Chocolate Buttermilk Waffles

So I bought a waffle maker about a month ago. I had absolutely no need for one; I already had one in perfectly good working condition. I hate to admit it but I fell victim to Williams Sonoma’s advertising stunts that they break out around Christmas and somehow their catalog convinced me that I needed a “smart waffle maker.” Whatever that means.

The restaurant where I worked a few years ago had a similar, if not the same one, and I was always captivated by the perfectly square, deep-dish look of those waffles. I frequently told myself that one day I would have a waffle maker like that. So when Black Friday came around this year and deals were abound, I traded out my poor old simple waffle maker for a smart one… so I guess that meant I should probably make some waffles.

I saw these chocolate waffles in Bon Appetit magazine 2 years ago in a spread about the Mast Brothers, creators of Brooklyn-based Mast Brothers Chocolate. The recipe comes from their gorgeous cookbook, one that still only exists on my wishlist, and I’ve been meaning to make them since.

I will say that they are waffles you should only make when you are craving decadence. The taste resembles chocolate cake entirely but translated into a fluffy, chewy, and crispy waffle texture. The buttermilk is what makes these really stand out. When combined with the baking powder and baking soda the resulting chemical reaction makes for a batter completely filled with air bubbles. Add in whipped egg whites and you’ve got amazingly light-as-air waffles. A combination of cocoa powder and lots of chopped dark chocolate creates an deep chocolate flavor while olive oil adds an earthy tone that keeps the waffles from becoming sickly sweet. They taste fantastic with the classic butter and maple syrup combo but I expect that I’ll be eating them for breakfast with a swipe of peanut butter many times this week. Or maybe this peanut butter caramel sauce… now that would be interesting…

Chocolate Buttermilk Waffles
Serves 4-6
From Mast Brothers Chocolate Cookbook via Bon Appetit Magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 oz. finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
butter and syrup for serving

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees (this is for keeping the waffles warm while waiting for others to finish). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Once combined, make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, buttermilk, olive oil, and vanilla extract. Use a fork to mix the liquid ingredients together, gradually incorporating the dry ingredients in the bowl. Switch over to a rubber spatula to give the batter a final mix, making sure there are no more spots of dry ingredients.

Using an electric mixer or a metal whisk beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the waffle batter and then carefully fold in the chocolate.

Heat up your waffle iron and cook according to the irons instructions. For mine, I used a half-cup of batter for each waffle. Place the cooked waffles on a sheet pan and keep warm in the oven until all of the waffles are made. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Blueberry Pancakes with a Twist

Lo and behold, it is somehow already September and by the looks of a Target I was in yesterday, it’s apparently almost Halloween too. I’m the sort who would gladly live in a world where summer reigned all year round, but I know it will inevitably slip away, leaving me to acclimate to the change by means of cinnamon scented candles and the sudden appearance of flannel-clad L.L. Bean-esque men everywhere. Though with that said I suppose things could be much worse.

So in my attempt to keep the summer spirit alive as much as possible, I have sworn I will not open the Pumpking beer currently in my fridge until a day comes that I need a jacket outside… And we can just forget the fact that I binge ate a bag of pumpkin spice latte flavored M&Ms at my desk yesterday. Whoops!

My other attempt to bring a taste of summer into the colder months is with these blueberry pancakes with a twist. But blueberries? In the fall? That doesn’t make sense at all. Well that’s where the twist comes in. Thanks to the genius of the aptly titled Genius Recipes by Food 52, blueberry pancakes are better than they’ve ever been before and don’t need to be restricted to the seasonal appropriateness of the blueberries themselves. The secret, dried blueberries.

When allowed to soften in boiling water, the dried blueberries get back some of their juicy quality. But since they are still very much void of moisture, they don’t turn into the soggy mess that blueberry pancakes generally resemble and leave only that condensed sweet-tart flavor. These pancakes are also unique in that they have a TON of cottage cheese and sour cream in them making them spongy in the nice way that Yorkshire pudding is spongy. Yes, I know that cottage cheese and weird, and like, who really eats cottage cheese anyway, but trust me on this one. It has triumphed in waffles and does also in pancakes. Lemon zest and nutmeg add that little extra touch that makes these pancakes so incredible. So maybe this fall, instead of reaching for yet another can of pumpkin to add to your breakfast baked things, try out these blueberry pancakes instead.

Blueberry Pancakes with a Twist
From Deborah Madison via Food 52’s Genius Recipes
Makes about 20 small pancakes or 12 larger pancakes

1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup 4% cottage cheese, drained of liquid
1 cup sour cream
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbs. sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
butter for frying and butter and maple syrup for serving

Place the blueberries in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Set aside while you make the batter.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese and sour cream. Then, one at a time, whisk in the eggs. Mix in the vanilla, lemon zest, nutmeg, and sugar and then gradually incorporate the flour, baking powder and salt. Drain the soaking blueberries and add to the batter. Gently mix them in.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter. When it’s melted and hot, drop large spoonfuls of the batter into the pan. Once browned evenly on the bottom, flip to cook the other side. Serve with more butter and maple syrup.

