Whole Wheat Flaxseed Waffles
For some time now I’ve been trying to increase our household consumption of whole grains. We do okay with grains at lunch and supper, but breakfast has always been a white flour wasteland for us. I recently switched to whole grain bagels, homemade at first but now bought more often at the grocery store. Waffles presented a different kind of challenge. There is no store-bought option for us. We always make our own, so I needed to find a way to ramp up the grains without ruining the taste and texture. (As I noted in a 2020 post, we eat a lot of waffles in our house. I’ve long contemplated tweaking the recipe to boost their nutritional profile. It took me a while to actually do it but, better late than never.)
My first attempt involved oat flour, ground from rolled oats in my blender. I just substituted it for some of the white flour and made no further adjustments. The result was a gummy, dense waffle. Not exactly a success. I’m not saying oat flour can’t work in waffles, just not in the way I used it.
I went back to the drawing board, deciding to ditch the oat flour for whole wheat and add ground flaxseed for some healthy fat and fibre. On the first day I made these “revised” waffles, I left them on the cooling rack with no indication anything had changed. When I asked how the waffles were, the first diner of the day uttered an enthusiastic “good.” In the days since, he has eaten them without question or complaint so I think this recipe is a winner. There is still white flour present, but also a good amount of whole wheat, ground flaxseed and a lot less sugar and oil than in the original. It is not as nutrient-dense as I would like but I think it is a great starting point. I will continue my experiments and post any future successes as they come. Read the section below the recipe for the rationale behind the recipe.
Whole Wheat Flaxseed Waffles
- 1 Waffle Maker
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 4 tbsp ground flaxseed
- 2 tbsp cornmeal
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 3/4 cup 2% milk
- 2 tbsp canola or other neutral oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Whisk together flours, flaxseed, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl or batter bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milks, oil, and vanilla extract.
- Add wet ingredients to dry, whisking until well combined. See Notes.
- Let mixture sit while waffle maker heats so flours have a chance to hydrate a bit before cooking. Follow the instructions for your waffle maker for amounts and cooking time. Because of the whole wheat flour, you might want to cook these a little longer to ensure they are completely done. See Notes.
- When mixing, follow the instructions or recipes included with your waffle maker. Some will suggest whisking until no lumps remain, while others will suggest mixing until just combined.
- Whole wheat batter is denser and more moist than traditional waffle batters. I set my waffle maker to the darkest setting to ensure the waffles cooked thoroughly. Cooking times vary widely among waffle makers so use your sense of smell to gauge whether the waffle smells cooked before the timer has finished. Also look for the amount of steam coming out of the waffle maker--if it has stopped steaming, that is typically a sign that the waffle is done.
The Recipe Rationale
I began with the basic recipe that came with my waffle maker. For the record, it is a Cuisinart vertical waffle maker and, quite honestly, the most inefficient and wasteful waffle maker I have ever come across–and we’ve gone through a few in this household. But I digress. The recipe itself works well enough, but it is very much a white flour, sugar, and loads of fat kind of thing. It uses: white flour (2 cups), buttermilk (2 ½ cups), brown sugar (¼ cup), and vegetable oil (⅔ cup).
Those four ingredients were the focus of my changes. I wanted more fibre, less sugar, and less oil. With any kind of baked good, the ratio of dry ingredients to fat and liquid is important. Knowing I had to get the balance right, I consulted a few other recipes to compare ratios: Homemade Flax Waffles, Whole Wheat Flax Waffles, and Yogurt Flaxseed Waffles.
I also did a bit of reading on how to add flaxseed to baked goods and found this handy guide from AmeriFlax. Their sample baked goods do not include waffles or pancakes, but do provide some guidelines about adjustments to liquid and other sources of fat when flaxseed is used. It seemed that in the presence of ground flaxseed, which contains a fair amount of oil, other sources of fat could be reduced. The other recipes I consulted seemed to vary between using equal parts ground flaxseed and other fat (oil or butter) or using a ratio of one part fat to two parts ground flaxseed. I decided on the latter and ended up using 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed and 2 tablespoons of canola oil, a substantial reduction from the ⅔ cup of oil in the original recipe.
