It’s getting dark.
I told N., as he stood over the sink sampling a triangle of hot waffle and I finagled my plate of stacked waffle pieces around the counter searching for more light, any light, that I’m going to have to start making blog-worthy meals as weekend lunches. He shrugged, swallowed, and reached for another piece of waffle. I don’t think he’s averse to this idea.
The cat-like, dozy, quilt-loving part of me worships autumn’s time change day. An extra hour of sleep, waking to find it light out but there’s still plenty of time for
grading chores whatever (but if we’re honest, probably grading), and the following few blissful weekdays when getting up at 6am doesn’t feel like masochism. But the blogger in me dreads its coming. Most of what I post here – the savory stuff, anyway – is planned and eaten as our evening meal. Amidst getting home from work, walking the dog, and catching up with each other, by the time I start cooking I’m chasing daylight. When we turn back the clocks and darkness creeps ever earlier, the little amateur photographer in me wails with despair. The light! Where is the light?! It’s a cruel trick, made crueler by the enjoyment the non-blog-obsessed part of me reaps from it.
Speaking of tricks, let’s talk Halloween. What did you do? Who (or what) did you dress as? We did not have a single trick-or-treater, which devastated me, but delighted my students, who received the candy I didn’t give out (or eat myself, but who’s counting?). To fill my costume yen, I had to turn to Facebook stalking, and my easy favorite was a former colleague’s daughter, who dressed as a jellyfish. They fitted a clear plastic umbrella with a jumble of LED lights, and she wore a frilly tutu and held the umbrella over her head to emulate those weird, beautiful, alien creatures. Genius.
On the treats front, aside from the Almond Joys I compulsively scarfed as the afternoon went on (reminding myself they were “fun size” totally assuages my guilt), I decided Halloween dinner should be special. A few months ago we gorged ourselves on beer batter waffles during an unexpected brunch at a little cerveteca in Venice and were delighted by the incredible yeasty flavor. I decided this was the night to do some recreating.
I started with a recipe for maple bacon yeast waffles in a King Arthur Flour catalog, trimmed down the ingredient list, and replaced the called-for milk with beer and the maple syrup with barley malt syrup to emphasize the malty flavor even more. The batter is a floppy, burpy, smelly sourdough sponge sort of concoction, which burbles sullenly for an hour or two before you ladle it by half-cups or so into a waffle iron and sizzle it into solidity. It’s easy, for a yeast-laden item, and as long as you think about the rising time before you suddenly decide you’re starving and dinner needs to happen NOW, it’s doable for a weeknight.
The thing about a recipe like this, though, is that the rising time gives you time to think. If you’re a normal person, you might use this blessed extra hour to catch up on housework or relax and watch television. If you’re me, you start thinking about sauces. I like maple syrup, but I get tired of it. These waffles, with their yeasty aroma and almost savory flavor, needed something special. As a salute to Halloween, I decided to make a quick bourbon caramel drizzle to top them. I mean, why not? It was a holiday, after all. Butter, brown sugar, bourbon, and salt, bubbles stacking up on themselves in a tiny pot, and a swig of milk (or cream) to thicken and mellow and relax everyone.
So back to the darkness problem. Usually, when I arrange a plate of dinner to photograph it, N. waits until I’m done to serve himself and head in to the table to eat. On Halloween, as I angled and shimmied and adjusted, trying to catch the last glimmers of fading light and listening to my shutter speed get slower and slower, he stacked waffles onto his plate, drenched them with the caramel sauce, and disappeared around the corner to start his dinner. That, to me, proves its deliciousness beyond all doubt.
Beer Batter Waffles
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes about six 7-inch waffles
1½ cups (12 ounces) lukewarm beer (I used a nice roasty porter, heated in the microwave about 30 seconds)
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons barley malt syrup (you could likely replace this with maple syrup or honey, but I haven’t tried it. If you do, let me know!)
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) melted butter, cooled
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
- In a 2 cup glass measuring cup, or a small microwave safe bowl, heat the beer until just warm to the touch. Add yeast and the barley malt syrup (or whatever sort of sweetener you are using) and let them mingle for 5-10 minutes. The yeast will foam up considerably, thanks to the extra sugars and yeast already in the beer.
- While the yeast proofs, whisk together the cooled melted butter, the salt, and the eggs in a large bowl. Be sure there’s room for the batter to expand.
- Add the beer and yeast mixture and whisk to combine, then add the flour 1 cup at a time, whisking to combine thoroughly.
- When the flour is fully incorporated and no lumps remain, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it on the counter for 1-2 hours. The mixture will slowly develop lethargic bubbles and begin to smell quite bready.
- Once it has had a chance to rise for an hour or two, either stow in the refrigerator overnight, or preheat your waffle iron!
- Drop the batter in generous ½ cup batches (or more, if your waffle iron can take it) onto a preheated, greased waffle iron. Close the lid and cook for the recommended amount of time, or until the waffle is crisp on the outside and deeply golden.
- Serve hot with bourbon caramel syrup. If you need to keep the waffles warm, stow them on a wire rack over a baking sheet in a 250F oven until you are ready to eat.
Bourbon caramel sauce
Makes about ¾ cup
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup bourbon (I like Knob Creek myself)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup whole milk or cream (cream will make for a thicker, more luscious end product)
- Combine the butter, brown sugar, bourbon, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir to combine as the butter and sugar melt.
- Continue to stir frequently as the mixture comes to a simmer. Bubbles will begin stacking up on themselves, and you want to prevent both the sugar from burning and the bubbles from climbing too far up the sides.
- Let the mixture reduce a bit – it will thicken and some of the alcohol will burn off.
- Just before you are ready to serve, add the milk or cream and stand back, as the caramel may bubble up furiously. Stir to combine and keep over low heat just to warm the mixture through. Drizzle generously and enjoy.