Liège Waffles

In the realm of sweet breakfast-y things that are generally paired with butter and, my favorite condiment, maple syrup, waffles are without a doubt my numero uno. Over the years it evolved from the Eggos and Aunt Jemima of my childhood to the classic Belgian style with real syrup, and then became more experimental. I had much success with the previously documented oat and orange waffles with whipped cottage cheese and pear-cherry compote and I have dipped my toe in the realm of the yeast-raised variety. And yes, I am talking about the ever-famous Marion Cunningham ones. But I must say, despite a whole lot of waffle lovin’ in my life, the ones that changed everything are the Liège waffles.

I first had them in what now seems like a full state of waffle naiveté from a food cart in London. On that chilly fall day, waffle-in-hand and walking through Hyde Park, I took a bite, expecting something along the lines of the crispy pancake-esque waffles I was used to but got so much more. Made from a slow rising yeast dough, enriched with lots of butter and eggs (think brioche) and studded with handfuls of Belgian pearl sugar*, the Liège waffle, once cooked in the waffle iron, becomes a whole new beast.

The inside stays very tender and light but at the same time has a nice bit of chew and stretch to it, like a croissant. But the magic happens on the outside. The pieces of pearl sugar completely melt with the heat of the iron coating every part of the waffle exterior with molten caramel. Once cooked, removed and let to cool slightly, this sugar hardens into a paper thin layer of crackly sugar coating giving each bite a satisfying combination of crispiness and meltiness.

I’ve been meaning to make them on my own for a while now, yet never seemed to get around to it. But when Deb over at Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe recently, I could no longer resist. The process ended up being simpler than anticipated and the hardest part was undeniably the wait for the overnight rise. The next morning (very early, I couldn’t wait any longer!) I shaped the dough while making my coffee and basked in the smells of butter and caramel as they cooked. They were fantastic on their own but no harm ever comes from a little chocolate drizzle, powdered sugar, and whipped cream, right? After spending the morning indulging in a solitary waffle feast and then pondering the ways to clean burned sugar off the waffle iron**, I froze the remainders in an attempt to maintain some sense of self-control and swore to myself I would never go so long without a Liège waffle ever again.

*pearl sugar is a little difficult to find, but, when in doubt turn to Amazon
**a small offset spatula to pry out larger pieces and then a damp washcloth

Liège Waffles
Makes 16 waffles
From Smitten Kitchen

½ cup whole milk
¼ cup water
2 Tbs. brown sugar
1 packet of active dry yeast
2 room temperature eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
14 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups Belgian pearl sugar

Start by making the dough. Combine the milk and water and heat until lukewarm. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the brown sugar and yeast, give it a stir, and set aside for about 5 minutes to allow the yeast to activate. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla and then use a rubber spatula to stir in 1-1.5 cups of the flour. Stir in the salt. Now slowly incorporate the butter. I took a spoonful at a time and used the rubber spatula to mash it against the side of the bowl and mix it into the batter. Do this until all of the butter is added (it will take a little while).

Hook the bowl up to the stand mixer and attach the dough hook. Add the remaining flour and turn the machine to medium speed to allow it to knead for 5 minutes. Add more flour if it looks too wet. Once the dough is finished, shape into a ball and place in a bowl. Cover and leave it out at room temperature for 2 hours. It should double in size. Punch down the dough, reshape into a ball, cover the bowl again, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, transfer the dough to the countertop and knead in the pearl sugar. Once incorporated, divide into 16 even pieces. While you are doing this, heat the waffle maker. Place two balls of dough on opposite ends of the machine and cook according to the instructions. Since my waffle maker is nothing fancy, I found that the waffles turned out best when I spent about half of the cooking time clamping the iron shut with my hands so that the waffles cooked uniformly. Once the shape set, I could let go and let them finish cooking. Once golden brown, use tongs to transfer the waffle to a cooling rack (be careful, they are very hot at this point). Eat warm either plain or with the toppings of choice.  

Birthday Weekend and Volt Restaurant

This past weekend was one of the best I can recall in quite a while. It was the weekend of my 21st birthday and was filled with day after day of extraordinary eating. I mean, what better excuse to gorge on extraneous amounts of rather unhealthy yet delicious things than it being you birthday. Its just one of those times you have to live a little.

I had a great party at my house on Friday where friends and family came over for eating and celebrating. I cooked up a Southern feast (because I am crazy and actually like to cook my own birthday dinner) complete with chicken and andouille gumbo, cucumber and sour cream salad, southern pecan and apple salad, and an amazing citrus peach cobbler (recipe to come). 

Saturday, my actual birthday, was very special because my sister Nia came home from Boston for the weekend. We had awesome Mexican food at La Sandia Restaurant along with a pitcher of Sangria (my first legal drink!) and though my belly was full of shrimp enchiladas and grilled plantains all day, I still saved room for an evening snack of sourdough, Robusto cheese, and fig and walnut butter. But that’s not all! Nia and I also made strawberry buttermilk ice cream that evening from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (my birthday present from her) that we devoured as our late-night movie snack.

