This recipe is nothing new. It was first published, as far as I can gather, in 1896 in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer and has since been fussed over and had its virtues extolled by more food writers, newspaper dining sections and food bloggers than it has not been. It’s the equivalent Proust’s Madeleine/Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread/Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookie*/Hey, Did I Tell You About The Time I Killed My Own Dinner? of modern food writing.
But even if I’m not going to be making an unprecedented mark on the home cooking conversation today, it would be a glaring omission not to share it here as well because there’s so much that’s very important about it. The first is the book it hails from, the late, awesome Marion Cunningham’s Breakfast Book. Do you know anyone who just got engaged/about to get married/just moved into their own apartment/thinks they want to start cooking/trying to drop a hint to their significant other that certain meal shifts are up for grabs? What better place to start than at the top of the day, and this is the book everyone — yes, girls and boys — needs on their shelves. It covers all bases. It makes people happy. These are respectable cooking goals.
The second is that if you, like me, have been plagued by waffle mediocrity — chewy, monotonous squares that are exciting in shape only — I suspect that the reason is that you have not made these yet. These are like no waffle I’ve ever known. This is not pancake batter poured in a grid mold; this is not cake. This is a cross between the finest yeast doughnut you’ve ever sunk your teeth into and a rich brioche roll. The edges are as golden and crisp as the outermost layer of puffed pastry and the center is as rich as pudding but as airy as a soufflé. The aroma is that of freshly baked challah and the flavor is something of a malty croissant — not sweet, but so complete in its complexity, you might even forget to drizzle it with syrup. It sounds heavy, yet they have all the heft of a paperclip. I mean, come on, there’s no way you’re still reading and not on your way to the kitchen, right?
Third, the magic ingredient is anything but mystical. It’s not any of the usual suspects, lemon zest or vanilla extract or a pinch of cinnamon (there’s, in fact, none of the above), sugar (there’s only enough to feed the yeast, not sweeten the batter), yogurt or sour cream or flour so finely ground, little angels must have sneezed it out. The batter is as predictable as any could be — flour, salt, milk, eggs and a somewhat spectacular amount of butter — but two things, yeast and a good night’s sleep, change everything. The almost one-bowl batter you mix before you go to bed and leave on the counter is ready for you when you wake up. I kind of want to give it a standing ovation.
Finally, everyone needs this recipe in his or her repertoire because it fits squarely within my single entertaining philosophy that everything that can be made in advance, should be. And can be. With recipes like this, pretty much all you have to do in the morning is sleep in, put on something cute, turn on a waffle iron and “preview” the mimosas while it does most of the work. It’s something of a breakfast miracle.
* Right, now some of you are probably mad that you hadn’t heard of this flourless, butterless peanut butter cookie recipe and how could I keep it from you? Here you go. I’ve made them; they’re okay, just not my favorite. That would be these.
One year ago: Bacon, Egg and Leek Risotto
Two years ago: Creme Brulee French Toasts
Three years ago: Homemade Pop Tarts, Cabbage and Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts and Leek Bread Pudding
Four years ago: Ranch Rugelach and Cinnamon Raisin Bagels
Five years ago: Brownie Roll-Out Cookies and Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad
Six years ago: Corniest Corn Muffins and Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Essential Overnight Raised Waffles
Adapted, only in language, from Marion Cunningham’s Breakfast Book, where it was adapted from an old Fanny Farmer cookbook
I’ve gushed enough about the smell/texture/flavor/ease of this recipe so let me cut right through to the scary part: Cunningham, terrifyingly, instructs us to leave the batter — a batter with milk! and yeast! — out on the counter overnight at room temperature. She gives no schedule for this (what if your kid lets you sleep in?!) and doesn’t even give mention to the whole won’t-the-milk-go-bad? thing. I — no surprise — am a little more panicky about what’s unsaid in recipes. I made it the first time as she instructs. Oh man, it looks FUNKY in the morning, and the smell, well… How could it be right? I made it a second time, letting it overnight in the fridge, as many writers have interpreted since. Here’s what you need to know: both work but the one that fermented at room temperature came in miles ahead in the flavor category. It had an unmistakeable sourdough (yeah, I know, not the word you want to hear about room temperature milk baked goods) vibe. I became instantly obsessed with the flavor. The flavor from the fridge batch was excellent, but no comparison. Proceed as you wish (both methods are tested and work) but do please consider the original room temperature method. It’s just better.
And if you’re not yet convinced that you need to make these, consider this: They’re patient (you could sleep a little or a lot, the batter will still be ready for you in the morning.) They’re easy, and use ingredients you probably already have around. The batter keeps in the fridge for days, extra waffles can be frozen and reheated in a toaster and just-cooked ones stay warm and crisp in a low oven for as long as it takes for everyone else to straggle in. Oh, and they taste like the greatest thing since gridded breakfast bread.
Yield: Marion Cunningham says 8 waffles, but waffle irons vary widely by volume; I felt it made a whole lot, enough to serve 4 to 6. The photos shown are from a halved batch, which is a much better fit for our family of 2 adults + 1 preschooler.
1/2 cup warm water (about 105 to 110 degrees, so not too hot)
1 packet (1/4 ounce, 7 grams or 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups milk, warmed (again, not too hot
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until lukewarm
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Oil or melted butter for waffle iron
Powdered sugar, syrup or berries for serving
The night before: Pour warm water in the bottom of a large (larger than you think you’ll need, because the batter will rise a lot) bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and let it dissolve and foam ever-so-slightly for 15 minutes. Stir in milk, butter, salt, sugar and flour — I do a little bit of wet ingredients then a little bit of dry, back and forth, to avoid forming lumps. If lumps form, you can mostly whisk them out.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set out on counter (see Note up top for debate on this) overnight.
The next morning, whisk in eggs and baking soda until smooth. Heat waffle iron** (a thinner one is better than a Belgian-style one, as these will not rise enough to fill a tall one out) and coat lightly with butter or oil. Ladle in 1/2 to 3/4-cup batter per waffle batch. The batter will be very thin and will spread a lot in the pan, so err on the side of underfilled until you figure out the right amount. Repeat with remaining batter.
Waffles can be kept crisp in a warm oven until needed. If you only want to make a few at a time, the batter keeps well in the fridge for several days, says Cunningham.
** I suspect someone will ask me here about the waffle iron I use. It’s this one. I bought it last year when I was working on a story about breakfast egg sandwiches (which I just realized never ran, hmm) and I wanted to make one with waffles. I honestly do not care for it or any waffle iron I’ve ever owned for one reason, a reason that makes me a little shouty: why don’t waffles irons have removable plates for washing?! I have yet to see one and cleaning them is such an ordeal; this is the only waffle recipe I’ve loved enough that it has felt worth the bother.