One of the more comforting phrases in the language is "waffles for breakfast." It is a phrase that evokes thoughts of warm pajamas, soft slippers and leisurely mornings.
Waffles rush for no man. Until the light on the waffle iron signals that the great golden treasure cooking inside is ready to emerge, no amount of agitating can hurry the waffle along. To borrow a phrase from television's basketball analysts, waffles "dictate tempo."
Waffles, the good ones anyway, are still made one at a time. When I was a boy I used to keep vigil at the family waffle iron. Usually one or more of my three brothers had beaten me to the breakfast table and had been rewarded with a waffle that emerged from the ancient yet trusty electric waffle iron. As the early-risers dug into their waffles, I would alternately gaze with longing looks at the light on the waffle iron and at my brothers' bountiful plates. I was the one who waited for waffles.
The wait was worth it. Eventually the waffle iron light signaled its approval and the batter cake emerged, crisp and exclusively mine. It was hot enough to turn a pat of butter into a yellow stream. That stream would meander through the peaks and valleys of the waffle's honeycomb pattern and would join the powerful syrup stream. Slowly the confluence of syrup and butter would become one mighty river, like the union of the Missouri and Mississippi, and would roll across my plate.
Usually this reverie would be interrupted by a voice from across the table: "You gonna eat that or just look at it?" The voice belonged to a hungry brother, who in the cycle of waffle distribution had moved from being a smug "have" enjoying his first waffle, to an impatient "have not" waiting for his second.
Despite the skirmishes with my siblings, "waffle mornings" were pleasant times. They had a much more relaxed pace than the "cereal mornings" in which we wolfed down bowls of boxed cereal before we --ed out the door to school. They were much less foreboding than "oatmeal mornings," which signaled that the weather was cold and miserable and your mom felt she had to put something warm and lumpy inside you.
Waffle mornings meant you did not have to get dressed for duty. They were days you kept your pajamas and slippers on all morning -- a style of dress I still enjoy as a grown-up.
Until I was a grown-up I never paid much attention to the fine points of waffle-making. I did not think much about whether it was OK to use pancake batter to make waffles. I did not know how to keep waffles warm. I never thought that anything other than butter and syrup or maybe powdered sugar would ever appear accompany a waffle.
Recently I consulted a variety of waffle-making veterans on these points. Overall I found that there is not much agreement on waffles, other than that they are good to eat.
On the issue of batter, for instance, Elisabeth Alston, food editor of Woman's Day magazine and author of "Pancakes and Waffles" (HarperCollins), says that the "best ever" pancakes and waffles are made using the same batter recipe.
However, "The Joy of Cooking," the venerable cookbook by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (Bobbs-Merrill), gives a slightly different batter for its buttermilk pancake recipe than for its buttermilk waffles. The waffle batter has less buttermilk and baking soda than the pancake batter. Moreover, while the pancake recipe calls for adding the whole egg, all at once, the waffle recipe calls for beating the egg whites separately.
In this debate, I tend to side with my favorite waffle-maker, my mom. Mom uses pancake batter for waffles, but adds an extra beaten egg all at once, and a little extra oil.
As for how to keep waffles warm, Ms. Alston says waffles can be placed, uncovered, directly on the racks of a 200-degree oven for no more than 15 minutes.
The answer on what is an appropriate waffle companion is also varied. In her book, Ms. Alston goes so far as to suggest putting chopped walnuts in waffle batter, covering the cooked waffle with whipped cream laced with sugar and espresso, and serving the dish as dessert.
"The Joy of Cooking" advocates putting pieces of bacon on the waffle iron and pouring a cornmeal batter over them, making a one-piece, bacon-laced waffle.
Jeannette Wiedmann, a Baltimore waffle-maker of some renown, sometimes serves kidney stew on waffles for big Sunday morning breakfasts. "I know a whole contingent of people who would never turn down kidney stew," said Mrs. Wiedmann, adding that her stew relies on kidneys, not onions or potatoes, to carry the flavor.
The kidney stew and waffle breakfast is one she grew up eating at her family's Carroll County farm. To try to keep up with the demand of feeding a family of nine, her mother would have two waffle irons going, Mrs. Wiedmann recalls. But sometimes, she didn't wait for the waffles.
"Any carrier for the kidney stew -- old biscuits, new biscuits, toast -- would do," she says. "You don't really need the waffles."
Perhaps. But as one who rarely faces kidney stew, let alone at breakfast, I think I will stick to waffles with syrup and butter.