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May 28, 2009
Originally published in Prefab's Promise

So many recipes leave so much to chance, and that is why I love the waffle iron.

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Of course, not all waffles are created equal, but the printing press–like precision of the waffle iron is enviable. The batter goes in, the lid goes down, and presto—what was once a yeasty floury blob is now a chiseled and handsome cake offering an orderly canvas of crevasses ready to be filled with syrup. While that first waffle satisfies the taste buds, the brain delights in another integral aspect of waffle making: the rigid uniformity of the grid. In theory, every waffle should come out exactly the same—it’s mass production for the micro kitchen.

This might help explain why waffles have been around, in one form or another, for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, flat cakes called obleios were cooked between two hot metal plates. Waffle irons were a common household item among the bourgeoisie in 18th-century Holland, and made it to American shores with the earliest pilgrims. Waffles were even popular with the founding fathers—it is recorded that Thomas Jefferson brought a long-handled waffle iron with a patterned griddle back to Monticello after a stint in France.
   
In the 19th century the conventional waffle iron satisfied America’s desire for fast and easy food, but by the 20th century, the electric iron left even less to chance: Now the arduous task of flipping the heated metal griddle over an open flame was left to transistors and resistors, which instead simply heated both sides of the iron at once. Further insult came with the introduction of the frozen Eggo waffle in 1953, which threatened to render the waffle iron obsolete.

Today, frozen waffle options ranging from oatnut to Belgian banana berry may save time for soccer moms, but they do little to replicate the thrill of crafting the original. Personally, I can’t ever remember ordering a waffle in a restaurant. Why? Because the joy of waffles is in their creation. Each successive waffle pour becomes an Olympian attempt at perfect form, with maximum griddle coverage and minimal runoff. Sometimes attempts for the gold may end up as splatters on your counter, but thanks to the waffle iron, the next luscious square is only a sizzle away.

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