These are insights ABOUT waffles and the 30/30 Waffle Experiment. These are NOT actual insights from the waffles themselves. Experience has taught me that once they’ve been flash-baked in a super-hot iron, waffles have painfully little to say (at least nothing of any real importance, anyway).
I really just want to pass along notes as we go. There are things I’m discovering as I undertake this challenge, and I want to share those discoveries with you to assist in your use and enjoyment of my recipes, as well as to add to your own arsenal of culinary knowledge as you expand and experiment and charge forth on your own creative journeys.
I’m also discovering, as I go through a great many familiar steps over and over, but with a refreshed approach, or as I’m approached by my Food Daddy Foodies in the blog comments or personal inquiries, that there are things fitting into three distinct categories of “Why I Haven’t Already Told You This”:
- I didn’t realize there were options that others realize
For example, Nancy from Albany asked if the butter used in a frosting recipe was salted or unsalted. Duh on Daddy! Just because every time I place a grocery order I automatically click on the 1-lb. block or 4-stick box of unsalted, it does NOT mean that’s what you have or plan to stock in your own kitchen. I forget sometimes that not everyone can hear what’s being discussed in my own head, which I chalk up to the fact that when you talk such as I do, 24/7, leaving very little to anyone’s imagination, you forget that the world is not actually privy to your OWN imagination. This also leads into the second:
- I have personal preferences I forget are not universal
Like the butter example above, certain choices have become second nature over time either out of habit or through actual trial and error leading to definitive “winners” among my most commonly used practices, ingredients, equipment, and such. Flour is another example. I keep whole wheat flour in a huge container, as my main “go-to” flour. If I’m making a batch of pancake batter or baking up a couple dozen muffins, this is what I use. For those particular purposes. But because I find definite drawbacks to whole wheat when it comes to things like making a beshamel sauce or thickening a gravy or making a light and voluptuous popover, I also keep a smaller supply of unbleached white all-purpose flour on hand. And because the distinctions are so vivid and necessary in MY understanding of things, it’s perhaps completely egotistical but not at all surprising that I’d simply reference “flour” and assume you know which one to use. You may indeed have your own preferences depending on the application; you may be a lost little lamb expecting much more guidance than my glib, one-word ingredient directive offers. In either case, I am learning that for someone who tends to use dozens of words to oversimplify an already simple concept, I have to be much more aware of when further explanation is not garnish, but main course. And finally…
- There’s a high degree of streamlining to be found in standardizing certain options I did realize exist
We’re talking waffles here. So let’s use waffle batter as an example to explain this last realization. If I have time, I prefer to make my waffles and pancakes from scratch. Whether or not the finished product tastes better than a commercial mix is certainly up for debate, but I like the flexibility and variety to be had in making it myself. Sometimes I want some buckwheat, sometimes I want a sweeter batter or a more buttery crumb. I can control these variations with my own ingredients. But box mixes are at once time-saving, consistent, and reasonably fool-proof. So I always have box mix on hand. And to be honest — and this sort of element of my existence leads friends to think there’s evidence of a schism in the time/space continuum in my life, because such seemingly unnecessary abundance should NOT be so commonly present in a studio apartment in midtown Manhattan — I generally have FOUR or FIVE different prepackaged mixes at my disposal. Now, before you think I’m a hoarder or merely (though admittedly) obsessive-compulsive, each one has its own reason to be. Let me also say that no matter what they call themselves, I call them all “Baking Mix” because, essentially, the stuff in the box or bag is composed of grain milled into flour, a leavening agent, salt, often times a sweetener, and sometimes shortening. So be they “waffle mix” or “pancake mix” or, depending on the brand, “self-rising flour” or the self-appointed blanket label of “baking mix”, they can all provide similar results with a bit of tweaking depending on the application. So yes: I have one box I keep in the refrigerator that calls itself “Complete”, and to make a batch of pancakes all I have to do is add some water. When I sleep in on a Sunday and awake to a 16 year-old who has stopped just short of eating a box of tissues and a bottle of chocolate syrup for breakfast rather than disturb his exhausted Dad, I can jump up and say a heartfelt “thanks, Bud!”, and even with stopping to pee and wash my hands, it’s still just a few short minutes before a plate of home-cooked comfort is sitting on the table in front of him. If I’m making breakfast for a bunch of people, or baking (and not completely from scratch) and have a bit more time, I use a “Baking Mix” product. But I admit, I have TWO of those (one is also in the refrigerator) and they’re both THE SAME BRAND; but one is the brand’s ORIGINAL variety, and the other is its Lower Fat and Cholesterol counterpart. When I’m feeling old-school I use the first; if I’m actually going to eat what I’m cooking for the gang, I will use the latter, so I feel that much less guilty (though not THAT much) for the departure from my normal eating habits. I also keep a specialty mix on hand — Swedish Pancake mix, or Multi-Grain baking mix, or Buckwheat Belgian Waffle mix — and will tap into that on occasion. And, finally, I have a sack of gluten-free baking mix on hand at all times because I myself, though sometimes I pretend this is not the case, have a severe intolerance to gluten, and I have enough people with gluten sensitivities or outright celiac disease in my life that this is always an essential. But again, because I am never satisfied and seem to have New York City’s most expansive studio apartment in history, I also have a canister housing, safeguarding and displaying my own homemade gluten-free baking mix. But all of this being said (and in far too extensive an essay already) I neither expect nor recommend you yourself keep all of these different products, nor are they necessary for our purposes in the 30/30 Waffle Experiment — especially since you aren’t necessarily waffling along with me daily, but finding and bookmarking a recipe or two for later use. So my choosing an “All-Purpose” product to use when box mix (and not scratch) is called for in these recipes will make it easier for ME to assure the consistently good outcome of these recipes, and for YOU to try your hand at several different varieties without quickly being made to feel that you need a rift in the time/space continuum running through both your pantry and your bank account to accommodate my kitchen whims.
