Welcome to the Part I of the Waffle Bake Off series, in which we search for the best ever yeast waffle recipe (which, coincidentally, science says are the best kind).
Although my sweet breakfast item of choice is typically–you guessed it–pancakes, I do love waffles. I have many fond childhood memories of eating toasted Eggo waffles–we’d eat them either drizzled with syrup or chopped into small squares and eaten with milk like cereal (did anyone else do this)?
However, I’ve never quite found my ideal homemade waffle–I like my waffles a little sweet (like syrup-optional sweet), but texture is usually the main issue. Homemade waffles can often turn out a little soggy and listless; I went into this bake off looking for something more akin to diner-style waffles that stay crisp and firm with a toothsome bite (i.e. not overly airy) and an interior that can be custardy, but not spongy.
Most recipes required an overnight rest, save for two; I prepped all 7 of the batters the night before, and made Chef Steps and Byron Talbott’s recipes the morning of. Each waffle was made fresh in a Belgian waffle maker and tasted immediately afterwards. I had a purposefully smaller group of tasters this time (similar to when we were finding the best pancakes), with just 11 friends helping to taste and rank each waffle. Each taster was allowed to taste the waffles either plain or with syrup (as long as they were consistent throughout the tasting) and ranked each waffle on a scale from 1-10 for flavor, and 1-10 for texture.
Ingredients: Gold Medal all-purpose flour, King Arthur Flour pastry flour, Kroger butter, McCormick vanilla, Diamond kosher salt, Kroger sugar, SAF Red instant yeast, and Fleischmann’s active dry yeast.
Waffle maker: I used this Farberware waffle maker (the one my roommate happens to own) for all the waffles tasted in this bake off. My friend also brought this Cuisinart vertical waffle maker to use as a back up, which we tested after the bake off. Once we figured out how to work the vertical cooking method, I actually really liked it–it makes it much more fool-proof in terms of how much batter to use by using the dedicated scoop rather than eyeballing it your batter. And it cooked much more evenly than the Farberware one.) More on waffle makers later!
A quick note on terminology: I use the following terms quite a bit and figured it would help to define them:
- “Belgian waffle makers” = makes deep-pocketed waffles
- “Traditional waffle makers” = makes thinner, American-style waffles (the fact that thin waffles are an American tradition was news to me!)
This note from Serious Eats may help!
“Although there are dozens of varieties of “Belgian” waffles alone, for marketing purposes, thicker waffles with deeper wells are considered Belgian, while shallow, thinner ones are categorized as American or “regular.” Both American and Belgian waffles can be made in either a circle or a square shape, so it’s up to you to decide which form is more waffle-y to you.” – Serious Eats
The grand majority of yeast waffles I found on the internet seemed to be a variation or very similar on the version from updated The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, rewritten by Marion Cunningham. This includes recipes from Barefoot Contessa, Cook’s Illustrated, Mark Bittman, Two Peas & Their Pod, Food & Wine, and more (see my Google spreadsheet for all the recipes I scraped). But there were a few interesting variations that used buttermilk, heavy cream and diastatic malt powder which I included.
Although I omitted liege waffles from this bake off (since I figure they deserve their own category), I did include Molly Yeh’s challah waffles even though they are basically liege waffles because a) they’re not explicitly liege waffles and b) I’ve made and loved them before and wanted to see how they stack up.
Here are the results!
Yes, it was probably unfair to include Molly’s waffles in this bake off because liege waffles are so obviously THEBEST. But there she is. At the top. Where she belongs with her waffled challah dough and caramelized pearl sugar. But also, for a non-liege-style waffle, Stella’s waffle on Serious Eats is off the chain and I’m excited for you guys to try it!
Although I typically rank items according to an average of the overall flavor/texture ratings, I decided to rank these waffles according to flavor. This is primarily due to how drastically different waffle makers can affect texture (more on that below!). If you ranked the waffles according to overall averages, Serious Eats would win, followed by Bon Appetit, Molly Yeh and Byron Talbott.
As you can see, the recipe composition chart doesn’t really yield any clear insights into why certain waffles performed better than others. Serious Eats/Food 52/Mark Bittman and Bon Appetit/Smitten Kitchen have nearly identical composition breakdowns, yet varied wildly in overall standing. As usual, the higher fat recipes generally (but not always) trended towards the top, as did sweeter recipes–but flour (aka dry ingredients, including cornstarch) and hydration didn’t seem to matter.
A couple factors that I think affected the rankings:
- Sweetness preference: Most yeast waffle recipes seem to err on the less sweet side and it seems that most of my tasters preferred waffles on the sweeter side (hence the gravitation towards waffles with a higher % of sugar). I think this is due to actual taste preference combined with the fact that some were tasting the waffles plain. If you’re the type to douse your waffles in syrup anyway, or to pile them high with fruit, and other toppings, sweetness probably won’t be as important to you.
