Hot off the iron

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on February 16, 2018

Sauce or syrup: Banana Belgian waffle with salted caramel at Belgian waffle cafe. The topping can still be a tough choice to make   -  Fariha Farooqui

Shabnam Minwalla   -  BUSINESS LINE

Waffles, crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, work as breakfast and dessert — and even lunch, at a pinch

It was a craving that struck during my first pregnancy. I woke up one Sunday morning and was overcome by a hungry realisation. Somehow or the other, I had to get myself a plate of warm, crisp waffles.

The waffles could be drizzled with melted butter and maple syrup. Or blobbed with whipped cream and strawberry jam. Or swirled with dark chocolate sauce. Whatever. I was not fussy about the toppings — just about the base.

The problem was this was Mumbai circa 2003. A long time before All Day Breakfasts and single-dish eateries became the norm. Before waffles and pancakes started popping up in restaurants alongside mini vada pavs and masala omelettes. So while waffles had tiptoed into the city and featured on a few menus, the moment you tried to order them you would be greeted with a shrug and the disappointing information that the waffle-maker was on the blink. Or the waffle chef had twisted his ankle. Or even more frustratingly, “Yes sir. But it will take some time. Uhh, maybe more than an hour. I suggest you order our egg florentine.”

Getting hold of a waffle was a bit like spotting a tiger at Corbett. It all depended on luck and happenstance. And my luck was bad.

Of course, I should have been grateful for small mercies. That, for example, the business of acquiring waffles wasn’t as dangerous as acquiring rapunzel leaves. There was no creeping about in witches’ gardens in the dead of night or falling victim to evil incantations. But after a few Sundays spent trying to track down the elusive dish, my husband Vivek looked like he would much rather deal with a mean, black-magical crone than with yet another apologetic waiter.

Perhaps those disappointing expeditions explain why Vivek is not a waffle lover. Something I cannot understand. After all, how can you not adore a dish that is crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside? That somehow manages to work both as breakfast and dessert — and lunch at a pinch? That is equally delectable when topped with blueberry compote, a heap of crunchy fried chicken or a sunny fried egg?

In theory, at least.

Reality can be a bit dampening, as I’ve learnt over the years. My first encounter with the dish — outside novels and films — was as a college student. An excited friend informed me that she had spotted frozen waffles at Rustam’s — a large, rambling shop in Colaba that was among the first places to stock “fancy foods” like mushroom, sundried tomatoes and pasta. “All you have to do is pop them in the toaster,” she declared gleefully.

After much persuasion, my mother agreed to visit that “overpriced, rude shop” and returned with the much-awaited delicacy. The next morning I woke up early, followed the defrosting instructions and finally cut open the plastic packet. For ₹40 — in those days the price of an Udipi meal for two — we had gotten ourselves two waffles that looked like overweight stamps.

Never mind. I popped the two pieces into the toaster and waited for them to emerge golden and heavenly. They never did. Perhaps my toasting skills were faulty — perhaps the label lied. At any rate, they emerged limp and soggy and tasted of old blankets.

Still, I remained enamoured by the idea of waffles — by the thought of a batter baked between two hot metal plates. For that is where this particular food story began. The Greeks were the first to make these flat cakes called obelios. Vendors across Europe borrowed the idea, and began creating plates with elaborate designs that are today museum treasures. Ornate confections featuring landscapes and religious patterns were sold outside churches and were so popular during festivals that rules had to be put in place — vendors had to stand at least 12-feet away from each other to reduce crowding and street fights.

Somewhere along the way, the plates acquired the familiar geometric pattern and the dish its new name — waffle, Dutch for honeycomb. Then came frozen waffles. And the famed Belgian waffles. And now we can choose between all manner of creations — including root beer waffles, Earl Grey waffles and Hoffles (Horlicks waffles.)

There are the cute Hong Kong bubble waffles that look a bit like edible bubble wrap and are Instagram darlings for obvious reasons. There are champagne waffles with chocolate butter and blood orange syrup. Charcoal waffles with egg yolk sauce and salted caramel sauce (which I am probably not going to attempt). And ham and cheese waffles (which I’m going to attempt, even if this means getting reacquainted with my waffle maker.)

I’ve never been one to stock the kitchen with pizza stones and pasta-makers, banana slicers or butter cutters. But for a waffle maker I made an exception. I bravely bought one. Then read the instructions. And researched all the big questions: baking powder or yeast? Buttermilk or milk? Butter or vegetable oil? Then I located one of those “perfect waffle” recipes with 800 positive reviews, and got down to work.

By the time my kids arrived from school mummy was smiling. The waffles were redolent and ready. They looked great, they tasted fine…except that they had the texture of damp paratha.

About eight experiments later, I gave up. Instead, we now head to Belgian waffle café or Kala ghoda café or one of the other waffle-dispensing restaurants around. Which makes life easy, except when it comes to choosing between caramel sauce and maple syrup.

Shabnam Minwalla


    Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and the author of The Shy Supergirl. Her latest book, What Maya Saw is now in bookstores







    Ham-and-cheese waffles
    • If you have a waffle maker:
    • 2 cups flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 2 eggs separated
    • 1 1/2 cups milk
    • 6 tablespoons butter melted
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 200g ham chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
    • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
    • 1 Warm your waffle maker.
    • 2 Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Add milk and egg yolks and stir. Then add the melted butter and vanilla and stir.
    • 3 Beat the egg whites till fairly stiff.
    • 4 Fold in the egg whites, ham and cheese. Then pour into the waffle maker or waffle iron.
    • 5 Cook till brown.
    • 6 If you don’t have a waffle maker, buy good quality frozen waffles. Defrost them and toast them, top with slices of cheese
    • and ham

    Published on February 16, 2018

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