Waffle makers make more than waffles

Waffle burger.
Waffle burger.

Will it waffle?

That was the question Dan Shumski set out to answer when he launched a blog in 2010 called Waffleizer (waffleizer.com).

Over the course of the next eight months, Shumski “waffled” more than 30 unexpected dishes, ranging from macaroni and cheese and pizza to chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon rolls.

Not all the projects worked as well as others, but Shumski, with the help of above-average cooking and photography skills, had enough success that last year he scored a book deal with Workman Publishing.

Shumski’s waffle book isn’t set to come out until next year, but I’d been itching for an excuse to buy a waffle maker and see what kinds of fun things I could whip up in there, and Mother’s Day seemed like as good an excuse as any.

Waffle makers get a bad rap as being one-trick tools in the kitchen, and inspiring cooks to pull their forgotten machines out of the pantry was one of the reasons Shumski started the blog.

But shortly after the blog launched, Shumski discovered a world of people who loved “to waffle” — yes, “waffle” is a verb in these circles — and he reached out to chefs, bakers, fellow bloggers, and even cookbook authors for their best waffle ideas.

A chocolatier friend of his in Chicago made s’mores, including homemade graham crackers, in her waffle maker, while another chef friend created what surely must have been the world’s first “bibimbaffle,” a version of the Korean dish bibimbap that has been pressed in a waffle maker.

Chocolate chip cookies were one of Shumski’s favorite waffle iron creations. “It’s not more difficult (than baking in an oven), but the result is so transformative, plus you can make a few at a time,” instead of a whole batch. (And, as a plus for those of us who don’t turn on our ovens during the summer months, it's an alternative to baking that won’t heat up the house.)

Shumski, who now has five waffle makers in his collection, says that the chicken-and-waffles revival is only part of the resurgence of interest in waffling. “It’s safe and accessible culinary artistry and experimentation,” he says. “It’s not exactly molecular gastronomy.”

The key to cooking in a waffle maker is a willingness to experiment. The first time I tried hash browns, I didn’t cook them long enough, but by the second round — when I cooked them for a whopping 25 minutes — they turned out so crisp and crunchy that I ate the entire disc of potatoes while standing at the kitchen counter waiting for the next project to finish up.

Given enough time in the machine, frozen hash browns work exponentially better than freshly shredded sweet potatoes and zucchini, which need some kind of binder like flour or egg to hold together, Shumski says. “Eggs makes things a lot more forgiving,” he says.

Eggs themselves are a pretty easy entry to waffle-maker cooking. On Shumski’s blog and the many Pinterest boards dedicated to out-of-the-ordinary waffles (waffle ice cream sandwiches, anyone?), I’ve seen eggs cooked sunny side up by leaving the machine open and cooking the egg on one of the heated surfaces, but I had better luck making an omelet.

My machine — a Belgian-style Presto FlipSide — holds three large eggs whisked with about ¼ cup of other omelet fixings (I used green onions and cheddar cheese), but you’ll need more eggs to fill out the larger waffle makers.

Sandwiches, maybe one with ham and Gruyere cheese, or quesadillas are some of the easiest things to press in a waffle maker just as you would in a panini press, but with the added advantage of even more surface area coming in contact with the bread or tortilla, adding to the crunch.

Another easy dish to make is cornbread waffles, which when paired with your favorite bucket of fried chicken and maybe a bottle of something pink and bubbly sounds like a great start to a picnic basket.

For a fun dessert or brunch dish, consider waffle bread pudding made with any kind of bread or even waffles or store-bought angel food cake. (If you make the latter, slice up some strawberries and toss them with a little sugar to serve on top.)

No matter if you’re making breakfast, lunch or dinner, consider whipping up a batch or two of regular waffle batter, even if it’s from a box, while the iron is piping hot and you’re in the kitchen anyway.

Once they cool, regular old waffles (or fancy ones with chocolate chips, strawberries, or pecans) freeze well and are easy to reheat for a quick weekday breakfast, which turns your one-day cooking session into a gift that keeps on giving.

Shumski says that waffled French toast is probably the safest waffle project because most of us already have a version that we make in a pan that is just as easy to press in a hot waffle maker.

But he was surprised to learn that waffled French toast isn’t as newfangled an idea as he thought when he first stumbled upon the dish on a food blog several years ago.

After he started his own blog, one of his readers emailed a waffled French toast recipe in an early edition of Joy of Cooking. Undeterred, Shumski published his own version of waffled French toast, a variation of which will appear in his forthcoming book. Shumski says the key is using slices of bread that are not too thick, otherwise they won’t cook all the way through.

“This recipe should make it onto a lot of weekend breakfast tables,” he writes. “Assuming you can wait that long.”

Waffled French Toast

3 large eggs

½ cup milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash of salt

6 slices of bread (sandwich, challah, or brioche work best)

In a shallow container such as a pie plate, whisk together all ingredients except bread. Soak a slice of bread in the mixture, flipping the slice to make sure the bread absorbs the liquid thoroughly. Waffle until golden brown. This should take about five minutes, though waffling time will vary depending on your waffle iron and heat setting. Serve with a pat of butter and maple syrup.

Yield: 3 servings

Source: Dan Shumski, Waffleizer.com

Waffled Omelet

3 eggs

¼ cup sliced green onions

2 tablespoons shredded cheese, such as cheddar

Pinch salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook's note: Unlike hash browns, omelets cook very fast in a waffle maker, so if you’re planning to make both, first cook the hash browns, which, if using frozen, will take about 20 to 25 minutes. (If you’re using fresh potatoes, squeeze as much of the moisture out of the shredded potatoes first.) You can put anything you’d like in the eggs; I just happened to use green onions and cheese this time. Three to four eggs will work for a small waffle maker, and don’t be surprised when the lid lifts up a little as the eggs puff up.

Preheat the waffle maker. Whisk together the ingredients in a small bowl and pour onto one of the waffle irons. Close the lid and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Yield: 1 to 2 servings

Source: Addie Broyles