I'm not usually a fan of single-purpose devices, but with waffles, avoid the temptation to buy a waffle maker that doubles as something else. Waffles require very specific settings, and the compromises you'll make for a multipurpose device aren't worth it.
You'll want a cast-iron or nonstick model. Whether or not it flips is up to you. Some swear they get better waffles from a flip model because gravity forces the raw batter into the other side when you flip, and it cooks more evenly. But a quality non-flip model will do the same. Electric makers that beep when it's done are best because it lets you keep cooking other things without watching for an indicator light or steam. America's Test Kitchen recommends the Chef's Choice 840 WafflePro. (Amazon, $67)
Important: Read the directions from cover to cover. This isn't about safety (though that's a point to be made); it's about understanding your tool so you can truly have the perfect waffle. Also, never use metal utensils on a nonstick surface, or you'll eventually ruin it.
The best waffles have a lot of fat — over a tablespoon per waffle. And you might find this hard to believe, but vegetable oil is better than butter or shortening. Thinner batters create crispier waffles.
For the perfect crisp and airy waffles, you'll have three bowls to start with: most of the wet ingredients (including the egg yolks), most of the dry ingredients and a final one for egg whites and sugar.
Beat the egg whites and sugar into very stiff peaks. You're essentially making whipped cream, so don't be shy. There are three reasons to do it this way. Not only does the sugar act as a stabilizer so the whites don't dissolve as fast, but the sugar creates friction, which softens them, making it easier to fold in later. Additionally, all that air you're beating in is going to go into your final waffle batter, ensuring a tender fluffiness beneath the crisp.
Buttermilk is vital to the flavor of the perfect waffle. It's OK to do half buttermilk and half regular milk (in fact, the milk will be thinner and make the waffles crispier). But don't try to substitute all milk or a mix of milk and vinegar or lemon juice here. Buttermilk also has more fat, which is important for your waffle's texture.
Yes, I did. A little cornstarch protects the waffle and keeps it from getting soggy while you're cooking the rest.
Both are leaveners, which means they cause breads to rise when other ingredients (activators) are present. Which you use is a matter of preference. Baking soda will bring out the buttermilk flavor, whereas baking powder will eat some of the buttermilk (that's what activates it) and cause a slightly better rise. Regardless of what your recipe calls for, you can usually switch them depending on what you want.
Adding a little vanilla or a liqueur like amaretto adds just a hint of flavor and sweetness to the mix. If your recipe doesn't call for it, just add it to the egg whites when you beat them.
Repeat after me: It's OK for waffle batter to be lumpy. That's your mantra as you're mixing dry and wet ingredients. Stir until the mix just comes together, then carefully fold in the egg whites in three or four batches to avoid deflating your whipped cream.
Even if you're using a nonstick iron, you should still grease the cooking surfaces to ensure the waffle slides right out. Cooking spray works if that's all you have, but brushing vegetable oil over it works best. You'll need to do that between waffles (probably all of the first few) as needed.
The first waffle is always a test to make sure you're using the right amount of batter and that it's browned to your liking.
The waffle (or the waffle iron) will tell you when it's done. Do not lift the lid to check it, or you'll ruin the waffle. If your iron has an indicator light or sound, use that. If not, the key is the steam. Once the steam stops coming out of the side, the waffle should be finished.
Not only will you want to keep the waffles warm while you make the rest (so everyone can eat together), but the oven actually reinforces the crispiness. Set your oven to around 200 degrees F. All the waffles, including the last one, need at least 5 minutes of oven time. Place them directly on the (clean) oven rack in a single layer (stacking = soggy).
If you have leftovers, you should also use this method (with a higher temperature of 300 degrees F) to reheat them (microwave reheating = soggy).
While your last waffle is in the oven, clean the waffle maker. Seriously, it cleans up easily if it's still a little warm. Just be careful, and don't burn yourself.
Unless you like the play of cold against hot, most toppers should be room temperature or even warm when you use them.
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