- Waffle maker: Figuring that everyone would be coming to this bake off with a different waffle maker, I didn’t consider the implications of using my roommate’s Farberware Belgian waffle maker until I tried my friend’s traditional machine and realized the difference that it makes. I think some of the looser, wetter batters fared worse in this bake off because a Belgian waffle maker leaves so much room for batter expansion–where the thicker batters were able to fill up the interior volume with starch, the liquidy batters simply had less starch (per volume of batter that you can pour into a maker without overflowing), so they basically expanded into crispy air. In a traditional waffle maker where there’s less space to expand, so whether you use a thick or thin batter, you’ll still likely end up with a waffle with a satisfying bite. I try to note below which waffles I think would fare better in a traditional machine!
Molly Yeh’s Challah Waffles: Molly calls these waffles “challah waffles” with a “nod to liege waffles.” Just like challah, the dough is enriched with eggs, both honey and sugar, and it was the only waffle recipe to use oil rather than butter. It also, of course, includes pearl sugar, as liege waffles do. Virtually everyone loved this waffle, cementing the fairly universal opinion that liege waffles are best–how can you not love those little pops of sugar? Many loved the caramelized sugar that glazed the exterior, and most said it was perfectly sweet, no syrup necessary (with a 24% sweetener ratio (this included honey, sugar and pearl sugar) against an average of less than 1%, that’s no wonder!). It also had the highest % of flour (39% against an average of 30%), making for a waffle that’s denser, chewier, and breadier than most–in a good way. “It’s the perfect texture of a traditional waffle–crisp outside, soft and chewy inside, but not so chewy that you can’t cut it with a fork,” said one taster. “Crisp on the outside–though not crisp like toast–and fantastic chew. Found my waffle soulmate,” said another taster. The only downside? “Almost too hard,” said one taster. Indeed, although this waffle is very substantial with a satisfying, dense bite, it’s almost more “tough” all the way through than it is crispy on the outside, especially once it cools. But hot out of the waffle iron? They’re sugar-laden heaven.
Make these if: You like sweet, dense, crispy-edged, slightly bready waffles studded with pops of sugar that are reminiscent of a remixed liege waffle. These are a bit labor-intensive (be prepared to scrub down caramelized sugar from your waffle maker afterwards) but worth it!
Which waffle maker to use: Belgian.
Serious Eats’ Overnight Brown Butter Yeast Raised Waffles: FINALLY Stella gets her due! Consider this waffle a tie for first place and she has developed an undeniably great waffle here that performed well even in our less-than-ideal waffle maker–nice golden color, crispy on the outside with a tender bite, and a beautifully buttery flavor. As Serious Eats recipes go, this one is not too complicated–the most involved step is browning the butter. With about ~53% hydration, this waffle was just the right level of substantial (i.e. not overly airy) and fared perfectly as a Belgian waffle. Tasters praised this waffle for having the “best light and fluffy yet still substantial texture” with “buttery undertones.” “Tastes like a traditional waffle with syrup,” said one taster, which is perhaps the best compliment one could receive. “Crispy and fluffy, a wonderful vessel for something buttery/flavorful,” said another taster. “Perfectly balanced, ready for sweet or savory,” said another. That pretty much says it all: these waffles are easy to make, easy to eat and ready for any occasion. Put them on your to-make list ASAP!
Make these if: You like buttery, perfect waffles. They do require an overnight rest, but will be ready to go first thing in the morning. Aside from browning butter, these couldn’t be easier to make!
Which waffle maker to use: Belgian or traditional.
Bon Appetit’s Yeasted Brown Butter Waffles: Coming out of the maker, these waffles didn’t look too different from the rest, but as soon as they hit the table, the tasters erupted with praise and delight. Alison Roman happens to be the recipe developer behind these waffles (and is also the developer behind the winning stuffing recipe), and she appears to have riffed on the Marion recipe by adding more butter, browning it, subbing in buttermilk for the water, and increasing the salt by just 1/4 teaspoon. Alison has a strong track record for using salt to devastating effect, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a number of tasters commented that these waffles tasted “saltier” and even a little “savory and cheesy”–but in a good way. Most loved the “luxuriant,” “light but still hearty” texture and the balance of salt once syrup was added. “Great texture, airy and not too crisp with a good chew,” said one taster. Even though the picture on Bon Appetit’s website shows a traditional (not Belgian waffle), this version turned out very well in our Belgian waffle maker. There is a bit of a yeasty flavor that comes through in the aftertaste, but it’s not overwhelming (and you can probably reduce this by resting the dough in the fridge rather than on the counter).
