapenade flavors Tuscan Waffles; Cheddar Cheese-Chive Waffles are adorned with fruit salsa, chutney or sun-dried tomato pesto; and Olive-Semolina Waffles feature yogurt and olive oil in the batter and are garnished with tapenade or pesto and sprinkles of fresh basil shreds.

The waffle is a close relative of another beloved breakfast -- the pancake, says Rosbottom. The pourable batters include fat, flour or grains or a combination, leavening -- often baking soda or powder or both, liquid (often milk) and eggs.

Pancakes require a simple skillet or flat grill, but to get the honeycomb effect of waffles -- and their characteristic crunch -- an electric iron is required. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, as well as prices. Nonstick surfaces help to ensure easy removal, although butter or oil brushed on nontreated cooking surfaces usually is sufficient to keep the first or second waffles from sticking, Rosbottom says.

She offers these tips for making perfect waffles:

  • If you have the manufacturer's instructions, follow them for heating, measuring batter, cleaning and storing. Sometimes these can be accessed on a company's consumer Web site.

  • Once the batter has been poured into a waffle iron, do not open it for at least 90 seconds. Do not try to force the lid open if it resists, because it indicates that the waffle is not finished cooking.

  • Waffle irons differ in the amount of time they take to cook batters. If the cooked signal appears but the waffles are not as crisp or done on the outside as desired, cook them one or two minutes more, watching carefully. A general rule: Waffles are done when the steaming stops and the iron can be opened easily.

  • Waffles are best served directly from the iron, for best texture and flavor. To hold them for serving, put them directly on the racks of a heated 200-degree oven. To avoid sogginess, do not stack or wrap them.

Tips for wafflers

  • Separate the eggs for the batter into yolks and whites for a light and delicate finished product. Add the yolks into the liquid portion, then beat the whites and fold them into the batter as the final step before making the waffles.

  • Use a wide-mouth pitcher or an oversized glass measuring cup to mix the batter, then pour it directly from the pitcher onto the waffle iron.

  • Brush away all crumbs adhering to the iron's surface, using a clean soft toothbrush or a cotton swab, to prevent waffles from sticking. You might need to add a light coating of oil or vegetable cooking spray to the grid before cooking.

  • Use a fork to remove waffles from the iron. If the iron has a nonstick surface, take care not to scratch it. Here's a trick to avoid damaging the waffles as they come off the iron: stick a wooden or bamboo skewer horizontally into each side of the waffle and gently lift it up. This also avoids tears.

  • Let the appliance cool, then place a piece of wax paper between the grids to protect the iron's surface between uses.

  • Waffles freeze well for as long as six months. Let them cool, then seal them in a zipper-lock freezer bag, wrapped well in a double layer of plastic wrap and foil. They can be reheated in a toaster oven or on a baking sheet in a 325-degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until warmed through.

  • Leftover waffles can be used to make stuffing -- such as the $1 million grand prize-winning recipe at the Pillsbury Bake-Off -- or as a substitute for bread in bread pudding.

Sources: "Cole's Complete Culinary Reference Recipes & Technique: Cooking A to Z," edited by Jane Horn (Cole Group, 1997); "Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks" by David Joachim (Rodale Books, $29.95); "Best Kitchen Tips" by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine (Boston Common Press, $19.95 paperback); "How To Break An Egg" by the Editors, Contributors and Readers of Fine Cooking magazine (The Taunton Press, $19.95).

Irons at the top

Those intrepid questioners at The America's Test Kitchen (Cook's Illustrated) tested eight waffle irons and announced the results in "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" (America's Test Kitchen, $34.95 ring-bound), published last year.

Their criteria -- for American-style waffles, not Belgian -- comprised large, square waffles with even browning and a lot of lift. "A temperature-control gauge on the iron helped to guarantee these results; the irons we tested without variable heating tended to produce mediocre waffles," the staff writes.

Their recommendations:

  • Best overall: The VillaWare Uno Series Classic Waffler 4-Square, about $90.

  • Runner-up: Black & Decker Grill and Waffle Baker, about $50.

    Meanwhile, the Good Housekeeping Institute tested 11 waffle makers to pinpoint the best model. Their results were released in December 2004.

  • For crispness: Cuisinart's Heart-Shaped Waffle Maker #WMR-HBC, about $50.

  • For a professional, restaurant-style model: The KitchenAid Pro Line Waffle Baker #KPB1000, about $300. It has two waffle-baking chambers for thick and tender waffles. The machine beeps to signal when baking is complete and comes with a built-in digital timer and automatic shutoff feature for safety.

Herbed Waffles Topped with Creamy Boursin Sauce

This recipe is from "Waffles" by Betty Rosbottom.

