Leavening Science

Waffles and pancakes can trace their United States origins to the 17th century Dutch settlers in the New York vicinity. Originally called wafels and pannekoeken, these “quick” breads were very popular during the colonial days. Pancakes were seasoned with spices or flavored with pumpkin. Waffle irons became a standard appliance, and waffles were especially popular during the holidays.

Leavening varies in waffles and pancakes-sometimes beaten egg whites are folded in, and, surprisingly, yeast is used too. This is because handy chemical leavening wasn’t available! Baking soda became available in the early 1800s and baking powder wasn’t available until 1859.

Explore history through food with these recipes, comparing waffles as they are made with different forms of leavening.

Detail from Pieter Bruegel’s Het gevecht tussen Carnaval en Vasten
– among the first known images of waffles


Thomas Jefferson was a great lover of good food. He served Meriwether Lewis a yeast leavened waffle while he was his secretary in Washington D.C. -1801-1803-before embarking on the Corps of Discovery.


  • Combine 1 cup whole wheat and ½ cup all purpose flour, brown sugar, salt, butter and yeast in a large mixer bowl.
  • Stir in the milk and beat on low speed for 1 minute. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute more.
  • Add the remaining flour and beat until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Let stand at 75 to 80 degrees F., covered (unsealed lid), for 4 hours or overnight (refrigerate, if overnight).

When ready to bake

  • Beat the eggs into the mixture, Heat a waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Pour 1/3 cup batter into each segment of the hot iron.
  • Bake until golden brown (baking time will vary with the type of iron used).
  • Serve immediately with honey or jam.

Learn More About Waffles

Crispy Whole Grain Waffles from Baking with Friends cookbook

Used with the author’s permission: The Food Journal of Lewis and Clark. Recipes for an Expedition. Mary Gunderson www.historycooks.com

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