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Exploring Waffles: A History and Recipes

Updated on May 11, 2017
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

In the Beginning

Water, rock, grain, fire—Anthropologists tell us that in the Neolithic Age (8,000 years ago, plus or minus a few centuries) these four simple components were used to make waffles. (Insert eye-roll here.) Let’s get real! Those primitive cakes were a far cry from the honeycomb-patterned breads we recognize today as waffles. And I’m not saying that because they didn't use whipped cream or maple syrup. There were no plates or griddles. Coarse slurries of grain and water were “baked” on hot rocks.

From Wafers to Waffles

With the Iron Age (800 B.C.), tools and flat griddle-like plates came into being. Centuries later, (about 1,100 B.C.) the ancient but innovative Greeks were cooking grain wafers (which they called obleios) between two hot metal plates. By the Middle Ages (400 to 1,000 A.D.), those obleios had become so popular that smart salespeople (they called themselves obloyeurs) were selling them from street vending carts (I will take the high road and refrain from saying that these wafers were selling like hot cakes).

However, wafers (or obleios) were not simply the food of the Greeks; what happens in Greece doesn’t stay in Greece. The rise of the Roman Empire, the increase of merchant trade routes, and probably even the spread of Christianity were all part of expanding the popularity of wafers throughout the Middle East and Europe.

In Medieval Europe, communion wafers (eucharist) were commonly manufactured by nuns; they were used not only for the celebration of Mass but also as a “fasting food” since they contain no animal products (eggs, lard, milk, butter). However, members of the nobility had the ability to supplement the tastes and texture of these “humble” wafers with the inclusion of expensive flavorings such as sugar, spices, and orange blossom water (pleasure in self denial?). By the 13th century wafers were a common part of royal cuisine.

But, these still were not “waffles.”

Finally, in the 13th century, someone had the brilliant idea of embellishing the wafers by cooking them on patterned iron plates. This might have begun with the inscription of communion wafers (eucharist) with the cross of Christ. The most common secular pattern was the honeycomb of course. And guess what? The Dutch word for honeycomb is “wafel”. Finally, the waffle is born.

A Work of Art

Today we laden our waffles with a myriad of toppings, but in mid-millennium Europe they were eaten out of hand. Waffles were easy, inexpensive, and portable; probably a ubiquitous part of every meal, the daily bread. So common were waffles, they even appeared in the paintings of some of the Dutch masters. Look closely at the painting by Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aertsen.

Dutch Kitchen Scene, Joachim Bueckelaer
Dutch Kitchen Scene, Joachim Bueckelaer | Source
The Pancake Bakery by Pieter Aertsen,1560
The Pancake Bakery by Pieter Aertsen,1560 | Source

The Waffle Traveled Westward

Of course when Europeans began to cross the Atlantic, they took their waffle recipes and waffle irons with them. Here's a brief timeline of what happened next:

Timeline of the Waffle in America

  • 1725 – The word waffle (two f’s) appears in print in Robert Smith’s cookbook Court Cookery
  • 1740 – Colonists in New Jersey and New York are having parties which they named “wafel frolics”.
  • 1789 – While on a trip to Europe, Thomas Jefferson (who was at that time our ambassador to France) purchased a waffle iron in Amsterdam; waffles became a common treat at his home at Monticello.
  • 1869 – Cornelius Swartwout of New York obtained a patent for the first stove-top waffle iron.
  • 1889 – Aunt Jemima pancake and waffle mix was sold for home use.
  • 1911 – General Electric obtained a patent for the electric waffle iron.

And Then Someone Had a Great Idea!

In 1932 brothers Frank, Anthony, and Samuel Dorsa began a food-manufacturing company in their parents’ basement. Their first success was a fresh ranch egg mayonnaise which they named “Eggo Mayonnaise.” They also developed a waffle batter which they sold to restaurants, and later a dry waffle mix (just add milk). Soon they were able to move production from the family basement to an abandoned potato chip factory.