Make these if: You love light yet substantial waffles that aren’t too sweet–these could easily go sweet or savory. Aside from browning the butter, these are a breeze to throw together.
Which waffle maker to use: Belgian or traditional.
Byron Talbott’s Belgian Waffles: Even though Byron Talbott isn’t a blogger I was familiar with before this bake off, I selected his recipe since his waffle base had a uniquely high proportion of sugar (12.42% vs. an average of 4.88%!) for a non-liege waffle (we obviously omitted the chocolate chips)–I had hopes that this might turn out similar to a liege waffle minus the difficulties of waffling pearl sugar. I was sure I had made a mistake when the waffle maker turned out a pale, doughy waffle, but this actually turned out to be one of my favorite waffles! The flavor was actually not too far off from a liege waffle–it kind of tastes like brioche with the texture of a pancake–but the texture wasn’t quite there. In the Farberware waffle maker, this came out as a rather soft and flabby waffle (though it crisps up nicely if you reheat it, and may perform very differently in a different machine) that is mildly sweet and doesn’t taste very yeasty at all. After all, this was one of two recipes that doesn’t require an overnight rest, though it does call for a 1.5 hour rest. Once toasted, it’s a good grab-and-go waffle as it doesn’t really require syrup the way most of the other barely-sweetened waffles do. Tasters loved that this waffle was “dense, chewy” and “wonderfully sweet and hearty.” Tasters agreed that it was sweet enough on its own without syrup (perfect for a dessert waffle), though several commented that it was “too chewy” and that they wished it was crispy on the outside.
Make these if: You love a soft, doughy waffle that’s sweet enough to eat without syrup. This doesn’t require an overnight rest, though it does require a 1.5 hour rest.
Which waffle maker to use: Belgian or traditional.
Chef Steps Crispy Yeasted Waffles: Another crunchy waffle with tons of tiny, lacy air bubbles in a golden batter, this was the only other recipe we tried that does NOT require an overnight rest (you can rest it for as little as 10 minutes! And up to 2 hours–I rested mine for about an hour). On the downside, it requires diastatic malt powder (I purchased some from the Modernist Pantry) which most people probably don’t have on hand. (The malt powder helps brown the waffles and is probably not totally necessary–you could probably omit if you must.) I preferred this over Smitten Kitchen/Ruth’s recipe, most likely due to the less yeasty flavor. Tasters seemed to agree, noting the “lacy, light and airy” texture that managed to retain “good chew/crisp balance.” One noted it tasted “like a crumpet,” though another noted that it was “too airy, can’t taste a lot of flavor.” Overall, this is a picture-perfect waffle with an incredibly crispy texture. I can see why this is Chef Steps-worthy, though I personally prefer my waffles a bit doughier.
Make this if: You want a crispy waffle that’s not too yeasty-tasting, and you don’t want to wait overnight for the dough. It also makes a TON of waffles.
Which waffle maker to use: Belgian or traditional (for a less airy waffle).
Smitten Kitchen’s Essential Raised Waffles: I used Deb’s iteration as the representative of the Marion Cunningham OG recipe. This waffle soliloquy is more eloquent that I could ever be, but most notably, Molly theorizes that these waffles are meant for standard waffle makers rather than Belgian waffles because the batter was a little too thin to fill her Belgian waffle maker. Since I also used a Belgian maker, I had the same issue. Our waffles were indeed light, airy, and shatteringly crisp. However, they were lacking the custardy interior that both Molly and Deb say they found, leading to waffles that crumbled in the mouth rather than lending a satisfying bite. A great buttery flavor permeated the waffle that was nearly outshone by the strong yeasty flavor (Deb gives two options–you can rest the dough overnight on the counter, leading to a stronger yeasty flavor, or in the fridge for milder flavor. I went with the former). These waffles helped me realize I don’t actually like the slightly sour taste of yeast (similar to sourdough, which is not my favorite kind of bread), so if I made these again, I would rest the dough in the fridge. Tasters almost unanimously agreed that these waffles tasted “too airy,” almost like “eating toast” or “eating air.” “Might float away,” said one taster. “Too yeasty,” said another. Again, I would take these results with a huge grain of salt–if you have a traditional waffle maker, you will likely find these to be not nearly as toasty and airy, with more of a soft chew in the inside. Either way, you’ll still probably get the inimitable crispy exterior.
Make this if: You want a shatteringly crisp, buttery waffle, and love a yeasty sourdough-esque flavor (in which case you should leave it out for a room temperature rest).
Which waffle maker to use: Traditional (use Belgian at your own risk).
