Posted by: oysterculture | April 8, 2009

Waffles – honeycombs for flavor

taking in the view and tucking in the waffle

taking in the view and tucking in the waffles

Waffles are definitely a staple of many Americans diets and very traditional for brunch in the United States.  They are mostly considered a sweet food, but every so often they show up in some unexpected savory places.  Waffles are at the top of my list of yummy breakfast food.  Whoever developed those little wells to capture the sweet syrup and other concoctions that we place on our waffles, was genius – pure genius.  When I came up with the idea of writing a post about waffles, I thought it might be quick and easy – but the more I dug, the more I found that the love of waffles spans cultures and countries.

waffle is a batter-based cake or dough-based bread cooked in a waffle iron patterned to give a distinctive and characteristic shape.  Dozens of European regional variations exist  depending on the type and shape of the iron and the recipe used.  In the Americas, frozen waffles such as Eggo are popular along side the more traditional forms.  Many family-style hotels in the United States offer self service breakfasts, that feature freshly made waffles.  A heated waffle maker is ready accompanied by some waffle batter to provide a warm, “home made” breakfast for the traveler. 

Medieval origins

The modern waffle has its origins in the wafers – very light thin crisp cakes, baked between wafer-irons – of the Middle Ages.  Wafer irons consisted of two metal plates hinged together, with each plate connected to an arm with a wooden handle. The iron was placed over a fire, and flipped to cook both sides of the wafer. These irons were used to produce various flat, unleavened cakes (usually a mixture of barley and oats, not the white flour used today).  In 14th century England, wafers were sold by street vendors called waferers.  The modern waffle is a leavened form of of these wafers.

“Wafer” and “waffle” share common etymological roots. Wafre (wafer) occurs in Middle English by 1377, adopted from Middle Low German wâfel, with change of l into r.   Modern Dutch wafel, French gaufre, and German Waffel, all meaning “waffle”, share the same origin. The Dutch form, wafel, was adopted into modern American English as waffle, in the 18th century.

Medieval waffle laws

In medieval Europe, vendors sold their waffles outside of churches on saint’s days and during other special religious celebrations.  Competition at the churches was fierce, and at times so violent that King Charles IX of France imposed a regulation on waffle sales, requiring vendors to maintain a distance of at least “deux toises” (6 feet) from one another.

Varieties of waffle

American style waffles overlooking the Pacific

American style waffles overlooking the Pacific

American waffles (aka “Belgian Waffles”, or as they were originally know Bel-Gem Waffles)  based on Brussels waffles, are made from a batter leavened with baking powder, rather than yeast. They are usually served as a sweet breakfast food, topped with butter and syrups, or honey, but may be found in many different savory dishes, such as fried chicken.  They are generally denser and thinner than the Brussels waffle on which they are based. These “Belgian Waffles” were invented for Americans by Brussels restaurateur Maurice Vermersch, who sold them under the name “Bel-Gem Waffles” at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair.  Belgians do not actually make “Belgian Waffles”.

The Brussels waffle is generally lighter, thicker, crispier, with larger pockets compared to other waffles.  Their waffle irons consist of a rectangular or circular 3″x5″ pocket grid.  Street vendors sell them warm, dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and perhaps topped with whipped cream or chocolate spread – nutella also works very well.  They also might show up as a dessert with fruits or ice cream.

The French gaufre dates back to medival times when street vendors sold them on religious feast days.

The Liège waffle (from the city of Liège in eastern Belgium) is a richer, denser, sweeter, and more chewy waffle. They are cooked from balls of dough in rectangular waffle irons.  Invented by the chef of the prince-bishop of Liège in the 18th century, using brioche bread dough, they feature chunks of pearl sugar, which caramelize on the outside of the waffle, when baked. They are the most common waffle in Belgium and are prepared in plain, vanilla and cinnamon varieties by street vendors. Because the pearl sugar makes up a whopping 20-30% of the waffle’s weight, no syrup is required.

The Hong Kong style waffle, in HongKong called a “grid cake” or “grid biscuits” (格仔餅), is commonly sold by street hawkers and eaten warm on the street.  They are similar to a traditional waffle but larger, round in shape and divided into four quarters. They are usually served as a snack. Butter, peanut butter and sugar are spread on one side of the cooked waffle and then it is folded into a semi circle to eat.  Egg, sugar and evaporated milk are found in the waffle recipes, giving them a sweet flavor. They are generally soft and not dense. Traditional Hong Kong style waffles taste strongly of egg yolk.  Different taste variations abound with chocolate and honey melon being common.

japanese fish shaped waffles filled with chocolate cream

japanese fish shaped waffles filled with chocolate cream

The Japanese took to waffles with such enthusiasm, they have not one, but two versions:  the Taiyaki and the moffle.  Japanese fish style waffles are called Taiyaki and commonly have red bean or custard filling.  The little guy in the picture had a wonderful milk chocolately filling that was the perfect ending to an equally delicious lunch.

