The countdown to Easter will begin next week, and for many people who follow religious tradition, that means giving things up for Lent. I don’t participate in the observance of Lent myself, but I always know that it’s coming because all the fast-food chains start advertising their fish sandwich options again. When Ash Wednesday arrives, those who do observe will “fast” until Easter from any number of things— whether food, habit or activity— to mirror the fasting and spiritual introspection that the Bible says Jesus modeled during the 40 days he wandered in the wilderness before his trial and crucifixion.
But before that period of fasting and self-restraint, we eat and we party!
According to this article on Food52, the old-time religious faithful observing Lent would spend the day ahead (which they called Shrove Tuesday) ridding their homes of luxury ingredients such as eggs, sugar, butter and milk, so they wouldn’t give in to temptation during those 40 days of self-deprivation. It just so happens that pancakes are an easy way to use up all of those tempting ingredients, and the tradition of eating pancakes the night before Lent was born.
This tradition of indulging the day before Ash Wednesday is also evident with the festivities of Mardi Gras, which translates literally from French to “Fat Tuesday.” Is there a better way to observe a day called Fat Tuesday than chowing down on thick, fluffy pancakes, drenched in butter and sweet syrup? Possibly. If you want to shake things up this year, either for Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, ditch the plain old pancakes and whip up a batch of bacon and bourbon waffles instead.
My waffles have crispy bacon and smoky, maple-infused bourbon— on the inside and the outside. This meal feels perfectly appropriate for Mardi Gras, in the spirit of indulgence and with a whisper of New Orleans— bourbon whiskey, after all, was likely named after the same French ruling family that gave Bourbon Street its name. I put a tablespoon of my smoked maple bourbon right into the batter of my waffles, and kissed the syrup with a splash of it as well. If you can’t get your hands on this bourbon, any quality bourbon will work fine. But for the syrup, you owe it to yourself to use real maple. For waffles this indulgent, supermarket syrup just won’t do.
The waffles make use of my sourdough discard, and the batter includes a bit of cornmeal, for texture but also as a friendly nod to the corn in the mash bill of the bourbon. Start building the batter overnight if you’ll be enjoying the waffles for breakfast (hey, if you’re down with a splash of bourbon at breakfast, you are definitely my kinda people), or in the morning if you want them for Fat Tuesday dinner. Stir together the flour, cornmeal, buttermilk and sourdough starter, then cover it and leave it on the counter til you’re ready to waffle.
When it’s time to eat, cook up some bacon pieces until they’re crispy, and add the drippings to the melted butter that will be mixed into the batter. We use uncured bacon at our house, and I love the natural flavor. The smoky bacon emphasizes the smoked maple flavors in the bourbon as well, and it’s a nice offset to all the sweetness that hits you in the syrup.
Get the waffle iron going, and then mix the rest of the ingredients into the batter. Whisk the butter into the beaten egg, then half of the bourbon. Sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the bubbly overnight batter, then stir in the egg mixture and fold in about half of the crispy bacon bits. Within a couple of minutes, the batter will expand as the soda interacts with the acidic buttermilk. This chemical reaction is what gives the waffles their loft and fluff.
When the waffle iron is hot, add the batter and close the lid. Depending on your model and baking temperature, it may take 5 to 8 minutes for your waffles to be ready. Resist the urge to open the iron before the indicator light comes on, and feel free to give them an extra minute if you prefer your waffles more golden.
If you’re making a large batch of waffles, you can keep the first ones warm by placing them on a rack over a baking sheet, inside a 250 F oven. While mine were baking, I warmed up real maple syrup with the remaining tablespoon of bourbon and a pat of butter. Plate the waffles with a quick scatter of the remaining crispy bacon and the syrup.
Bacon & Bourbon Waffles
Ditch the boring pancakes and shake up Shrove Tuesday with these sourdough waffles, accented with bacon and bourbon from the inside out!
- 2/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour (85g)
- 1/4 cup medium grind cornmeal (40g)
- 1 cup cultured buttermilk (227g)
- 1/3 cup sourdough starter (75g; discard is fine)
- 2 tsp. maple (or granulated) sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 3 Tbsp. salted butter, melted and cooled (or swap in some of the bacon drippings for extra bacon flavor)
- 5 slices uncured smoked bacon, cut into pieces and cooked until crispy (use half in the batter and reserve the rest for topping the waffles)
- 2/3 cup real maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp. Knob Creek smoked maple bourbon, divided (use half in the batter and half in the syrup for serving)
- The night before, combine flour, cornmeal, sourdough starter and sugar in a large bowl. Stir it well to ensure no pockets of dry ingredients. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight (about 8 hours).
- When you’re ready to make the waffles, prep the bacon and set up the waffle iron to preheat. Set oven to 250 F and place a rack inside a baking sheet for keeping waffles warm. Take the egg out of the fridge to bring to room temperature.
- Whisk the melted butter into the egg. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the bourbon.
- Sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the overnight starter, which should be nice and bubbly. Pour the egg mixture into the batter and stir vigorously but briefly to get the chemical reaction started. Fold in half of the crispy bacon pieces. Let the batter rest until the waffle maker is fully preheated.
- Pour batter into waffle iron and close the lid. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid until your waffle iron indicator says it’s time. Keep waffles warm in oven while you prepare the next batch.
- Combine maple syrup and remaining bourbon in a small saucepan and heat until warm. If desired, melt a teaspoon or two of salted butter into the syrup.
- Scatter remaining crispy bacon over finished waffles and drizzle maple bourbon syrup over for serving.