Although waffles appear to be a relatively contemporary food, they have been around the world for thousands of years. It is very likely that the ancient Greeks ate extremely flat cakes, called wafers. However, it appears that the earliest evidence for waffle iron making may have come from Holland or Germany during the 13th century. The construction of these waffle irons consisted of two hinged plates that were connected to two long wooden handles. It was not uncommon to find elaborate patterns, such as landscapes, religious symbols, or heraldic shields, imprinted on the waffles by plates engraved with these symbols. Some plates had the honeycomb grid we use now. Waffle irons (or griddles) were baked over a fire in the hearth.
The waffles were cooked between two hot metal plates, a method used continuously throughout the Middle Ages by obloyerspeople specialized in making a variety of wafers they were often flattened or rolled into crowns (a form of horns).
In 1620, waffles traveled from Holland to North America, courtesy of Dutch pilgrims. Thomas Jefferson got a waffle iron, after a trip to France, and voila! A new form of culinary entertainment emerged, in the form of waffles or parties, in the late 18th century. Party guests were given a choice of waffles topped with sweets like maple syrup or molasses or with flavors like kidney stew.
Thomas Jefferson relied on slaves for cooking; soon many members of the African American community were highly skilled at making waffles. The slaves’ diet was based on food left behind by landowners and plantation families. Poultry was a rare delicacy for slaves. Waffles were considered equally exotic; they were unusual, expensive, and time consuming. Because of these qualities, chicken and waffles made it into a special occasion meal for the African-American community; this hearty meal gave the slaves a supply of energy before attending all-day religious services.
The first American waffle iron was patented on August 24, 1869, by Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York. Predating electric models, the Swarthout waffle iron was heated by placing it on top of wood or gas stoves. A swivel hinge, on a cast iron collar, joined the two iron plates.
These new electric waffle irons were standard kitchen appliances in the 1930s. Thomas J. Stackbeck was instrumental in developing the first electric waffle iron. He was responsible for designing the prototype heating elements used in the construction of a thermostat to avoid the problem of frequent overheating. With financial help from General Electric, the nation’s first all-electric waffle iron was introduced on July 26, 1911.
Over the years since the first electric waffle iron appeared, interior design has shifted from utilitarian to whimsical; for waffle purists, square or circular waffle shapes are always available and for the kid in all of us, waffle plates can range from hearts or shamrocks to Mickey Mouse® or Hello Kitty®.
Waffles have been consistently popular since the first electric waffle iron. In 1953, an entrepreneur named Frank Dorsa introduced Eggo’s ever-popular “Leggo of My Eggo®” frozen waffles to supermarkets across the United States. Now waffles were available to everyone, even if a waffle iron was not available.
The inventor of the Belgian waffle, Maurice Vermersch, became famous at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Before the outbreak of World War II, Vermesch experimented with his wife’s waffle recipe while living in Belgium.
He opened two restaurants in Belgium at the end of the war and featured his wife’s waffles at the 1960 Brussels Fair. His early efforts were so successful that Vermersch and four other Belgian families brought the waffles to the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, NY. They changed the name of the waffles from Brussels waffle to Belgium waffle once they established business in New York.
Belgian waffles are thicker than American waffles due to the use of yeast. Because yeast is a living organism, it takes a certain amount of time to achieve sufficient growth. For various reasons, American cooks chose not to use yeast recipes and sought newer, faster ways to get somewhat similar results, but in less time; baking powder and baking soda seem to do the job.
Belgian waffles have a very light and fluffy texture. They are baked in waffle irons slightly larger than American waffles. The best-tasting waffles are made with yeast. Unfortunately, waffles made with yeast can only be stored for a day or two. The flavor is at its peak upon immediate removal from the waffle iron.
To avoid having to dig out waffle bits stuck to the grids, it’s a good idea to grease older waffle irons with a little oil or melted butter before you start baking. The nonstick-coated waffle will not need to be pretreated; the finished waffle should slide off as easily