AUSTIN, Texas — Will it waffle?
Dan Shumski set out to answer that question in 2010 when he launched a blog called Waffleizer.
Over the next eight months Shumski “waffled” more than 30 unexpected dishes, ranging from macaroni and cheese and pizza to chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon rolls.
Some of the projects worked out better than others, but Shumski, with the help of above-average cooking and photography skills, had enough success that last year he scored a book deal with Workman Publishing.
Shumski's waffle book won't come out until next year, but I'd been itching for an excuse to buy a waffle maker and see what kinds of fun things I could whip up with it. Waffle makers get a bad rap as being one-trick tools. Shumski started the blog in part to inspire cooks to pull the forgotten machines out of the pantry.
But shortly after launching the blog, Shumski discovered a world of people who loved “to waffle” — yes, “waffle” is a verb in these circles — and he reached out to chefs, bakers, fellow bloggers and even cookbook authors for their best waffle ideas.
A chocolatier friend in Chicago made s'mores, including homemade graham crackers, in her waffle maker, while another chef friend created what surely must have been the world's first “bibimbaffle,” a version of the Korean dish bibimbap that has been pressed in a waffle maker.
Chocolate chip cookies were one of Shumski's favorite waffle iron creations.
“It's not more difficult (than baking in an oven), but the result is so transformative. Plus, you can make a few at a time” rather than a whole batch, he said. (And a plus for those who don't turn on ovens during the summer months, this alternative to baking won't heat up the house.)
Shumski, who now has five waffle makers, said that the chicken-and-waffles revival is only part of the resurgence of interest in waffling.
“It's safe and accessible culinary artistry and experimentation,” he said. “It's not exactly molecular gastronomy.”
The key to cooking in a waffle maker is a willingness to experiment. The first time I tried hash browns I didn't cook them long enough, but by the second round — when I cooked them for 25 minutes — they turned out so crisp and crunchy that I ate the entire disc of potatoes while standing at the kitchen counter, waiting for the next project to finish.
Given enough time, frozen hash browns work exponentially better than freshly shredded sweet potatoes and zucchini, which need some kind of binder like flour or egg to hold together, Shumski said.
“Eggs make things a lot more forgiving,” he said.
Eggs themselves are a pretty easy entry to waffle maker cooking. On Shumski's blog and the many Pinterest boards dedicated to out-of-the-ordinary waffles (waffle ice cream sandwiches, anyone?), I've seen eggs cooked sunny side up by leaving the machine open and cooking the egg on one of the heated surfaces, but I had better luck making an omelet.
My machine — a Belgian-style Presto FlipSide — holds three large eggs whisked with about ¼ cup of other omelet fixings (I used green onions and cheddar cheese), but you'll need more eggs to fill out the larger waffle makers.
Sandwiches — maybe one with ham and Gruyere cheese — or quesadillas are some of the easiest things to press in a waffle maker, just as you would in a panini press, but with the added advantage of even more surface area coming in contact with the bread or tortilla, adding to the crunch.
Another easy dish is cornbread waffles, which, when paired with your favorite bucket of fried chicken and maybe a bottle of something pink and bubbly, sounds like a great start to a picnic basket.
For a fun dessert or brunch dish, consider waffle bread pudding made with any kind of bread or even waffles or store-bought angel food cake. (If you make the latter, slice some strawberries and toss them with a little sugar to serve on top.)
No matter if you're making breakfast, lunch or dinner, consider whipping up a batch or two of regular waffle batter, even if it's from a box, while the iron is piping hot and you're in the kitchen anyway.
Once they cool, regular old waffles (or fancy ones with chocolate chips, strawberries or pecans) freeze well and are easy to reheat for a quick weekday breakfast.