The waffle, in typical Japanese fashion, has been dissected and re-concocted.  Replacing wheat flour of western cultures, gooey rice paste, mochi, is the secret ingredient.  Japanese chefs have created the moffle.  Given the rice paste, not surprisingly the moffles tastes like mochi, and are sweet or tangy, depending on the ingredients blended with the paste.  However, unlike dry mochi rice cakes, moffles are crisp on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside.  The moffle reach extends beyond the humble waffle in terms of uses. It is not just a breakfast item with sweet syrup, or a desert with ice cream and chocolate fudge sauce, it is also used as a bread for sandwiches, or cracker substitute with sushi.

 Stroopwafels (Dutch: syrup waffles) are thin waffles with a syrup filling. They were first made in Gouda in the Netherlands, during the 18th or 19th century. The stiff batter for the waffles is made from flour, butter, brown sugar, yeast, milk, and eggs.  When the waffle is baked, and while it is still warm, it is cut in half. The warm filling of syrup, brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon, is spread in between the waffle halves, which binds them together. They are popular in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Swedish style waffles are thin waffles made in a heart shaped waffle iron, and found throughout Scandinavia. The batter is similar to other varieties. The most common style are sweet waffles with whipped or sour cream and strawberry jam or berries on top. In Norway, brown cheese is also a popular topping.  They have a savory side too, like crèpes, some prefer different mixes such as blue cheese. The Swedish tradition of eating waffles dates back till before the 16th century, with a special day dedicated to the waffle called Våffeldagen, which falls on Lady Day – sometime between 22 and 28 of March.

United Kindom has their potato waffles.  Potato waffles are popular as a savoury food that is formed from oil, seasoning and, of course, potatoes.  There are many different recipes for the potato waffle requiring baking, toasting, frying or grilling.


photo from 4.dp.blogspot

photo from 4.dp.blogspot

Wafers are very similar to a waffles, beyond just the name – think of wafer cookies or ice cream cones.   Unlike a waffle, they contain no levening agent, so wafers are crispy as opposed to the soft and thick structure of the waffle.

Italian Pizzelle (pronounced with ts sound, like “pizza”) (singular pizzella) are traditional Italian cookies made from flour, eggs, sugar, butter or vegetable oil, and flavoring (often vanilla, anise, or lemon zest). Pizzelle can be hard and crisp, or soft and chewy depending on the ingredients and method of preparation.  

Pizzelle were first made in the Abruzzo region of southern Italy. The name comes from the Italian word for “round” and “flat” (pizze); which also means pizza. Many other cultures have developed a pizzelle-type cookie as part of their culture. It is considered one of the oldest cookies, and is believed to have derived from the ancient Roman crustulum.  Pizzelle are known as ferratelle in the Lazio region of Italy, and in Molise they may be called ferratelle, cancelle, or pizzelle

The batter is poured onto a pizzelle iron, which resembles a waffle iron. Typically, the iron stamps a snowflake pattern onto both sides of the thin golden-brown cookie, which is crispy when cooled.  Several brands of ready-made pizzelle are available in stores.  My mother and our neighbors held pizzelle parties where they made large quantities to share with their families during the holidays.  We kids stood back and waited, knowing we would ultimately enjoy the fruits of their labors.  Pizzelle are popular during the Christmas and Easter holidays.  They can also be found at Italian weddings along with other traditional pasties (e.g. cannoli) and cookies.  It is also common for two pizzelle to sandwich cannoli cream (ricotta blended with sugar) or hazelnut spread.   

Sweet Potato Waffles (makes 4 waffles)

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown

  • 1 1/2 c peeled and cubed sweet potatoes
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 c milk
  • 1/4 c firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 c butter, melted
  • 2 T grand marnier
  • 1 T grated orange rind
  • Vegetable spray, for waffle iron


Steam potatoes for 20 minutes of until fork tender.  Mash cooked potatoes and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In another bowl combine the sweet potatoes, milk, brown sugar, butter, grand marnier and grated orange rind.  Stir the sweet potato mixture into the flour mixture and thoroughly combine. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually fold egg whites into batter 1/3 at a time (the batter will be thick).  Using a No. 20 scoop, place 2 scoops of batter onto a pre-heated, oiled waffle iron, and cook until lightly browned, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Enjoy!

Cooking Note:  According to Harold McGee, many people make the mistake of substituting pancake batter for waffle batter and concequentlyhave results that do not meet expectations.  This is because, to achieve the desired crispness, a high proportion of fat, sugar or both is required in the mix.  Othewise the batter essentially steams rather than fries and the floer proteins and start absorb too much of the water and the surface of the waffles toghens to the point that when describing texture, leather comes to mind.

