I stumbled on this recipe for Marion Cunningham’s yeast-raised waffles years ago in Sheila Lukin’s USA Cookbook. I’m always intrigued by recipes that require you to put things aside and let them sit for some time. I’ve found over my years of cooking that patience is a key ingredient in the kitchen, and often things that are set aside develop fuller, richer flavors. I once wrote an essay about the consumption of time in a restaurant dining experience. One of my points was that the time that goes into making something contributes to the value for which we are willing to pay. But I also posited that time has a flavor, which we have begun to call by the Japanese word umami. Umami, the “fifth taste”—to add to sweet, sour, salty, bitter—is the taste of glutamate that everyone’s excited about these days (check out this funky Kikoman umami commercial),
develops in foods over time, as things like cheeses ripen, soy sauce ferments, bread proofs, fish sauce ages, and tomaotes dry in the sun. This aging, ripening, fermenting, maturing produces what is, in my opinion, the taste of time.
Anyway, I saw this recipe for waffles raised with yeast that had to sit overnight and I was intrigued. I made them. And they were hands-down the best waffles I’d ever tasted. Crisp, light, buttery, yeasty, and remarkably flavorful, they became my stock recipe for waffles. When I went to write Kitchen Sense, I was going to point the world to this wonderful recipe. As I did a little poking around, however, I found out that Marion Cunningham’s yeast-raised waffles were already famous. It was a foodie badge of honor to be invited to her house for brunch so she could make her famous waffles. Oh well. I had no idea. I was never invited to her house for waffles. But I think her every time I make them.
Just to clarify, the Marion Cunningham I’m talking about is not Richie Cunningham’s mom on Happy Days.
The Marion Cunningham responsible for this recipe was a friend of James Beard’s who is responsible for revising the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and the Fannie Farmer Baking Book (one of my favorites).
Anyway, I’m sharing this recipe with you now because I made these waffles again yesterday for Valentine’s Day, and they are just too damn good. Served with warm, pure maple syrup they are just divine. You don’t even need to slather them with butter because there’s enough in the batter to make them buttery and delicious.
Marion Cunningham’s Yeast-Raised Waffles
(adapted from Kitchen Sense)
Yields 12 waffles, enough for 4 people
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray
The night before the morning you intend to make the waffles, place the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat over low heat until the butter is melted. The milk shouldn’t come to a boil. Remove from the heat, transfer to a large bowl (to speed cooling), and let sit until the temperature comes down to about 110°F, or it is just warm to the touch. Stir in the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt to form a batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. The batter should rise an inch or two and bubble on the surface.
Preheat a waffle iron, preferably nonstick. Stir the eggs into the batter along with the baking soda and vanilla and mix well. The batter will be somewhat thinner than most waffle batters, more like pancake batter. Spray the waffle iron with cooking spray and ladle the batter into the pan, using between 3/4 cup and 1 1/2 cups batter, depending on the size of your iron. (Mine is a large, square Belgian waffle pan and I use four ladles, almost 2 cups.) Close the iron and cook until the waffles have risen, turned golden brown, and crisped, 7 to 8 minutes or so. Better to err on the side of overcooked because I’ve yet to cook them too long. The longer they are on the iron, the crisper they become, and I love them that way.