I grew up in a family steeped in food traditions: leg of lamb with mint sauce and coeur à la crème at Easter, my mother's unbeatable chicken fingers and angel food cake for birthday celebrations, jam making and this simple tomato pasta to celebrate the season every summer in Maine, and our favorite dinner of noodles with tuna and peas whenever we spent a night on my dad's boat. And there were lots and lots and lots of cookies — whether they were for our teachers at the holidays or just for stocking the cookie jar.
When it came to breakfast, sometimes my mother would make biscuits or one-eyed sandwiches, and a few times a year we had pancakes. These weren't standard-issue American pancakes, served in great pillowy stacks and drenched in maple syrup. Instead, my mother made Lund's Swedish pancakes from a box, the batter thinned down with even more milk than the recipe called for to yield lacy, mahogany rounds with a malty sweetness. We slathered them with butter and jam and rolled them into little cigars that we'd pick up with our fingers to eat.
But we never once had waffles. And while I had friends who had waffles all the time, unlike Pop Tarts or sugar cereal (remember when that was a thing people said?), their conspicuous absence from our table didn't make me want them more. Sure, I found them visually appealing, with their perfectly symmetrical golden troughs, and I loved watching someone working the waffle iron at breakfast buffets or in the hot food line at my college dining hall. But I never felt compelled to order one, much less make them myself. Waffle-making requires dedicated gear, and it takes a lot more than pretty golden troughs for me to invest in a single-use piece of kitchen equipment.
About a year ago my 6-year-old, Clara, came home from school bursting with excitement. "Mom, I thought of a food invention and we should make it this weekend."
"Macaroni and cheese waffles!"
For a few beats I considered trying to dissuade her. I was unenthused at the prospect of this particular culinary experiment, and I was sure she'd be disappointed in the results (I didn't think she'd ever even had a waffle, and she didn't really like macaroni and cheese). But before I knew what was happening or could do anything to stop her, Patient, Fun Mom answered, "That sounds like fun!"
The damage was done. A commitment had been made, and I wasn't about to squash my daughter's burgeoning creative interest in cooking. So I spent 30 minutes reading electric waffle maker reviews, ordered this one for two-day delivery, and started Googling macaroni and cheese waffles.
I was fairly confident this was not a new idea, but less so about the preferred method. Macaroni and cheese waffle enthusiasts seem to fall into two camps: those who dump macaroni and cheese straight onto the iron and waffle it as-is, and those who take the more refined approach of folding the pasta into a batter before waffling.
On Saturday morning, Clara and I first attempted the purists' approach. The macaroni clung stubbornly to the non-stick coating of the waffle iron, and once we'd pried the messy, unevenly cooked slabs from the metal, we discovered they were tough and gummy and flavorless.
Luckily, we still had half of our macaroni and cheese. For round two, we went with the batter for Kenji Lopéz-Alt's bacon, cheddar, and scallion waffles. (I trust Kenji, and his recipe won major points because it doesn't ask you to beat the egg yolks and whites separately.) I left out the bacon fat because we didn't have any and added a little extra melted butter to make up for it. The batter came together in less than five minutes. Into the bowl went the rest of the macaroni and cheese, and Clara and I got waffling.
This was more like it. The waffles were plump and toasty blonde, and they fell away from the iron with barely a tug of resistance. We ran out of macaroni two batches in, so we finished up the rest of the batter on its own, our growing stack of waffles teetering precariously on the cutting board. My husband and son joined the party, and we all gathered around the kitchen island to taste.
I cut a macaroni and cheese waffle into quarters and we each took a piece with our fingers. Little cross sections of pasta tubes lined up pleasingly along the cut side of the waffles, nestled in the savory batter, which had an airy and almost custardy consistency. The outside of the waffle was perfectly crisp. When we tasted the plain ones, we all agreed they were even better. The novelty of the macaroni and cheese waffles soon wore off and most of them were left on the board, but the plain waffles were devoured.
The next Saturday, faced with the remaining half of the quart of buttermilk I'd bought the previous weekend and with the waffle maker staring me down from the counter, I dug out Kenji's recipe once again. This time I omitted not just the bacon fat but the cheese and scallions too, and I added a bit more butter (I figured it couldn't hurt).
I literally couldn't make waffles quickly enough. My family polished off at least eight among them, and I ate another two. The rest went in one of my trusty silicone storage bags and then into the fridge.
Now I make waffles most weekends — and if I don't, I feel a little regret. We have two waffle makers and our fridge is perpetually stocked with buttermilk. You can usually find a leftover waffle or two in there, ready for a quick toast whenever the urge strikes. And whenever we have people over for a meal before 1 p.m., they get waffles.
It's becoming a bit of a thing. Recently, I invited a friend over for brunch with her husband and children, and when I asked if her kids liked waffles, she said, "They loved them the last time we came to your house."
My kids have never been deprived when it comes to food traditions passed down through my side of the family. They, too, have learned to look forward to the chicken fingers, the summer pasta, and the endless march of cookies. I even make them Lund's Swedish pancakes every now and then. And now we have our own breakfast tradition — still relatively new but already forming deep roots — that I hope they'll pass down to their own families.
This story was originally published on Food52.com: How my 6-year-old daughter started our new favorite breakfast tradition.