We all know that superlatives have lost whatever meaning they ever had (thanks, internet!). But we can also all agree that waffles are one of the reasons it’s good to be alive. And I’m prepared to stand behind the assertion that the recipe here produces the world’s best waffles.
The batter must be made 12 to 24 hours in advance, which requires thinking, “Do I want the world’s best waffles tomorrow?” (Answer: YES.) If it seems a bit inconvenient at the time, wait until the next morning, when your genius forethought means all you have to do is plug in the wafflemaker, take the batter out of the fridge, stir, and waffles.
The batter must be made ahead of time because it contains yeast. The yeast gives these waffles an almost ethereal lightness — their internal architecture is a honeycomb of air bubbles — and an extra-toasty, almost champagney taste. The batter also contains a full stick of butter, providing unparalleled richness and crispness. Yes, that’s a lot of butter, but hey, you probably won’t make them that often, considering you have to remember that you’re going to want them. Probably.
I first got a version of this recipe from Seattle freelance food writer Jill Lightner. (Her smart tip: Make the batter in a pitcher, so it can be poured right onto the hot waffle iron, no ladle required.) Plenty of variations may be found online, dating back to 1896, from “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” by Fannie Farmer. Hers, with puritanical restraint, calls for just one tablespoon of melted butter. Some people like it because it’s less rich. To each their own, I suppose.
Some contemporary iterations of the recipe — including Melissa Clark’s and Marion Cunningham’s — advocate for a last-minute addition of a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda, purportedly to make them airier and crispier. I’ve been so extremely happy with the non-baking-soda version’s level of airy-crispness, I’ve never bothered with it, even though it’d be so easy to try. (Maybe those are the world’s best? Sue me.)
My own innovations are, admittedly, not earth-shattering. Using salted instead of unsalted butter makes for a more complex, beautiful relationship with sweet toppings, to my mind. Reasoning that it might make the waffles even lighter, I started sifting the flour (I also just find using a sifter really satisfying). The addition of bourbon may fall into the imperceptible/ritualistic category, but if you can add bourbon to something in life, why not?
A Belgian waffle maker, thicker than the old-school round ones, arguably allows these waffles to achieve their fullest, fluffiest beauty, though you really can’t go wrong.
When it comes to toppings, the French crêpe treatment of powdered sugar and lemon makes a respectfully restrained match for the World’s Best Waffles, letting their lush-but-light nature shine through. Along those lines, honey with squeezes of lime (which you’ll find pancakes topped with in Thailand) is another sweet-and-tart way to centerpiece the waffles’ richness, with the stickiness of the honey contrasting their airy texture.
Your favorite fruit would be grand, or just jam. There’s always Nutella.
And, of course, it’s hard to beat the classic maple syrup (with a little more butter; again, why not?). If you want to get fancy, Lightner swears by Woodinville Whiskey Co.’s barrel-aged maple syrup. Bacon crumbled over the top is never a bad idea.
Warning: If you make these waffles for houseguests, you may have a difficult time getting them to leave. Give them the recipe and, in my experience, they’ll thank you every time you see them, forever.
WORLD’S BEST WAFFLES
NOTE: Batter must be made 12 to 24 hours in advance
Makes about four 9-inch square waffles
1 3/4 cups whole milk
8 tablespoons butter (I like salted), cut into 8 pieces
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of bourbon (optional, but do!)
1. Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted, approximately 5 minutes. Let mixture cool until warm to the touch.
2. Meanwhile, sift flour into a large bowl, then whisk in sugar, salt, and instant yeast to combine. (Use a half-gallon or larger pitcher instead of a bowl, and later you can just pour the batter right onto the waffle iron, no ladle required.) Add the warm milk/butter mixture gradually, whisking until the batter is smooth.
3. In a small bowl, whisk eggs, vanilla, and bourbon until combined. Add egg mixture to the batter and whisk until well incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 12 hours, up to 24 hours.
4. Heat waffle iron. Get the waffle batter out of the refrigerator; it’ll be puffed up to about twice its original volume. Stir it to deflate/recombine.
5. Make waffles and enjoy their greatness. They’re best eaten while nice and hot, so distribute them as they’re done rather than standing on ceremony. Suggested toppings: butter and maple syrup; powdered sugar and lemon juice; honey and lime juice; Nutella; nothing at all.