Mark Bittman’s Overnight Waffles: This recipe is almost identical to Deb’s recipe except that it uses a full cup less of liquid and whips the egg whites separately before adding them in at the end. It had a similar very yeasty taste (both were left out overnight to rest), but the reduced liquid led to a way more substantial waffle than SK. Was whipping the egg whites worth it? Hard to tell due to the reduced liquid factor, but my guess is no. Again, there were many comparisons to toast since the waffle was quite crispy and lacking in sweetness. “Needs syrup, very plain” noted one taster. “Not substantial enough, too airy,” said another. On the plus side of lacking in sweetness, one taster noted that this would “pair well with sweet and savory.” On the downside, others said that it was “very bland, almost sour” and that it tasted like “styrofoam camoflaged as a waffle with a weird aftertaste.” Again, this may be a case where taster’s sweet bias led to harsher scores. I wish I had something nicer to say about this waffle, but it was pretty unmemorable for me.
Make this if: You’re looking for a non-sweet waffle that’s crisp yet soft in the middle with a nice yeasty flavor.
Which waffle maker to use: Belgian or traditional.
Food52’s Yeast-Raised Waffles: With the addition of heavy cream in addition to the regular whole milk, I expected these waffles to be some kind of decadent. Before serving, I complied with the extra step of toasting them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. All in all, I thought they had a pretty excellent texture with a crisp exterior and soft interior, but the extra toasting may have also dried them out a bit–a few tasters noted that they were just “crunchy,” “almost like a cracker.” The overall feel was that these waffles were too crunchy/crispy, and the flavor was “plain,” “bland” and “the epitome of neutral.” Fresh out of the waffle maker, they would be much softer, and when reheated, they crisped up nicely. I think toasting them did a disservice to these in the tasting, but overall it seems heavy cream didn’t add a whole lot. If I were to make these again, I would add a little more sugar to the batter (and definitely bury these in toppings).
Make these if: You’re looking for a blank waffle canvas upon which to pile syrup and/or toppings. Or you have heavy cream to use up.
Which waffle maker to use: Belgian or traditional.
Ruth Reichl’s Rice Waffles: If you read the compelling description of this Anson Mills recipe, you’ll see why I immediately felt I had to make them. Since I didn’t have time to order their flour in time for the bake off, I went with Ruth Reichl’s adaptation/suggestion of using 3/4 rice flour and 3/4 all-purpose. This recipe is almost identical to Deb’s/Marion’s recipe except that you sub out half the flour for rice flour (I used Arrowhead Mills white rice flour). After eating the Smitten Kitchen waffle, I didn’t think it was possible to get even crunchier, but this waffle managed it, with even less of a tender interior. Tasters accordingly decried this waffle for being “too light and crispy,” and feeling like it “could cut the roof of my mouth.” Tasters also noted that it was a little gritty and salty (“tastes like burnt popcorn”) and overall was simply too crisp and airy without having a satisfying chew. Again, a different waffle maker might serve this waffle very differently, so don’t write it off, especially if you love crispy waffles! Also, if you try it with the Anson Mills special waffle flour, I have high hopes that it will turn out phenomenally.
Make this if: You live for very crispy waffles and have rice flour to use up.
Which waffle maker to use: Traditional.
Sadly, I’m not sure I learned much about how to make a better yeast waffle from the results of this bake off–it was more a lesson in the Importance of Buying a Good Waffle Maker. Because it matters! But here are a couple things I like about yeast waffles:
- Simple recipes: Interestingly, many of the tips for making “the best” buttermilk-style waffles like using cornstarch, not overmixing, whipping egg whites, etc. generally didn’t apply in the yeast waffle realm. This is great, and generally made for super low-maintenance recipes.
- Great for prepping in advance: Yeast waffles are great for prepping in advance, which isn’t great for instant gratification seekers, but is great for making fuss-free waffles as soon as you get up.
- Very crispy: Again, this is a bit of a generalization, but most of these waffles were VERY. CRISPY. If you love crispy things and have never tried a yeast waffle, you must. My hunch is that these yeast waffle recipes tend to be higher hydration than buttermilk recipes, which, according to Serious Eats, helps facilitate rising and cooking via steam in the waffle iron, creating a “light and crisp result.”
Wondering which waffle maker to buy? There are tons of reviews about which waffle maker is best. Many people recommend the Breville waffle makers, which seem like a safe bet. Out of the whopping three waffle makers I’ve tried, I liked the upright Cuisinart one the best. That’s not saying too much, but I do think it makes a solid waffle–and when it comes down to it, no matter what machine you’re using, even if your waffle is a little splotchy, it’s still a delicious waffle!