For the flour, I consulted a page on the King Arthur Flour website to figure out the ratio of whole wheat to white. It assured me I could substitute up to 50% of a recipe’s white flour with whole wheat with little discernible change in texture or flavour. Given that advice, I knew I could change my recipe to 1 cup of white all-purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat, but something made me hesitate. The King Arthur site noted that red whole wheat flour–as opposed to white– has a darker colour and stronger taste. Because I have red whole wheat flour, I changed my ratio to 1 ¼ cup of white all-purpose flour and ¾ cup of whole wheat flour. I wanted to start on the lower side to avoid overpowering the waffles with wheat flavour and to avoid the gummy results I experienced with oat flour.
For the liquid, I had planned on being very scientific, with the AmeriFlax flaxseed guide and other recipes to direct me. In the end, I just used my eyes to gauge how thick the batter should be. The original recipe used 2 ½ cups of buttermilk, but I’ve always used 2 cups of buttermilk and ½ cup of 2% milk because I found the buttermilk made the batter too thick. In this case, I kept the 2 cups of buttermilk but used ¾ cup of 2% milk to compensate for the addition of wheat flour and flaxseed.
Talking about buttermilk leads me to leavening agents. I knew that baking soda, the only leavener in the original recipe, needed an acid to activate, hence the use of buttermilk. But I was concerned that the addition of heavier wheat flour and replacement of oil with flaxseed would affect the rise of the waffles. I did a little more research. The King Arthur site referenced above stated that there is no change in rise when switching white for whole wheat in something like a waffle, although rise is an issue when making the same switch in yeasted baked goods like bread or pizza dough.There was no reference there to flaxseed.
An article at Pastries Like a Pro explained that you can use both baking soda and baking powder in a recipe, especially in cases when there may not be enough acid to rely on baking soda alone for a good rise. Baking Sense provides numbers to support the science of using both. Unfortunately, I read this article after making my waffles.
Based on the Baking Sense numbers, I would need ½ teaspoon of baking soda to lift the flour in this recipe, but 1 teaspoon to neutralize the acid in the buttermilk. The original recipe uses only ¾ teaspoon of baking soda, so plenty to rise flour but somehow not enough to counter the acid. Clear as mud. In any case, I had already added ¾ teaspoon baking powder to the first version of the waffles–the equivalent amount to the baking soda, which I also used.
Scientifically, there was no rationale for this amount; it was just my instinct. The waffles seemed to turn out fine, with the same amount of rise I get from the old version. Whether the baking powder was necessary is another question, although two of the recipes I consulted used both baking soda and baking powder, one with an acidic ingredient (yogurt) and one without. At the very least, I was in good company on the decision to add baking powder. I don’t know if it was enough to make a difference given the large amount of baking soda, but I figured it didn’t hurt.
To put the leavener question to bed for good, I tried again, making one batch of waffles with just baking soda and one with baking soda and baking powder. As you can see in the picture below, there is virtually no difference in the rise. I did a taste test and thought the version with baking powder tasted a little less sweet. Baking powder can impart a bitter flavour in baked goods if used incorrectly but I don’t know if that is what actually happened here or if, with all of my research, I was primed to notice a difference in taste. The bottom line: you only need baking soda in these waffles.
Then there is the issue of sugar. My husband made a change long ago to the sugar content in the original waffle recipe, opting to leave it out entirely. He reasoned, quite rightly, that anyone who eats a waffle will top it with maple syrup. With sugar on top of the waffle did there need to be any in the waffle? I agreed to some extent but also knew that there are some legitimate chemical reasons to add sugar. I had read it in passing and couldn’t recall the exact details so, again, I did some research and found this Baking Sense article which notes that sugar holds onto water, keeping baked goods moist, and also weakens the proteins in flour and eggs to make baked goods more tender. The science says the sugar stays, but I did cut it in half.
For the record, cornmeal is a holdover from the original recipe. I decided to keep it because it does add some fibre and we’ve always rather enjoyed it in our waffles.
Finally, the cooking time is a bit of a judgment call. As I noted in the recipe, the wheat adds density to the batter and if the waffle isn’t cooked long enough, it can come out rather gummy and underdone. I set my waffle maker to the highest cook setting, but you may want to play it by ear and use your senses of smell and sight to gauge whether the waffle is done. You may also want to let the first one cool a bit, then cut it open to ensure it is cooked before pouring more batter into your waffle maker. If it is undercooked, increase the cooking time for the next one.
Because of the aforementioned toppings, no one in my house even noticed the change in flavour of the actual waffle. On their own, you can notice a kind of nutty flavour in the waffles which comes from the flax seed. But as a vessel for syrup and, in our house, peanut butter and Dutch chocolate sprinkles (aka hageslag), these waffles work just fine.