In just over a month, Aug. 24 to be exact, tens of thousands fo Americans will be celebrating National Waffle Day. This day commemorates the day in 1889 that Cornelius Swartwout of Troy, N.Y., patented the first stovetop waffle iron. His invention was made of cast iron and had a hinged top with a handle. With this invention, waffles could be cooked quickly and the chance of burning your hands was somewhat reduced.
A decade later, around 1909, the Pearl Milling Company developed and marketed the first commercial pancake and waffle mix and called it Aunt Jemima. These two achievements brought waffles into the homes of thousands of Americans. But in 1918, General Electric’s electric waffle iron became available and quickly became a must-have kitchen appliance.
Americans are generally credited with making the waffle a breakfast staple. Soon, most families began creating riffs on the standard waffle with butter and maple syrup. We were making waffles with chocolate, strawberries and whipped cream, which we learned from the Belgians. We made thin, crispy waffles. We made fat, deep Belgian waffles. We added fruit to the batter. We added bacon to the batter. The waffle is just the perfect foil for experimentation. The range of toppings is endless.
How about this for a recipe that appeared in Robert Smith’s cookbook, “Court Cookery,” published in 1725?
“Take flower, cream, sack (sack is a type of fortified wine), nutmeg, sugar, eggs, yeast, of what quantity you will; mix these to a batter, and let them stand to rise; then add a little melted butter, and bake one to try. If they burn, add more butter. Melt butter with sack, refin’d sugar, and orange flower water, for the sauce.”
I don’t have a clue how this tasted, but I am going to try it. I’ll let you know. It’s probably good advice that when a dish fails, add more butter.
The website National Today published the top 10 favorite waffle toppings:
1. Maple syrup – 62%
2. Butter – 10%
3. Fresh fruit – 8%
4. Peanut butter – 4%
5. Fruit sauce – 4%
6. Nutella – 4%
7. Chocolate – 3%
8. Honey – 2%
9. Jam/jelly – 2%
10. Apple butter – 2%
Apart from the standard toppings, I like Greek yogurt with blueberries and honey, or Canadian bacon topped with a poached egg and hollandaise or chorizo topped with a poached egg and jalapeno cheese sauce or a fried egg topped with avocado and pico de gallo. I would be interested in what you like.
Waffles didn’t start out as a breakfast/brunch food. More often, they were a between-meal snack or a dessert. In France, waffles were bought from street vendors and eaten out of hand. The Dutch enjoyed them with tea and chocolate. And now many Americans have moved waffles away from the breakfast table and on to lunch and dinner.
Everyone knows the Southern classic chicken and waffles. Top a waffle with a fried boneless chicken breast slathered in Sriracha and honey. You might also top the fried chicken with avocado, pico de gallo and jalapeno-flavored agave nectar. Try topping your waffle with pulled pork, spicy barbecue sauce and coleslaw.
Using a 3-inch waffle iron, make ice cream sandwiches or bacon lettuce and tomato sliders. Almost anything you eat on a bun can be made with waffles to replace the bun.
The next evolution in waffle cookery is to use something other than the standard batter in the waffle iron. Your standard cornbread batter works very well, particularly if you add a little extra melted butter to the mix. I learned that from the guy in 1725. Make these cornbread waffles and top with chili, cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onions and crumbled bacon.
You can make a waffle out of macaroni and cheese and top with meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Or take your macaroni and cheese waffle and top with more mac and cheese. Enough is never enough.
After Thanksgiving, make a waffle out of leftover dressing and top with shredded turkey and gravy. Maybe add a little cranberry jam for good measure.
Robbi Patterson, my contact at the paper, shared that her mother used to make grilled cheese sandwiches in the waffle iron. Now, I’ve got to try that.
I have included a recipe for a basic waffle batter, although there are a lot of really good mixes on the market that will save you time so you can let your imagination to run wild and create your waffle-inspired masterpiece.
The recipe was updated July 17, 2019 to correct the baking powder measurement.