But the best eating of the weekend took place on Sunday when my mom, dad, Nia, and I went to brunch at Volt Restaurant in Frederick MD, acclaimed restaurant of Top Chef’s runner up, Bryan Voltaggio. I’ve wanted to go for ages so I figured my 21st birthday would be an amazing opportunity to finally go. And although they offer great things for both lunch and dinner, I had to choose brunch, my favorite meal of the day where sweet meets savory for some of the most innovative and delicious food out there.

Volt is stunning inside and out. Inside the old brick building is a modern and sleek interior, both very classy and elegant yet with slightly masculine and rustic touches. Walls and linens are bright white while the ceilings are painted chocolate brown. Modern geometric light fixtures hang down, lighting the rainbow colored graphic prints on the walls, each portraying the various shops and restaurants in downtown Frederick. And servers, though dressed in white shirts, black pants, and ties, walk around in Converse sneakers. The atmosphere was very relaxed yet little did I know I was about to receive the most attentive and flawless service I could imagine.

Although our meal was a three-course prix fixe with six starters, seven entrees, and four desserts to choose from, we still received a plethora of food outside the main meals. We were first served fennel pollen dusted bread sticks to munch on as we perused the food menu and I sipped on my celebratory glass of champagne. Later, we got to pick from the breakfast breadbasket. This was a hard decision with about six breads to choose from. But, with the four of us plus a double dip into the basket between main course and dessert, we managed to try all of them but one. My first pick was the bacon and sage biscuit, a light a fluffy number speckled with huge pieces of apple wood smoked bacon. My second choice was sweeter, a citrus scone filled with lots of lemon zest and topped with a crunchy sugar crust. Both, smeared with local butter, were so delicious. And if that wasn’t enough, we also could not resist ordering the maple bacon doughnuts off the accompaniments part of the menu so we could each have a taste of this salty and sweet delight.

But finally, our menu items arrived with a brigade of four servers and they swooped the plates in front of each in our party at the exact same moment, landing between our always refreshed and replaced silverware. Our wonderful waiter then would go on to explain the details of each of our dishes before leaving us to indulge. For the first course, I chose the goat cheese ravioli made with black squid ink pasta and local Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese. Surrounding the perfectly al dente rounds were kernels of charred sweet corn and Miatake mushrooms and a balsamic brown butter sauce. Though rich and creamy, the dish was just enough, leaving my taste buds satisfied but my stomach still ready for the many more things to come. The other notable starter was Nia’s. She ordered Bryan Voltaggio’s signature “Spring Garden”, and array of beets, greens, carrots, other vegetables, dressing, and coffee grounds arranged to resemble a garden in the dirt.

I was also extremely satisfied with my main course. Most times, when I go to a fancy restaurant, I tend to order fish just because we don’t make it much at home so it is always to treat to get it. And, I trusted that in a restaurant like Volt, it would be a really fresh and good quality fish, cooked just right. I was right to assume this because it was one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever eaten. I ordered the halibut, served alongside a farro and spring bean risotto, tomato fondue, and anise hyssop. The salty crust on top of that piece of fish was unbelievable and I held each bite in my mouth, savoring the juiciness and the terrific flavor. The accompaniments were delicious as well, mild enough to let the fish shine while still aiding in enhancing its flavor.

As we waited for the dessert, I was yet again presented with another unexpected part of the meal, a special birthday dessert, complete with candle. Funnily enough, it actually turned out to be my favorite dish of the entire meal. It was a mini vanilla bean and pistachio semifreddo, flavored with chocolate flecks and orange zest and set in an elegant spiraled mold. I guess since I’ve been experimenting with ice cream lately, I was even more excited by this, but nonetheless, its taste was almost indescribable and I will definitely be experimenting with these flavors in the future. The texture was different than ice cream, icier yet also denser and more custardy. It was light and not too rich so it served as a refreshing palate cleanser before second dessert.

Finally, among the four of us, we ordered three of the four desserts (no one got the cheese plate for dessert) so we all shared and got to try these amazing confections. We also got a cafetiere of Highlander Grogg coffee to accompany the desserts, a sweet butterscotch flavored coffee that was strong and absolutely delicious. For dessert, Nia ordered a rich goat cheesecake paired with black raspberry sorbet, almond crumbs, a citrus cookie, and rhubarb cookie. My parents got the peach tarte tatin, served with mascarpone ice cream, cinnamon pudding, crème fraiche, and few other droplets of sauces. They really enjoyed this as a refreshing a seasonal way to end the meal. But I could not resist the dessert called “textures of chocolate” which turned out to be a gastronomic piece of art and yet another inspiration for my lifelong goal of going to pastry school. Amongst a snaking strip of chocolate mousse were pools of chocolate caramel, cocoa nibs, chocolate ice cream, chocolate dust, and burnt chocolate crisps. It was so rich yet I ate every bite, not daring to leave any bit of this amazingness on the plate. Finally, as the last plates were cleared, we each received a gift bag to take home, filled with a fresh blueberry crumb muffin.

My 21st birthday brunch was a meal that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was spent with those that I love while eating wonderful food. I can’t think of anything better.