birthday breakfast

My baby boy turned 2 today. Such a strange feeling. I mean, he is running and jumping like a two year old and feeding himself and speaks in sentences, so it shouldn't feel all that strange, but for some reason it does. I don't think I'll ever get over my children growing up. It's so thrilling to watch them learn and change and grow and become such remarkable people, but losing the baby-ness of it all is somehow so heartbreaking. Who knew parenthood would be two such extremes at the same time? I guess anyone who's had kids could have told me that. But it's one of those things I just didn't grasp until I had my own.

So one of our family birthday traditions is to have a special breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And dessert--which is usually a cake of some kind. See, I'm not very good at fun kid stuff, and I'm working on that, but I've discovered, much like my mother, I show my love through food. So I ask my kids several days, sometimes even weeks, in advance what they want to eat on their birthdays. It's fun for me to hear the funny variety of things they'll say. Sometimes it's what we just ate for dinner, and sometimes it's something so way out of nowhere that I'm baffled at the response. But eventually, it starts to narrow down to one or two of their favorite meals. With my 4 year old it was "pink and chocolate and white chia pudding" and spaghetti and meatballs and a "big chocolate cake with ganache." With my oldest, it was very clearly a "pink cake with roses." But what do you expect to hear from a 2 year old? Not a whole lot past babbling. So my husband and I had to think really hard about the foods that he consistently enjoys. And we came up with a couple of very obvious ones. For breakfast it was either some form of eggs or waffles and cream and fruit. Dad, being the serious sweet food junkie that he is, of course tried to convince me baby boy likes waffles more. So it was decided on waffles. And though I would have loved to make some authentic Gaufres de Liege, I just didn't want to wake up at 4 am to start breakfast. (though unfortunately, thanks to a horrible thunderstorm I did end up wake up at 5:30 ... after which my scared little girls would not go back to sleep--which means neither did I ... but that's too long of a grumpy story for this particular piece of the internet) But I wanted that yeasty bite that comes with Gaufres de Liege. So why not make our favorite overnight yeast waffles instead? They're not dense and sturdy like the true Belgian waffle, but I'd say a pretty tasty relative. With a crisp crust and light-as-air crumb, soft enough that the roof of your mouth isn't raw at the end of the meal, but sturdy enough that it holds up to syrups and sauces and juicy berries and lots of whipped cream. Sounds like a dream, right? It kind of is.
Gah! Do you see that bubbly caramelization pattern on the crust?

And the best part? Starting the night before means pretty much no prep in the morning. You'll look like a hero come birthday morning because you've managed to make a spectacularly decadent breakfast while still getting to see the look on your baby's face as he opens each present and thanks his sisters and daddy and mommy for them. All the while your house starts to smell fabulously of vanilla and a caramelized yeasty crust forming. Oooh, I want some more. Let's get started.

Overnight yeast waffles
makes 6-8 waffles (in a deep, Belgian style waffle iron)
1/2 cup warm water (100-110°F)
2 1/4 (or 1 package) active dry yeast
2 cups warm milk (100-110°F)
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
pearl sugar or turbinado sugar for sprinkling, optional

Favorite waffle toppings

  1. Start this batter the night before (or 8-12 hours before) you plan on cooking these waffles. In a large bowl, stir together the warm water and the yeast and let stand for 5 or so minutes to proof the yeast. Once the yeast is bubbles and frothy (proofed), add the milk, butter, salt and sugar, and mix well to combine. Add the flour and whisk vigorously to combine. You may want to use a hand mixer for this job. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter overnight.
  2. In the morning, right before cooking the waffles, add the eggs, baking soda, and vanilla extract. Using a handheld mixer or a whisk, mix well until the eggs are well incorporated. Cook in your waffle iron according to manufacturer's instructions. But before you close the lid on that waffle to cook, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon or so of the pearl or turbinado sugar over the top, if using. And I recommend that you do. I tend to prefer my waffles on a slightly darker crust setting. Serve hot with your favorite waffle toppings.
If making a large batch, keep your oven on the lowest temperature you can with wire cooling racks, and keep your cooked waffles in there until ready to serve.

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