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CHEF ILONA: Experimenting with the festive flavour of gingerbread, wondering 'will it waffle?'

Chef Ilona Daniel displays her finished gingerbread waffles. She says the aristocracy would have gingerbread houses and figures gilded with gold leaf commissioned and put on display. MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN
Chef Ilona Daniel displays her finished gingerbread waffles. She says the aristocracy would have gingerbread houses and figures gilded with gold leaf commissioned and put on display. MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN

BY CHEF ILONA DANIELS
SPECIAL TO THE GUARDIAN

The unmistakeable gingerbread flavour profile is inextricably linked to the festive season. Its origins date back to medieval England when spices like ginger and cloves began to get added to the pantry.

Chef Ilona Daniel steers the tasty batter into the waffle iron. MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN
Chef Ilona Daniel steers the tasty batter into the waffle iron. MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN

The nostalgic practice of cobbling cookie houses and rounded figures can be traced to that time period. The aristocracy would have gingerbread houses and figures gilded with gold leaf commissioned and put on display. The production in scale and detail of these confectionary communities became a source of entertainment and merriment. Entire fairs were created so the masses could catch a glimpse of such sweet inspiration. This playful tradition persists into our modern life, with new iterations of the classic gingerbread man.

Ginger became a cherished spice from the expansion of the spice route into China. The warmth and depth found in the flavour of ginger in all its guises serves as a substitute for heat the winter season inherently lacks. We look to gastronomic symbolism to further enhance the merriment of the holiday season.

Gingerbread waffles can be enjoyed as soon as they come off of the waffle iron or freeze them for up to one month. MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN
Gingerbread waffles can be enjoyed as soon as they come off of the waffle iron or freeze them for up to one month. MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN

In this spirit of reinvention, I’ve found myself motivated to experiment with my small waffle iron at home. I’ve placed various batters, breads and vegetables in attempts to uncover whether or not said items “will waffle”. I’ve had great luck with brownie batter and stuffing and some crushing defeats with sweet potato. Some of the most fulfilling happened when I was able to mash up beloved concepts or items to create something playful and delicious. (As a bonus tidbit of information, tater tots are fantastic waffled.)

As I was creating my recipe book for my breakfast rotation at The Culinary Institute of Canada, I knew I had to include some seasonal waffles in addition to the classic items. Gingerbread waffles are both festive and progressive in how we experience the flavours of medieval gingerbread.

Waffles and gingerbread share the similar trajectory of evolution, lore, and international notoriety culminating perfectly in a polar vortex of holiday feasting. Enjoy these waffles as soon as they come off of the waffle iron or, alternatively, freeze them for up to one month. Reheat them in a toaster or a 400 F oven. Serve with maple syrup, or this middle-eastern treated cranberry compote.

Gingerbread Waffles

Makes approximately 12 small waffles

Dry ingredients:

2 cups spelt flour (250 g)

3 TBSP ground flax seeds

1.5 TBSP baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 TBSP each ground cinnamon & ground ginger

¼ cup brown sugar

The ingredients in chef Ilona Daniel’s Persian Cranberry Compote make it a delicious topping for gingerbread waffles. MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN
The ingredients in chef Ilona Daniel’s Persian Cranberry Compote make it a delicious topping for gingerbread waffles. MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN

Wet ingredients:

2 cups (500 ml) milk or dairy alternative milk such as almond milk

2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

4 TBSP black strap molasses

4 TBSP canola/vegetable oil

Pre-heat your waffle iron. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl large enough to accommodate the wet ingredients. Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix wet into dry. Prepare waffles according to manufacturer’s instructions. They are best enjoyed right away or freeze for up to one month.

Persian Cranberry Compote

4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Juice and zest from 2 oranges

¼ cup pomegranate molasses

3 TBSP diced candied ginger

¼ tsp each ground cloves and cinnamon

1 cup brown sugar

Put all ingredients into a pot, and stew over low heat until the cranberries begin to burst, and the sauce thickens slightly; approximately 10 minutes

5 facts about gingerbread

1 - Gingerbread is made from ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, anise and is generally sweetened with molasses or honey.

2 - Gingerbread can be referred to a cake, bread, or cookie and can be soft or crisp, light or dark, sweet or spicy, all depending on the ingredients and preparations.

3 - To be considered gingerbread, the recipe must feature ginger as a dominant flavor and use either honey or molasses to add sweetness.

4 - After the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel” in the 19th century, gingerbread houses became popular in Germany.

5 - Recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm in Germany, gingerbread was shaped into different forms by monks in Franconia, Germany. The first documented figure-shaped gingerbread biscuits were credited to Elizabeth I of England when she presented them to her valuable guests.

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Chef Ilona Daniel's food column, Food Seductress, runs once a month. She welcomes comments from readers by email at chef.ilona.daniel@gmail.com or on twitter: Twitter.com/chef_ilona.

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