Of all the things I inherited from my mother, including her special silver and the family china, the thing I cherish most is her waffle iron. It has no special features, just an on/off switch. It is at least half a century old, and it works like a charm.
When I pull out the waffle iron and plug it in, I remember being seven years old, perched on the red plastic stepped chair, leaning over the counter, watching her. My grandmother’s waffles weren’t fancy — they were undoubtedly made from a mix. But the sound of that buttery sizzle as she scooped the batter and closed the lid meant there would be golden-gridded pockets to spread with a wisp of soft butter (there was always a crock on her counter) and drizzle with real maple syrup.
My culinary epiphany came one Sunday morning with the alchemy of smoky brittle bacon and a bite of maple syrup-soaked waffle. From then on, I would crumble my bacon into tiny pieces to make sure every other divot had a bit of bacon in it. I would arrange things just so, the bacon alternating with butter, then hit the whole thing with the sweet syrup. This attention to detail was a sure sign I’d have a future in food.
Weekend breakfast-griddling with kids is a rite of passage. I experimented with all kinds of pancakes — delicate buttermilk, paper-thin crepes, and dense multi-grainers. My kid and their sleepover pals were always thrilled with whatever I served up. But I was more into the making than the eating: pancakes and waffles just didn’t do it for me. They were too stodgy.
Then I made my first batch of yeasted waffles from The Breakfast Book by the grande dame of American cooking, Marion Cunningham. These are crisp, light, and airy, the ideal raft for toppings such as jams and syrups, flavored butters, ice cream, and even salsa. These became my new gold standard, and as my kitchen confidence grew, I dared to riff on her perfection.
For this Christmas-like-no-other, I am making my browned butter cornmeal version — a nod to New England’s classic anadama bread. My mother, a washashore Cape Codder, always had a soft cornmeal-molasses loaf in her bread bin. It’s a bread I love.
These are easy to pull off. The only catch is the batter needs to be made the night before. But this was the year we all got over our fear of yeast and started making sourdough starters and posting homemade focaccia art on Instagram, right? They take only about 20 minutes of night-before preparation.
The cornmeal gives the batter a sunny color, and browning the butter adds nuttiness. Like any really good waffle, these aren’t super sweet. The finished batter can be kept in the refrigerator, covered, for up to two days.
If you’re a fan of chicken and waffles, these are ideal for that. An even better and true Outer Cape version is fried oysters and waffles. But for Christmas, a pomegranate, apricot jam, and almond topping with a dollop of Greek yogurt seems just right. Serve with rich hot chocolate, strong coffee, or even a shot of rum in your mug to warm you up on a cold Christmas morning — happy holidays!
Christmas Morning Raised Cornmeal Waffles
Makes 8 (depending on your waffle maker)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for serving
2 cups milk
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 pkg. (2 tsp.) instant yeast
1 tsp. fine salt
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. baking soda
Oil for brushing the waffle iron
Slice and then melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and continue to cook, swirling the pan until the milk solids smell toasted and nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove browned butter from the heat and whisk in the milk. Set aside to cool slightly.
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, light brown sugar, yeast, and salt together in a medium-large bowl — the bowl needs to be big enough to accommodate the batter rising.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture, whisking until smooth — a couple of lumps are okay. Cover and set aside until bubbles form on the surface of the batter, about 15 minutes. Refrigerate, tightly covered, overnight.
The next morning, when you’re ready to cook, whisk the eggs, vanilla, and baking soda into the batter until smooth.
Heat your waffle iron to medium-high. Brush with oil, if needed, to season (or if the waffle iron is not nonstick). Add about a scant ½ cup batter to the waffle maker, close and cook until golden brown or to your desired crispness, 3 to 5 minutes.
Top with whatever you’d like, from butter and maple syrup, to fruit and nuts, to fried chicken or oysters.
Pomegranate, Apricot, and Nut Topping
1 medium pomegranate
¼ cup almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts
1/3 cup apricot jam
8 sprigs fresh mint
Halve the pomegranate crosswise. Hold a half over a bowl and whack the pomegranate repeatedly with a wooden spoon to release the seeds. When most are free squeeze the skin to juice the remaining seeds. Repeat with the other half of the pomegranate. There should be about 1 cup of seeds.
Warm the nuts in a small skillet over medium heat, tossing, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Cool slightly and roughly chop. Add the jam to the same pan, with 3 tablespoons water to loosen it up. Heat, stirring until juicy and warm. Stir in the pomegranate seeds and chopped nuts.
Top warm waffles with Greek yogurt, the pomegranate mixture, and mint.