Let’s talk about… how to bake waffles in cast iron

I’m sure most of you out there have a waffle iron. Probably an electric one that’s non-stick, with a small dial for temperature control, and an indicator (light or sound or both) that tells you when the waffle is done. It’s easy and comfortable to use.

I have one of those as well, a huge one for belgian waffles that has all the gadgets including programs for different types of waffles and an overflow gutter that actually bakes the overflowing batter into yummy little nuggets. No mess, no clean-up required except a quick wipe with a paper towel to brush off the crumbs. The ultimate waffle baking fun. In my defense, I didn’t buy it. I won it in an online shop’s or foodblog’s anniversary price drawing. I sometimes join when there are things worth having. Typically, I had forgotten all about it when I suddenly got an email with “your price is on the way” and deleted it as spam. Two days later, I had a new waffle iron but I have yet to find out who to thank for it. It’s a great waffle iron, I wouldn’t want to miss it!

Baking waffles in cast iron on an open fire without all those conveniences is a little bit more complicated. But once you know what to do and what to watch out for, it’s easily done and you can simply enjoy those stress free campfire waffles.

The nonstick coating…

… is the cast iron’s patina that it gets from seasoning and repeated use. To get the most out of the non-stick properties, you need to heat the iron (both sides!) before you do anything else. Once it’s hot, grease it, then start baking.

After use, DON’T wash the iron. You can brush off crumbs and wipe off excess grease, but using soap will mess up the patina.

I store mine with a piece of cloth wedged between the halves to soak up sweating oil and condensation due to temperature changes.

The grease…

… needs to be able to take high heat. I use coconut oil or lard. I have small pieces of fatback with skin in the freezer and use those to wipe the iron when it’s hot. The lard melts right into all the nooks and crannies, I find it far more convenient than melting the lard in a small pot or bowl and using a brush.

A little goes a very long way, don’t let your waffle swim.

In the beginning, cast iron needs to be greased very often, sometimes after every waffle. All the greasing adds to the patina, even if most of it gets soaked up by the waffle. The nonstick gets better with every single waffle you bake. Once the iron is properly broken in, it’s enough to grease it once, right before you bake the first waffle. That usually lasts until the batter is all used up.

The iron’s temperature…

… should be about 200-220°C / 390-430F before you grease it. It can be easily measured with a laser thermometer. Once you have a bit of experience, you can determine the temperature by look (the iron starts smoking very slightly while still “dry”) and by hand. Hovering your hand palm down over the iron, you can hold it for a certain time at a certain point before it gets uncomfortable. Being that hands and pain treshholds are different, you have to find your own sweet spot. Give the iron time to heat through. The temperature on the outside is usually higher than on the inside, esp. in the beginning.

Perfect baking temperature is between 180°C / 355F (for cake-like waffles) and 220°C / 430F (for sourdough waffles). The higher the temp, the quicker the waffle bakes. But there’s a limit.
When the waffle splits in the middle when you open the iron and both halves are done but not burned, the iron is too hot for the kind of batter or dough you’re using.

Both halves of the iron need to be kept hot while you bake. You can do that by either flipping the iron on the heat source or by creating/using an environment that provides top heat.

I like to use my big gas grill for all the heavier irons with the super long handles. It has a low pizza hood that keeps the heat from escaping upwards and creates a kind of pizza oven, a big enough space to comfortably rest up to 3 irons in a perfect environment for waffle baking.

The smaller ones, like my goro and krumkake irons, as well as the Rome one, get used on a gas burner outside or on a hotplate inside and need to be flipped during the baking process. I let the batter set for few seconds after filling the iron, then flip it and bake the waffle on the other side for a bit, then flip back.

The irons without a handle that come with a flip ring are made for oldfashioned, cast iron cooking stoves. Those old stoves have a cooking plate with different sized rings that could be removed to accomodate different sizes of pots or the flip ring of a waffle iron. Unfortunately, I don’t own such a stove.

I usually bake those waffles on the rocket stove while making sure that there’s enough space between the heat source and the iron, so it can flip without a problem. To achieve that, I use an adjustable extension ring for the iron to sit on. It’s like a cake ring, just sturdier.

It was sold as a power-ring from the rocket stove’s manufacturer. The idea is that a pan or dutch oven rest snugly on the ring and so sit on a bigger heat source than just the small opening. It supposedly saves 25% on burning material. I never checked that, but it increases the bottom heat area and lifts the iron up 8cm, which makes it perfect. Those 25€ were money well spent.

The waffle is done…

… when the iron severely slows down or completely stops steaming. It depends a bit on the batter/dough. There’s liquid in the waffle that evaporates while it crisps up. No more steam = crispy waffle. Very slight whisps of steam = soft and chewy waffle.

Removing the waffle slightly underdone is better than waiting for the very last whisp of steam to disappear. Cast iron baked waffles are often thicker than regular ones and they continue cooking on the inside while the outside already cools on the cooling rack. They’ll turn out perfect instead of bone dry and dusty.

The perfect batter or dough…

… is a rich one. Don’t attempt to bake a fatfree, low carb protein waffle in cast iron. It’ll stick, it’ll burn, and it’ll make a HUGE mess. Those modern recipes are for modern irons with high tech non-stick coatings.

Cast iron needs the fat in the batter/dough for even heat distribution and release, especially when the iron itself wasn’t greased. And the waffle needs the fat for a bit of protection from burning and drying out.

My great grandma’s waffle recipe is a great choice for cast iron baking. I often use it for the very first bake in my rescued waffle irons. I’ll post it next week.

The perfect amount of batter or dough…

… depends a bit on the consistency. If the batter can be poured, fill the iron until the nubs on the inside are just covered. That way there’s enough room for expansion and you’ll get a full waffle without the iron dripping all over the place.

With stiffer, plaster like batters, I usually just place a big ice cream scoop full into the middle of the iron. Golfball sized chunks for doughs. They’ll bake round with slightly frayed edges in a square iron, but that’s what some belgian waffles (Gaufres de Liège) have always looked like.

Cleaning the iron…

… should be unnecessary, but there might be situations, especially in the beginning, when things get stuck and/ or burn. Use a wooden skewer to get rid of the big pieces immediately and a stiff brush to remove most of the rest. If there’s anything baked into the iron that’s not burned yet (chocolate chips or pearl sugar can be quite messy), bake a waffle without any add-ins to clean up the iron.

If things have started to burn, soak them with a bit of extra grease while keeping the iron warm, then bake a cleaning waffle.

Cleaning Waffles…

… can’t be eaten, their job is to get burned gunk out of the iron. Mix a couple TBSP of cornstarch with enough water to get a viscous batter. Pour it into the well greased iron and bake it, then lift it out with a wooden skewer or a fork when done. All the baked gunk lifts off with it. Depending on the mess, you might have to repeat this step. Works with electric, nonstick-coated waffle makers as well!

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