Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stop waffling on beating an egg white

Sometimes in cooking, the time comes to confront a question and finally answer it. The good part: You get to eat your homework. 

While testing recipes for this week's story on Breakfast for Dinner, I was struggling with a waffle recipe. I wanted to concoct a stuffed waffle, with Gruyere and thinly sliced ham encased inside a waffle. I had a little success and several spectacular messes, and finally abandoned the attempt. 

While I was chipping melted cheese and waffle batter from the edges of my waffle iron, I had time to think about my disappointment with most waffle recipes. 

I've had some good waffles. And I've had a lot of limp, so-so waffles. It's really a problem if I try to make waffles for more than one person. Even a warm waffle won't be great after it sits in the oven while you make enough for everyone. 

Over the years, I have gone to the trouble of making overnight waffles, where you use yeast in the batter and make it the night before. And yes, they're good, but not good enough to be worth planning that far ahead. I've looked at lots of recipes that call for folding beaten egg white into the final batter. Yes, I've looked -- and moved on. Do I really need to go to that much trouble for a waffle? Instead, I stuck with the easy waffles, simple batters that require nothing more than mixing, baking and slapping syrup on them. 

Finally, on a snowy night after making breakfast dishes all day, I decided it was time to give a better waffle another try. After all, I had the waffle iron out. Even better, I had a new immersion blender that includes a whisk attachment. It really isn't that hard to whip an egg white. I timed it once when an editor insisted it was too much trouble for readers: Less than 5 minutes of whisking. A lot less with an electric mixer. With an immersion blender with a whip attachment? Less than a minute. 

I found a great recipe, from former Cook's Illustrated food editor Pam Anderson. It also uses cornstarch for lightness and buttermilk (I used soured milk) for flavor. After I separated an egg, beat the white and folded it into the batter, what did I get? 

A wonderful waffle. Crispy and light, and it kept its crunch while it waited in a warm oven for me to make more.
So, the answer is yes: Beat an egg white. It's worth it. 

Beaten-Egg Waffles

From "Cook Smart," by Pam Anderson. 

1 large egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk (see note)
1/4 cup milk
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
Butter and maple syrup for topping

PREHEAT the oven to 200 degrees, and preheat your waffle iron.

USE two small bowls to separate the egg white and yolk. Set the yolk aside. Using clean beaters, a whisk or an immersion blender with a whisk attachment, beat the egg white until it almost forms soft peaks (they'll look white, but the tips won't stand up when you lift the beaters to check). Add the sugar and beat until the egg white forms glossy peaks that stand up when you lift the beater or whisk. Beat in the vanilla.

MIX the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a mixing bowl. In a separate small bowl or large glass measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, milk, vegetable oil and egg yolk. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. 

USE a rubber spatula to drop globs of beaten egg white into the batter, then fold it in, lifting under and through the batter, until they're mixed in. 

POUR a little batter (usually 1/3 to 1/2 cup) on the heated waffle iron, close and cook until it stops steaming and the waffle is brown when you lift the lid. Remove the waffle and place it directly on the rack in the warm oven while you make the rest of the waffles. Don't stack the waffles or they'll get soggy. 

SERVE warm, as soon as possible, with butter and maple syrup. Extra waffles can be frozen and reheated in a toaster. 

NOTE: If you don't have buttermilk handy, stir 1 tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar into the milk and let stand 5 to 10 minutes. 
YIELD: 4 to 6 waffles, depending on the size of your waffle iron.