Recipes: How to Make a Grain-Brilliant Waffle
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Early fall a year ago, having collected a cupboard full of grains, flours and meals, I gave in to my obsession to come up with a grain-brilliant waffle.
Haunted by the leaden doorstops of this genre, the baker in me became insistent on creating a quick bread that is both tender and hearty, made from a recipe that uses two bowls maximum. I single-handedly ate all the iterations, of which there were a dozen or more, for months on end.
In the process, I became fixated on juggling lots of flours, meals and grains; it was a shaky tightrope walk to get those ingredients to behave. One or two basic waffle batters of mine, perfected years ago, were reconfigured to become my "house special" wholesome-enough-waffle, perfect for brisk mornings. Then I presented the winning waffle to a few friends, who confirmed its deliciousness. (Bonus: The waffles freeze beautifully when individually wrapped, so you can enjoy them anytime.)
By now, friends, colleagues and loyal readers have come to understand my irresistible impulse to keep going on a batter or dough, so don't say I haven't given you fair warning about the details of my discovery:
Batter No. 1: Determined to keep the mixture light, I began with a fairly loose one made with plenty of buttermilk, several eggs, oil and a mixture of four flours and two meals. Ground organic cane sugar was included to boost the flavor and brighten the taste. The mixture was leavened with a combination of baking powder and baking soda. As the soupy batter seeped out of the edges of the closed waffle iron and poured out all over my work surface, I realized that the ratio of flour to liquid would have to be adjusted, as would the type and quantity of the flours used. All-purpose, oat, whole-wheat and buckwheat flours, along with cornmeal and flaxseed meal, proved to be a potent mix, even with the tenderizing effect of the buttermilk. The buckwheat flour overwhelmed, even when used in moderately low quantity, deleting any wheaty, oaty flavor. And the waffle tasted flat.
Batters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6: Working on flavor and texture simultaneously is not so easy. I unleashed the characteristically buttery, nutty flavor of two flours made from age-old grains -- kamut and spelt -- into the batter, replacing the buckwheat flour with one, then the other, then both. Three batters of this kind later, it is important to note that either one or the other should be used, not both, and in an amount significantly less than the bedrock flours -- oat, whole-wheat and all-purpose. These are flavorful, wonderfully responsive flours, but they can skew some batters if used in a major role.
(In a side test, I prepared a homemade oat flour from the old-fashioned variety in two different devices and concluded that the "body" of the batter could be compromised texturally if the flour is not fine enough. Unless you use a grain mill, it's preferable to buy oat flour.)
Rustic and sturdy whole-wheat flour offered a level of density and taste to a batter but seemed a little too rugged; once whole-wheat (a.k.a. "whole-grain") pastry flour, with its "softer" profile, replaced its more substantial relative, the overall complexion of the batter improved. Then, it was back to the kamut or spelt and to review those amounts against the quantity of cornmeal. Cornmeal rounded out the flavor of the batter, but it required a subdued role (the object was not corn bread) to balance texture. And even with the earthy sugar, the waffle still tasted dull.
Batters 7 and 8: With an adjustment of buttermilk and a generous slosh of vanilla extract (I like a full two tablespoons), and almost-equal amounts of all-purpose, oat and whole-grain pastry flour (the most successful formula used a dominating amount of 1 1/4 cups all-purpose, along with 1 cup each of oat and whole-grain pastry flour), the batter had enough heft. At last.
However, the "crumb" of the resulting waffle seemed flawed somehow: a little flabby, a shade texturally uninteresting. From ongoing experience with quick-bread batters, I found that whole-milk yogurt behaved like buttermilk but enriched the mixture differently (that is, created a gently caky quality), so a portion of the buttermilk was replaced with this soft cultured product. Yet, even with the yellow cornmeal adding to the rhythm of the batter, an elusive something was still missing. It was then that I turned to golden flaxseed meal, with its distinctive flakiness, to balance the cornmeal and add another plane to the batter. Nice.
Batter-and-griddling 9: At last, the expression of the flours and meals, balanced by enough liquid and the protein-fat content of the whole eggs, raised with the right type and level of leavening agents (here, a mixture of baking powder and baking soda), and turned into a batter with a few swift strokes, is ready to be griddled between the grids of a hot waffle iron.
Right? Not so fast.
Having experimented with two waffle irons of shorter depths, I produced the best-textured specimens in a round, fairly deep, Belgian-style waffle iron. From it, you lift a handsome four-section waffle, golden on the outside, exquisite within.
So this is the waffle batter I'll turn to for serving with apple wood-smoked bacon, slices of frizzled ham or simply with a pour of warm maple syrup and big dabs whipped salted butter.
I had to get the butter in there, somehow.
Recipe: Waffles of Many Flours and Meals
Lisa Yockelson is the author of "ChocolateChocolate" (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). Her new book, "bakingStyle," will be published by John Wiley & Sons in 2011.