LACONIA — There's a battle underway over the heart and soul of the waffle. For most Americans, the light, airy treat, leavened by baking soda, serves as a vehicle for syrup and fruit. Wayfarer Coffee Roasters, which opened in June, is fighting for the other side — a richer, sweeter and chewier waffle. And, if their sales are any measure, they may have picked the winner in the war of the waffle.
Karen Bassett, one of the owners of Wayfarer, is the mastermind behind their salvo of waffles, aimed and calibrated to disavow the popular conception of the food item. Where conventional waffles, often referred to as Belgian waffles, are made from a batter that can be mixed shortly before being ladled into a waffle iron, Bassett carries the flag of the Liège waffle, created using a yeast dough that has to rise overnight and requires much more care and attention. It's worth it to her, because of the difference evident in the end product.
Opening a coffee shop had long been a dream for Bassett, whose husband Reuben and cousin-in-law Aaron Bassett own Burrito Me and are part-owners, along with Ben Bullerwell, of Wayfarer. Like the burrito shop, she wanted to offer a signature food item that would be both unique to the local market and excellent in quality. Other Lakes Region shops were already offering crêpes, doughnuts, bagels and cupcakes. "We wanted something that nobody had been doing," said Reuben, recalling how Karen texted him the idea of waffles, and soon she was learning everything there is to know about the food item.
"I started researching waffles, and I realized there was this battle over waffles," said Karen. She hadn't heard of the Liège waffle before, but was struck by how passionate its proponents were. Also a food of Belgium, the Liège variety is typically sold as a street food and flavorful enough on its own that it can be enjoyed plain, without syrup or other toppings. The risen yeast dough, made with a high-gluten flour, provide a soft and chewy interior texture, while pearl-sized chunks of sugar, derived from beets and imported from Belgium, flavor the dough and caramelize into a crunchy crust on the exterior. The waffles require serious equipment to cook, waffle irons made with 30 pounds of cast iron, digitally controlled to cook within the 185-187 degree centigrade range to caramelize but not burn the pearl sugar.
She ordered the ingredients, made a batch, and knew she had found her signature item.
Wayfarer offers six standard waffle flavors: classic, maple glazed, chocolate glazed, raspberry glazed, ham and cheese, and bacon and maple. Karen also offers a waffle special featuring something appropriate to the season. Currently, the special is a peach cobbler, with a crumble added to the dough, drizzled with a peach butter flavored with spices and vanilla, and topped with whipped cream. All ingredients are made in-house, from scratch, Karen said.
One of their most popular specials this summer was the pizza waffle, featuring mozzarella cheese folded into the dough, pepperoni chunks cooked onto the waffle and drizzled with Karen's farmers' market marinara sauce. She enjoys exploring both the sweet and the savory possibilities. She's currently conceiving what kind of waffle she'll feature for the Pumpkin Festival this fall. "That's the fun thing about this. You can take it everywhere... there's a lot you can do with waffles."
Her enthusiasm is spreading. Wayfarer sells up to a hundred waffles on weekdays and 150 on Saturdays.
"They're catching on, and people are realizing," said Reuben. "We make a lot of waffles."
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