For the asparagus and sauce:

  • 1 package (5.2 ounces) Boursin cheese with herbs
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • Water
  • 1 1/2 pounds thin asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the waffles:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh chives, divided
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, divided

To make the sauce: Break the cheese into small chunks and put it in a medium-size saucepan along with the half-and-half. Place over medium heat and whisk until the cheese melts and the mixture is smooth and warm. Cover and set aside.

Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full with water and bring it to a boil. Add the asparagus and 1 tablespoon salt. Cook until tender when pierced with a knife, for 3-4 minutes. Drain in a colander, refresh under cold running water to keep bright green, and set aside.

To make the waffles: Heat a waffle iron. If you do not plan to serve the waffles immediately, heat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a medium-size bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another bowl, whisk together the milk and egg yolks until completely blended. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg whites until firm, but not stiff.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the milk/egg yolk mixture, blending gently only until the ingredients are combined. Add the butter in a slow stream, continuing to blend until the butter is incorporated. Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley, 2 tablespoons chives and 1 tablespoon rosemary. Gently fold in the egg whites.

Pour a generous 1/2 cup batter -- or more, depending upon the size of the waffle iron -- onto the waffle iron and, using a metal spatula or table knife, spread the batter to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Close the cover and cook for about 3 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. Serve the waffles immediately, or place them in a single layer on racks in the heated oven while you finish with the remaining batter.

While the waffles are in the oven, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the asparagus and toss and cook until hot. Season with salt.

To serve, arrange a waffle on each of 6 dinner plates. Save extra waffles for another use. Garnish each serving with a small bundle of asparagus and spoon some of the sauce over it. Mix together the remaining herbs and sprinkle them over the waffles.

Makes 6 servings.

Tuscan Waffles

This recipe is from "Pancakes & Waffles" by Lou Seibert Pappas.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup garbanzo or chestnut flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or chopped unsalted pistachios
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus extra for garnish
  • Tapenade ( recipe follows ), crème fraîche or sour cream, for topping

Heat a waffle iron. If you do not plan to serve the waffles immediately, heat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and soda and the salt. In a small deep bowl, beat the egg whites, using an electric mixer, until soft glossy peaks form.

In another bowl, beat or whisk together the egg yolks, buttermilk, milk and oil. Add the buttermilk mixture, nuts and 1/4 cup basil to the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Fold in the egg whites.

Spoon or pour about 1 cup batter into the hot iron. Close the lid. Bake until the waffle is golden brown, for about 4 minutes. Remove with a fork to a warm plate. Serve at once or keep warm on a baking sheet in the heated oven. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Top the waffles with a spoonful of tapenade, crème fraîche or saour cream, and garnish with chopped basil.

Makes about 6 waffles, serving 6.


  • 1 can (6 ounces) pitted kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup unsalted pistachios or toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil or minced fresh parsley
  • 2 green onions, including tops, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 or 4 strips lemon zest, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, blend the olives, pistachios, basil, green onions, garlic, cheese, lemon zest and juice, vinegar and mustard until minced. Add the oil and blend in. Season with black pepper. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for as long as 1 week.

Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Corn Bread Waffles with Creamed Chicken and Fennel

This recipe is from Betty Rosbottom's "Waffles."

For the topping:

  • 2 large fresh fennel bulbs
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups (about 8 ounces) sliced baby carrots
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken, preferably white meat
  • 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut in 2- by 1/4-inch strips
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups light cream
  • 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

For the waffles:

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal (regular, not coarsely ground)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

To make the topping: Trim and discard the lacy stalks from the fennel. Halve the bulbs lengthwise; cut out and discard the tough cores. Chop enough fennel to yield 1 1/2 cups.

Bring the broth to a simmer in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and carrots and cook for 10 minutes. Add the peas, and cook until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a knife, for about 2 more minutes. Strain the vegetables, reserving 1 1/2 cups broth.

Mix the vegetables, chicken and prosciutto in a large bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or less. Gradually whisk in the cream and the reserved broth.

Whisk until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon, for 4 minutes or longer. Stir in the lemon juice, fennel seeds and salt. Stir in the chicken, prosciutto and vegetables and season with more salt, if needed.

The creamed chicken can be prepared ahead. Refrigerate the sauce and the chicken/vegetable mixture separately. Reheat, combining the two in a large saucepan set over medium heat, stirring constantly.

To make the waffles: Heat a waffle iron. If you don't plan to serve the waffles immediately, heat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, salt and cayenne. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs until completely blended.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the milk-egg mixture, blending gently only until the ingredients are combined. Add the butter in a slow stream, continuing to blend until the butter is incorporated. The batter will be very thick.

