Why It Works
- Cold milk tempers the heat of browned butter for a warm start to the yeast’s long rise.
- The high ratio of liquid ingredients will produce plenty of steam, helping the waffles puff.
- A pinch of baking soda raises the batter’s pH, improving flavor and browning.
It often occurs to me, at approximately two o'clock in the morning, that waking up to brunch would be spectacular. This is generally after I've been up all night drinking Orlesian wine and slaying dragons, at which point I'm big on ideas and low on impulse control. Of course, by the time morning rolls around, even grinding coffee sounds like a chore, so I wind up eating toast.
To avoid that fate, I've developed an appreciation for the overnight waffle, a gift to my future self. Typical recipes involve proofing the yeast before getting started, then adding some whipped eggs after the first rise. However minimal, these two steps are at odds with my late-night spontaneity and morning sense of calm. With practice (lots and lots of practice), I've finally figured out the sort of recipe that even a bleary-eyed hero can pull together five minutes before falling into bed.
No proofing. No electric mixer. No whisking. No technique more complicated than melting butter. Okay, no technique more complicated than browning butter, but that takes only a few extra seconds. Once it turns foamy and golden, I splash in some cold milk, crack in an egg straight from the fridge, and stir in the remaining ingredients one by one. Between the hot pot and the cold ingredients, the temperature averages out to something nice and warm for the yeast...no proofing required.
From there, it's a simple matter of shoving it into the fridge and stumbling off to bed. While I'm dreaming of waffles, the batter itself is hard at work. Given enough time to swim around with milk and eggs, the starch and protein in flour will break down, slowly reorganizing themselves into something thick, spongy, and complex—in terms of flavor, texture, and color.
In the morning, all I've got to do is roll out of bed and plug in my waffle iron. The batter's wet enough to virtually explode with steam when it hits the iron, creating its own "oven spring," so to speak, even without the help of whipped egg whites. For that reason, it's crazy important that the batter has room to grow up inside the waffle iron instead of out, or else all that energy will be spent re-creating Niagara Falls with molten waffle batter.
Overflow isn't just a huge mess; it's a recipe for dense, soggy, cakey waffles. This is true of any recipe, so if some never seem to turn out quite like the picture or the reviews, portion control (or lack thereof) may be to blame. As a general rule of thumb, I've found an ounce of batter for every inch of waffle diameter to be a perfect fit. (For square waffle irons, I just measure the diagonal. It's not an exact equation, but it's accurate enough for my needs.)
You don't even need a scale to figure it out—just a basic formula that would make my seventh-grade algebra teacher proud. Here's how it works. If X is the total weight of the batter in ounces and Y is the diameter of the iron in inches, then X / Y = Z, where Z is the number of waffles you can make on a given machine. For example, using my recipe (a little more than 23 ounces) on my eight-inch Cuisinart (it's 12 inches on the diagonal, including the space around the edges), I can get two batches (23.4 / 12 = 1.93). On the seven-inch round Belgian KitchenAid iron at Serious Eats, I can get three!
That doesn't mean measuring out three perfect portions, only that roughly a third of the batter should be scraped into each round. If you're not a mathlete, don't worry about it. Just err on the side of caution, and aim to cover no more than half the grid. The waffles may not reach the very edges after you close the lid, but they'll be ethereal and crisp. Plus, no wasted batter or messy cleanup! Just perfectly baked waffles.
Some of that gorgeous color comes from baking soda, which I include to regulate the pH of the batter and add flavor. I've explored this function in depth with Irish soda bread. Even without acidic ingredients like buttermilk, a bit of alkalinity can help waffles turn out chewy, moist, and golden brown.
In short: the sort of waffle of my dreams.
They're airy and light, with a hint of nutty richness from brown butter and a thin but crispy crust all around, far more like bread than cake. That makes them perfect for soaking up rivers of maple syrup, and, with spring in the air, I can't resist topping them with lemon chantilly and fresh strawberries, too (although certain nameless Serious Eaters opt for fried chicken instead).
So, regardless of where you fall on the sweet-to-savory spectrum: Stay up late, sleep in, and chow down with the real breakfast of champions.
For the Waffles:
3 ounces unsalted butter (6 tablespoons; 85g)
3/4 ounce sugar (4 teaspoons; 20g)
1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt (for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight)
10 ounces cold milk; any percentage will do (1 1/4 cups; 280g)
1 large egg, cold
7 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (1 1/2 cups; 210g)
1 1/4 teaspoons (4g) instant dry yeast (not rapid-rise)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Safflower, vegetable, or canola oil for greasing the iron, if needed
6 ounces lemon chantilly (1 cup; 170g) (optional)
10 ounces fresh strawberries (2 cups; 280g), washed and sliced (optional)
For the Batter: Melt butter in a 3-quart stainless steel saucier or saucepan, stirring and scraping with a heat-resistant spatula as it bubbles, and cook until golden brown. Remove from heat and immediately stir in sugar, salt, and milk, followed by egg. Sift in flour and stir until smooth. Add yeast and baking soda last, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight, between 12 and 18 hours. The batter should be gooey and spongy at this point.
For the Waffles: Set waffle iron to medium and preheat until the indicator is ready; if using cast iron, brush lightly with safflower, vegetable, or canola oil. For an 8-inch square machine, scrape in half of the batter per batch. For a 7-inch Belgian machine, scrape in about one-third. Close lid and griddle until golden brown but still steaming, 5 to 7 minutes depending on the depth and heat of your machine. (Cooked waffles can be held on a rack in a 200°F (90°C) oven while remaining batches are cooked.) Serve immediately with maple syrup, lemon chantilly, and/or strawberries.
From size and depth to heat settings and materials (cast iron versus nonstick), waffle irons vary considerably from brand to brand; a small test waffle is a low-risk way to determine how the batter behaves on your machine.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 2 to 3|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 28g||36%|
|Saturated Fat 16g||79%|
|Total Carbohydrate 85g||31%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||8%|
|Total Sugars 29g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|