In the 1950’s the life (and financial success) of the Dorsa brothers took a dramatic turn. Frank invented a device that would create hundreds of waffles quickly and effortlessly; they were then packaged, frozen, and distributed to grocery stores. Waffles could now be enjoyed in the same amount of time it takes to simply toast a slice of bread. The brothers named their creation “Froffles” (a portmanteau of frozen and waffle). But eventually the name was changed to, you guessed it, “Eggos.”

Are You Hungry?

All of this talk about waffles is making me hungry. And I have good news—waffles are not just for breakfast. Innovation, inspiration, and imagination have us using our waffle irons not only at the start of the day, but for lunch, snacks, dinner, and dessert.

Recipes in this article:

  • Basic waffle recipe
  • Best Belgium waffles
  • Chocolate brownie waffles
  • Cinnamon roll waffles
  • Cornbread waffles with chili
  • Leftover stuffing waffles
  • Peanut butter waffles with peanut butter syrup
  • Waffle omelet

Recipes

Basic Waffle Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup oil

Directions

  1. Lightly grease and preheat your waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions.
  2. Whisk dry ingredients together in large mixing bowl. In a separate container (l like to use a large glass measuring cup) beat the egg yolks, milk, and oil until well combined.
  3. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture; add the egg mixture all at once and stir just until dry and wet ingredients are combined. Don't over beat; a few lumps are OK. If you overwork the batter your waffles will not be light and fluffy.
  4. Beat the egg whites in a small mixing bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the batter in the large bowl. Stir just until blended; don't worry if a few streaks of egg white remain.
  5. Follow the directions for your specific waffle iron for the amount of batter and time needed to bake your waffles.

Best Belgium Waffles

The people of New York boast that Belgium waffles were introduced to America at the 1964 New York State Fair. I have another story—and mine is true! According to Historylink.org:

On April 21, 1962, Belgian waffles make their American debut at the Seattle World's Fair. The waffles, which are fluffier and lighter than regular waffles, are served up with strawberries and cream by chef Walter Cleyman at two stands, one of which resembles a small chalet. The tasty treat becomes a huge hit at the fair.

Unlike the basic waffle recipe, Belgium waffles contain yeast, but don't let that scare you away from making them. I'll be right here to help you.

Ingredients

  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast (not rapid-rise or bread-machine yeast)
  • 3 cups cup warm milk, divided (zap in microwave)
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup (1 and 1/2 sticks) butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups flour

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of the warm milk. Let stand until the mixture is light and bubbly, about 5 to 10 minutes.creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, melted butter, the yeast/milk mixture, sugar, salt, vanilla, and another 1/4 cup of warm milk.
  3. Stir in the remaining 2 1/2 cups milk alternately with the flour, ending with the flour.
  4. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks; fold into the batter. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  5. Lightly grease and preheat your waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions.
  6. Follow the directions for your specific waffle iron for the amount of batter and time needed to bake your waffles.

Chocolate Brownie Waffles

Source

This recipe relies on packaged pancake mix instead of making waffles from scratch. Why? Because I have a craving for chocolate and I want these right now! (And a scoop of vanilla ice cream would make these absolutely perfect).

Ingredients

  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup chocolate-flavored syrup
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 cups pancake mix

Directions

  1. Lightly grease and preheat your waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions.
  2. Beat together egg, milk, chocolate syrup, and oil.
  3. Place pancake mix in large mixing bowl, make a well in the center of the mix and pour in the eggs/chocolate mixture all at once. Stir just until blended.
  4. Follow the directions for your specific waffle iron for the amount of batter and time needed to bake your waffles.

(Adapted from recipe by Better Homes and Gardens).

Cinnamon Roll Waffles

Source

Rose blogs about faith, family, finances, and food; she created this easy-peasy cinnamon waffle using Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. Can't you just smell the warm cinnamon?

Cornbread Waffles with Chili

Source

Brandie is a Navy brat, wife, mom, blogger, and the genius behind these cornbread waffles. And if that isn't enough, she tops them with chili and "all the fixin's". Yum.