See what happens when I have two cups of coffee early in the morning? Food Daddy + Caffeine = Please Shut Up Already, Goddammit.
To the point, finally…
- Butter is always unsalted. You can always add salt to a recipe whereas you cannot suck salt back out. If it’s all you have, or your preference is for salted, just omit any other salt called for in a recipe; if the butter hasn’t provided enough salt to your taste, add a bit more salt back into the recipe. Look at the POWER I just gave you.
- If it’s not a scratch recipe and a batter is based on or includes a traditional waffle mix, I will be using and highly recommend BISQUICK. I love this stuff. It’s what I have open in both the original and heart-smart varieties at all times. I will say, though, that through the years I’ve waffled back and forth between BISQUICK and, though it calls itself “self-rising flour” instead of “baking mix”, PRESTO brand. Comparable results. But though I love the “hasn’t changed in 60 years” look of the PRESTO box, I grew up on BISQUICK and sometimes a Food Daddy just wants his mommy…
- Unless I give you a specific order of operations, it’s always safe to assume that you should mix your wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately, and then add wet into dry. Once mixed, add-ins if used are then added. But I try to make this process clear in each recipe.
- Err on the side of under-mixing. There’s something magical about waffle mixes. You dump a pound of powdery stuff in a bowl, dump an egg and some liquid in, basically do little more than tap the side of the bowl and you have a lumpy, inconsistent bubbling glob that somehow turns into divine, fluffy, moist-yet-crispy-coated baked bits of wonder. Maybe that’s overpromising, but with most simple quick-bread type batters and doughs you don’t want to over-mix because you develop too much of the gluten (the grains’ proteins) causing too “doughy” or elastic a consistency. But this consistency IS necessary for certain things to turn out right, and it goes from being a bad thing to a good thing, and thus when something really has to be worked well I’ll mention (in sweeter and more professional terms) that you should really beat the shit out of a batter for our desired results.
- Know your waffle iron. I’m a creature of habit and familiarity. I live with my stuff and love my stuff. A vase, if I love it, is on display with flowers in it or not at all times. I need to know it’s there, and the same color it was yesterday, and ready to receive flora at a moment’s notice. The same with my kitchenware, and especially the ones that affect the outcome of a product by definition. A plate just has to lay there and be flat and keep gravy from dripping through your fingertips when you hold meatloaf on it. But things like my oven, my baking sheets, my food processor, my panini press — they all have quirks, personal constitutions, strengths and deficits that must be understood, respected, capitalized upon or circumvented. My waffle irons are no exception. And yes, I used the plural. I had four, but when I moved to my new apartment I pared down to two: the Belgian and the Multipractic, which by way of the Heaven-sent removable plate innovation is both easier to clean and able to dedicate itself to making different items, from sandwiches to square waffles to Pizzelle. But I know how each operates. I know that setting the Belgian to “6″ (its max) means a very crisp, dark outside in a sugar-heavy batter, that “4″ is the no-brainer for the common waffle, and that wetter, denser, but not tightly-bound batters will need a double-length ride to achieve a consistency that’s both palatable AND easily removed from the griddle. These sorts of things you learn about your tools by using them. Experience both asks the questions and listens to the answers. And I know my stuff well. I can assure you that by the end of the 30/30 Experiment, I will have developed such intense familiarity with my Belgian Waffle Iron that even the Tea Party movement wouldn’t wince at the prospect of our marrying legally.
And while I’m certain to think of more notes and insights as we go along, one final thought:
- WHY WAFFLES? I’ll tell you why. First, portion control is built in. The iron tells you “break here” for an individual serving, be it your very own square or rectangle, or a wedge of the round variety. But much more importantly, a waffle iron cooks — and perfectly — baked goods that otherwise in other forms in other appliances (including the oven or a stove-top pan) would take much longer with much less consistent results. It provides a center that’s heated through and an outside that is deep and golden and crisp. There’s more surface contact than on a baking sheet or in a skillet, because top, bottom and sides, every inch has a direct heat source applied to it. And the heat is consistent over the whole surface so there are no undercooked spots and overcooked spots and then that one really good spot for your inner Goldilocks that’s just right. The depth and width, because of the pattern of divots pressed into your waffle, are the same across the entire waffle. If you look at its array of squares as a grid of walls and floors, the whole building is built to the same scale with walls and floors a consistent thickness — so unlike a soft pretzel which has you savoring the thick, doughy knot in the center, a waffle gives you the perfect bite in EVERY bite. And because of all those “walls and floors” — greater surface area if you were to take out your teeny tiny tape measure — every positive adjective you could apply to the exterior of your waffle… golden brown… crispy… crunchy… smooth… caramelized… applies to much, much more — the ENTIRETY, actually — of your finished product.