This essay originally appeared in WIRED. It started as a joke, some colleagues were making fun of national waffle day and I said, yes, that is a dumb fake holiday, BUT, waffle irons are awesome…. I told them our chocolate waffle cake story and they asked me to write it up. So I did. This version is a bit different, I expanded some things and added links to other luxagraf stories that readers might enjoy.
Everyone has some useless kitchen device they love. My parents love their mango peeler, I have a friend who swears one of those multi-edge brownie pans is the bomb. There’s even an all-in-one breakfast sandwich device which, if Amazon reviews are to be believed, is loved by many.
Our version of this is the waffle iron. Except that The waffle iron is not the one trick pony you think it is. It’s capable of making everything from burgers to hash browns to chocolate chip cookies. And of course, chocolate waffle cake.
My first encounter with non-standard things in a waffle iron came at a campground. My family and I had recently moved into our 1969 Dodge Travco motorhome to live full time on the road. I gutted and restored the RV, but one thing I never got around to fixing was the oven. It was on my list of things to do, but honestly, living in a vintage RV, that’s a perpetually long list and things like brakes tend to take precedence.
One day in a New Orleans campground some fellow travelers, Taylor and Beth, had us over for dinner. It was too hot to run an oven in you RV, so they served up cornbread waffles. I’m pretty sure if you’d been there you could have actually heard the ding that went off in my head when I saw the cornbread waffle. If you can make cornbread in a waffle iron, what else could you make?
Traditionally, the waffle was a leavened bread-like thing, made from a dough rather than the runny batter we’re used to now. It seems to have grown out of a Greek tradition of cakes cooked between two pressed together hot plates. From there, the idea of pressing batter between plates spread through Europe. Europeans started adding yeast to make a leavened dough, and eventually the hot plates found their modern grid pattern. The French were early waffle pioneers, though the Dutch soon dominated. Now, the word “waffle” is often preceded by the word “Belgian.”
We were not waffle traditionalists though, just a family without an oven looking for a good way to make cakes and cookies. After that first encounter with cornbread in a grid, we grabbed the cheapest waffle iron we could find and began to experiment.
We started with what we knew, replicating the cornbread waffles. We tinkered with the recipe until it was just right and then moved on. Our first homegrown success was chocolate waffle cake. The brilliance of cake as a waffle is that all those dents fill up with frosting. To this day, even when we have access to ovens, like in Mexico, my kids want chocolate waffle cake for their birthdays.
After the cake success I was more or less satisfied. Corrinne however, has continued to experiment and come up all sorts of things. Banana bread (excellent). Chocolate chip banana bread (even better). Chocolate chip cookies (still searching for perfection here). Later she tried hash browns (tricky, but can be good), and became slightly obsessed with trying just about everything in a waffle iron. Remarkably, nearly all of it all has worked. Or possible two years of ovenless life makes your palette more forgiving.
We quickly discovered that we were not the first waffle iron lovers. There was a blog, Wafflizer.com, now known as Will it Waffle, which spawned a cookbook of the same name. There were other cookbooks, though we haven’t tried any of them because experimenting — especially with kids eager to learn to cook — is more fun.
Often we discovered that companies themselves had recipes adjusted to work in waffle iron. We found a cornbread mix that mentioned that the secret to better cornbread waffles was more oil (this is actually true in a broad sense, though you don’t want to get carried away).
When I sat down to write this for WIRED I realized there’s a whole internet world of waffling enthusiasts. Daniel Shumski, author of Will it Waffle, includes recipes for things as exotic as Miso-maple glazed salmon, waffled tamali pie, and even filet mignon. Honestly, we haven’t tried any of those, though the tamali pie strikes me a potentially awesome.
You probably have an oven, so why bother waffling? It’s fun. Kids love the experimental, bending of the rules aspect to it. That said, if we had an oven we’d probably use it. Still, odds are you have a waffle iron tucked away somewhere in your kitchen, neglected and sad in the darkness of a far cabinet. Pull it out and put on the counter with pride. Try waffling something unexpected.