Leftover Stuffing Waffles

Source

I never cook my stuffing in the turkey (because my daughter is a vegetarian AND I roast my turkey low and slow). A casserole dish in the oven is the way to go in my kitchen. And to me, the best part of the stuffing is that edges--those crispy bites on the top and in the corners.

There is always stuffing left over after the Thanksgiving meal, and (of course) it is the soggy inside part. This recipe for leftover stuffing waffles by Kelly turns your sad, cold, leftover stuffing into an entire serving of amazing crispy stuffing!

Peanut Butter Waffles with Peanut Butter Syrup

Source

My children LOVE peanut butter--PBJ sandwiches, peanut butter toast, peanut butter cupcakes or cheesecake or pie for birthday celebrations. Why not peanut butter waffles? And syrup too?? Kara shares DIY tutorials, crafts, decorating ideas, and recipes.

Waffle Omelet

Source

This dish is everything you want at breakfast, it's a waffle, AND it is gluten free. Camille's recipe does include a product promotion, but I'm not promoting her blog for the product. I just happen to think that her idea of cooking an omelet (and goodies) in a waffle iron is genius!

© 2017 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

      And I was interested in Elvis. Oops, I'm letting my age show {{wink}}.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 5 months ago from Central Florida

      I was only 5, Diva. All I really remember is walking through the parking lot with my favorite stuffed bunny, holding my parents' hands. I also remember an elephant ride, but for some reason, I think I was younger and the ride took place in a shopping center parking lot.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna - I saw that same episode of "You're Eating it Wrong" and I think putting falafel dough in a waffle iron is genius. They would certainly get crispy. Gosh, now I'm hungry.

      Like you don't remember the food at the Seattle World's Fair. I was more focused on finding Elvis (his movie was being filmed when we were there).

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 5 months ago from Central Florida

      Diva, I was at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962! However, I have no idea whether or not I had the infamous Belgian waffle. I have some memories of the fair, but none of them are about food.

      I saw a commercial recently for a show called You're Eating it Wrong and they made a waffle falafel. How ingenious! You make mini sandwiches out of the four sections of waffle and add your tzatziki sauce, chopped veggies, etc. I think it would be much easier to eat falafels in that form, rather than big balls thrown between pita, don't you?

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Thanks Flourish. Let's put some double fudge brownie ice cream on top and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 6 months ago from USA

      OMG brownie waffles. Love that idea! And I thought waffles with mini chocolate chips and pecans, topped with butter syrup and whip cream were decadent. Tweeting this!

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning and TMI dear Bill. I won't make you eat waffles any other way than the good old traditional butter and maple syrup. Have an awesome Thursday.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love waffles...maple syrup only, thank you very much. I don't like pancakes, but it has something to do with how bloated they make me feel afterwards. I knew you were just dying to know that. LOL

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Spanish Food - Thank you for your comment--that's exactly what I strive to do. As for the brownie waffles? It's never too late to start.

    • Spanish Food profile image

      Lena Durante 6 months ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      Food history is so interesting. I always find that knowing something about the origins and development of a modern dish help me to enjoy it so much more!

      Also, brownie waffles? Where have I been?

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 6 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thanks for that. It would be a wonderful tradition to start with my son. I think you are right to use caution in anything that might spark trouble with simple traditions - sometimes that is just why we have them, the beauty of the familiar.

      I would shoot Friday night special.

      I just love how you really lead the way in keeping us true to the love of cooking and eating together.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 6 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I am surprised to see that you beat billybuc to the finish line; you're the first to comment on this beautiful morning. My husband and older daughter have a tradition of making waffles together every Monday morning (since his retirement).

      However, that said, they never stray away from the tried and true standard recipe. Do you think they might allow me to play with a few of these? (I especially want to make the stuffing waffles).

      I hope you have a great day.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 6 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Fantastic. Waffles are awesome. A great history on this one. Now where did I put my waffle iron. Thank you for another wonderful tasty article.