Pour a generous 1/2 cup batter -- or more, depending on the size of the waffle iron -- into the waffle iron and, using a metal spatula or table knife, spread the batter to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Close the cover and cook for about 3 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Serve the waffles immediately, or place them in a single layer on racks in the heated oven while you finish with the remaining batter.

To serve, arrange a waffle on each of 6 dinner plates. Save extra waffles for another use. Spoon some creamed chicken mixture over each and sprinkle with the parsley.

Makes 6 servings.

Savory Wild Rice Waffles with Smoked Salmon and Chive Creme

This recipe is by chef Tom Douglas, Seattle restaurateur and cookbook author. His latest book is "I Love Crab Cakes! 50 Recipes for an American Classic" (Morrow Cookbooks, $19.95.) These waffles are great for breakfast or brunch. For an appetizer, cut them into quarters and serve each piece with a slice of salmon and a dollop of crème fraîche on top.

  • Kosher salt
  • Water
  • 2/3 cup uncooked wild rice
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon, lox or gravlax
  • 1 cup Chive Crème Fraîche ( recipe follows )
  • 8 fresh chive stems or 8 chive blossoms, for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the wild rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, for 25-30 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. You should have about 2 cups cooked wild rice.

Combine the flour, baking powder and soda and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. In another bowl, mix the buttermilk, egg yolks, melted butter and wild rice. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.

In an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the whites to soft peaks. Fold the whites into the batter, half at a time.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat a waffle iron. Coat the waffle iron with vegetable cooking spray to keep the waffles from sticking and cook the waffles until golden brown according to the manufacturer's instructions. Use about 1/2 to 2/3 cup batter per waffle. You should have 8 waffles. When all the waffles are cooked, place them on a baking sheet and warm them in the oven for 5 minutes.

Place a waffle on each of 8 plates. Lay a few slices of smoked salmon on each waffle and dollop with Chive Crème Fraîche or sour cream. Garnish with chive stems or blossoms.

Note: You can make the waffles a few hours ahead and leave them at room temperature. When you are ready to serve, reheat them in the oven as directed in the recipe.

Chive Crème Fraîche

  • 1 cup crème fraîche (see Note )
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh chives
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine the crème fraîche and chives. Season with salt and pepper. Keep refrigerated.

Note: You can purchase crème fraîche at some supermarkets, or you can make your own: Combine 1/2 cup whipping cream (not ultrapasteurized) and 1/2 cup sour cream. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 2-5 hours, or until it thickens. Cover and refrigerate for as long as 1 week.

Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing

So, where are the waffles• They are part of the stuffing for this recipe, which took the grand prize and won $1 million in this year's 42nd Pillsbury Bake-Off, held in March in Orlando, Fla. The winner is Anna Ginsberg of Austin, Texas, who was inspired by an old-fashioned chicken dinner. If desired, use leftover homemade waffles instead of the frozen sticks. Substitute 4 square waffles for the waffle sticks and 3 tablespoons maple-flavored syrup for the syrup cups.

  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 9 Pillsbury Dunkables frozen homestyle waffle sticks with 3 syrup cups (from 1 pound, 1.3-ounce box)
  • 2 tablespoons peach preserves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (1 pound)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4} cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon beaten egg white
  • 1 box (9 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed and drained; or 1 1/2 cups frozen cut leaf spinach (from a 1-pound bag)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped pecans

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch glass pie plate or 8-inch square pan with vegetable cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix the contents of the syrup cups from the waffles, the preserves and Worcestershire sauce. Place the chicken, skin-side up, in the pie plate and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Spoon the syrup mixture over the chicken.

Bake, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the waffle sticks until golden brown. Cool slightly, for about 2 minutes. Cut the waffles into 3/4-inch cubes; set aside.

Coat a 1-quart casserole with cooking spray; or, using a 9- by 5-inch nonstick loaf pan, but do not coat it. In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion; cook and stir for 2 minute or until tender. Stir in the waffle pieces and broth, breaking up the waffle pieces slightly to moisten. Sprinkle with poultry seasoning and sage.

Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Stir in the egg white and spinach. Spoon the stuffing into the prepared casserole. Sprinkle pecans over the top.

Twenty minutes before the chicken is done, place the casserole in the oven next to the chicken in the pie plate. Spoon the syrup mixture in the pie plate over the chicken. Bake the chicken and the stuffing, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes longer or until the juices of the chicken run clear when the thickest part is cut to the bone (170 degrees on an instant read thermometer) and the stuffing is thoroughly heated.

Spoon the remaining syrup mixture from the pie plate over the chicken. Serve the chicken with the stuffing.

Makes 2 servings.

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