Big Sur, California

just another lovely site around the bend

just another lovely site around the bend

The waffle photos featuring the Pacific Ocean in the background were shot in Big Sur, California.  If you have never visited, it is truly spectacular.  Mother Nature was working overtime when she made Big Sur.

Big Sur is a section of coastline running along Highway 1.  It is about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Several parks, each with their own claim to a beautiful beach, are found along the route along with many famous hotels and other establishments. Given the draw of the beautiful scenery, the rich and famous have made the area their home.

One famous stop is Nepenthe a restaurant with an incredible view, that has been featured in some famous films.  Writer, cook and food stylist, Romney Steele touches on what it was like to grow up with this restaurant in the family in her book – My Nepenthe.

heading south

heading south

At the southern end of Big Sur, lies Hearst Castle – an incredible man made endeavor and today a booming commercial enterprise.  At the base of the hill leading to the castle is a tourist center with a museum and restaurants.  From there, you can take a tour bus to the castle for more exploration.

This area is justifiably famous for siteseeing, and at certain times of the year, whale watching is de riguer.  Hiking and exploring are wonderful ways to work up an appetite.  Many people camp.  On our last trip, we stayed in yurts, at the Treebones Resort.  We were fortunate to have great weather, a friend who stayed at the same resort in April said it would have been more appropriate to name it “Freezebones”.  If you drive, fill up your gas tank before you get to Big Sur, the gas stations are few and far between and while the Europeans might not blink at the prices they are a good $3 more per gallon than you would get outside of the area.



  1. When I was a kid, my preferred way of eating waffles was not with syrup, but with powdered sugar. A LOT of powdered sugar. I’d invert the sifter/container of the sugar and tap it, tapt it, and tap it, until a snowstorm of sugar covered my waffle, and a huge dust cloud of powdered sugar filled the air. My oldest brother would look on in amazement at the spectacle. I would only smile happily.

  2. That sweet potato waffle sounds tasty. I’m going to try that.

    Japan town here in LA has a place that sells a version of Taiyaki, though it doesn’t look like a fish, but has a red bean paste filling and looks like a hockey puck in shape. I was hesitant the first time I tried it, but after the first time I wanted to get another one. It’s really taste and not too sweet.

  3. I wish I were in Big Sur right now–eating waffles! The sweet potato version sounds delicious. I love it when every last indentation has some pooling syrup.

  4. I’ve never seen such variations of wafers shapes. The common one here is just the circular one. Thanks again for this great article. I’ll remember them the next time I eat waffle.

  5. Waffles are my hubby’s favorite. He bought me a villaware heartshaped waffle maker for Valentine’s Day many years ago (I think it’s gathering dust in a closet somewhere). So yes, I am pretty lazy when it comes to making waffles and I’m likely to reach for a chocolate chip Eggo instead of making them from scratch! But I’m printing out your sweet potato recipe to surprise Kris one day.

    I’ve never had a moffle before, but I’ve been lucky enough to try the taiyaki in Singapore at a chain called Mr. Oban Yaki (almost forgot about that). I had something similar to the tayaiki in Malaysia, but they weren’t fish shaped (wish I could remember the name of them, I ate so many!)

    And of course we had to try a famous Brussels waffle (with chocolate) while in Bruges in 2003 – delicious. My Italian neighbors often make pizzelles at Christmas time (and will sometimes give us a container of cookies if we’ve been good neighbors for that year).

    p.s. I slather peanut butter and strawberry jam on my waffles!

  6. OK, I just went through my photos from Malaysia, those snack things were called “Tokiwado” and they came in local flavors like red bean and pandan. Here’s a link:

  7. As usual I love the information…have been wanting to make the sweet potato waffles, love stroop waffles to death, makes me miss Amsterdam and the whole Holland experience in my early twenties!

    Hell I just love to travel and eat my way around the world, lol

  8. Foodgal, Sounds like a precursor to my beloved funnel cake. I’ll have to give it a try.
    B+B: I think I love Taiyaki in all its forms, I’ll have to check out the LA versions for research purposes =)

    Lisa – I highly recommend waffle eating in Big Sur. Especially after the trail runs that we did – nothing like working up a mighty appetite before digging in.

    Zerrin – I learned a lot while writing this post, I did not quite connect how they were all related and the many versions myself.

    Phyllis – thanks for the research, I’ll have to check out the Malaysian version I was scared to do too much digging in case I found myself up to Part IV of waffles.

    Elizabeth – I thought this one might appeal to your scientific research nature =)

  9. Ah, Big Sur, sigh – so long since I’ve been there!

    I’m also sighing a little about my lack of waffle iron. Like I need another piece of kitchen equipment 🙂

  10. Hey there -thanks for the message! No baby yet, actually – which is why I’ve been avoiding the blogosphere. 🙂 Mom is in town and I’m trying my darndest to keep distracted and busy until the little guy makes his entrance. Apparently my due date was off by a week so I’m not as “late” as I thought…will definitely keep you posted. 🙂

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