The secret ingredients that will make your waffles incredible

If your waffle iron never gets dragged out of the cupboard, you're missing out on using a seriously versatile tool. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking the only thing you're going to be turning out is plain, boring waffles of the Eggo variety… so why take the time to make scratch-made waffles when you can pop a couple of those in the toaster?

Let's talk about the reasons! There are all kinds of things you can do with waffles, so don't make the mistake of thinking they're just for breakfast. They can be sweet or savory, as healthy or as decadent as you want, and once you find your favorite, you can make them ahead and freeze them. That means you can treat yourself any time, not just on lazy weekend mornings! Then, add in some of these secret ingredients to make them next level, and it's possible you'll never take a shortcut again.

Lemon zest

It's incredibly easy to add some lemon zest to your waffle batter, and it's a simple addition that will take your waffles to the next level. Start with the zest of a whole lemon (use more or less to taste), and stir it into the batter of any waffle recipe. It's perfect if you just want to give your waffles a little something extra without going overboard, or changing the taste and texture of a favorite recipe.

They're great with traditional butter and maple syrup, but they're also pretty perfect for adding a sweet topping. Grab some icing sugar and whip up a simple drizzle, then add some lemon essence. They're the perfect breakfast base for thinking springtime, too. Add some mascarpone, flavor your drizzle with lavender essence, or top with some fresh strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries in a sugary syrup with a dash of lemon. It's spring on your breakfast plate!

Sourdough starter

Keeping a batch of sourdough starter around seems intimidating, but it's not only super easy, it's more versatile than you think. It's not just for bread anymore, and one of the things you can use your stinky, beery-smelling starter for is to make seriously amazing waffles.

Sourdough has been around for a long, long time, and the key to making winning waffles with it is to let your batter base sit overnight. Combine one part starter with two parts flour, two parts milk, and 2 tablespoons of sugar, and mix it up the night before. By the time you're ready to make your waffles in the morning, you'll have a spongy sort of batter. Mix in two eggs, no more than a quarter cup of melted butter, and a dash of salt and baking soda. That's it! Your batter will bubble and gurgle away like something out of a witch's cauldron, and that's how you know the magic's happening. You might never make regular waffles again.

Guinness

Waffles don't have to be just for breakfast, and they don't even have to be for lunch or dinner. If you're looking for something completely out-of-the-box for a special dessert, use Guinness as your liquid. It's a strong stout, so it's not going to take much to add a rich flavor to your favorite waffle recipe. You're still going to use milk, but if you replace part of that with Guinness, you'll end up with some delectable dessert waffles.

That Guinness flavor means these are great for a little experimentation (and for parties). They definitely deserve better than just butter, so whip up some heavy cream and add a dash of Baileys for something extra-boozy. For something a little lighter, stick with a vanilla whipped topping or a dollop of ice cream, add a cherry, and you have a winning dessert that looks — and tastes — way more complicated than it is.

Cornstarch

Belgian waffles are a bit of an oddity, because they're actually named for the place they originated. (We're looking at you, French fry!) Waffles actually date back to the Middle Ages, but according to GoUNESCO, Belgian waffles didn't hit the US scene until 1964. There are actually two different kinds — the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle — and it's the first one that most Americans think of. Making a great Belgian waffle is tricky — you're going for a thick, not-too-sweet waffle that's soft in the center and crispy on the outside. That's where our secret ingredient comes in.

Adding cornstarch to your recipe is going to help you get that crisp on the outside while keeping the center soft and flaky. Getting waffles right takes a bit of experimentation — every waffle iron behaves differently, after all — so don't be afraid to tweak settings, time, and recipes as you go. It might take as much as a quarter to half a cup of cornstarch to get the desired effect, but once you figure out the golden ratio, it's worth it.

Coffee

It's entirely possible that waffles are the very best of the weekend breakfast options, but they definitely don't need to be boring. Swap out some of that milk for coffee (made ahead of time and cooled) and you will absolutely take your morning waffles to the next level. You're going to serve them with coffee anyway, right? And everyone knows it's impossible to have too much coffee goodness.

There are so many flavors that go with coffee, so there are a ton of options when it comes to topping these. Whip up a simple drizzle with powdered sugar and coffee for even more coffee goodness, or go the whipped cream route with some hazelnut, chocolate, or vanilla essence. If the season's right, go for some fresh fruit under that whipped cream and dash of chocolate sauce, and it's almost healthy, right? Add some chocolate shavings on top of that whipped cream, and you have a cappuccino in waffle form. What's not to love?

Buttermilk

If you have a tried-and-true, long-perfected favorite waffle recipe, this is one secret ingredient you can add with no fiddling necessary. Just swap out milk for buttermilk, and you'll end up with waffles that are richer and creamier than any waffle you've ever made before. Buttermilk changes the texture (and you can add a dash of cream of tartar if you're worried about them getting too dense), but it absolutely works to make a waffle that's almost silky inside. It's definitely not going to make them any healthier, but on the plus side, they'll be so thick and flavorful on their own that you'll be able to go easy on the toppings. Add some fresh fruit, a pat of butter, and that's it. Even your normal healthy dose of maple syrup might just be too overpowering; if you're going to use buttermilk, you're going to want to taste every bite of the delectable waffles it makes.

Looking for something a little different? Swap in almond milk instead for some incredible, dairy-free waffles.

Cinnamon-brown sugar

Remember Cinnamon Toast Crunch? It was amazing, wasn't it? Those little squares, packed full of all kinds of delicious cinnamon and sugar… you didn't even miss the fact there wasn't any chocolate or marshmallows. Now, what if we told you that you can channel all that flavor into waffles? Yes, please!

It's ridiculously easy, too, and as an added bonus, you probably have these two ingredients in your kitchen already. Just add a few teaspoons of cinnamon and half a cup of brown sugar to your batter, and you'll end up with waffles that taste just like you remember your favorite morning cereal tasting. But don't stop there. For your topping, dig out your favorite cinnamon roll recipe, and then make that glaze. If you don't have one, that's all right. Just mix some powder sugar, vanilla essence, a few tablespoons of milk, and a dash of brown sugar. Adjust the amount of powdered sugar until you get the texture you're looking for, drizzle, and done!

Maple syrup

But… you always use maple syrup! It's not really a secret ingredient, you might think, but have you ever tried putting it into the waffles and not just on top?

Just add some to your wet ingredients before you mix in your flour and other dry ingredients, and it's really that easy. The waffles will be imbued with all that maple flavor that's usually a sticky mess on the top, so while you can certainly add more to the top, it's a great way to keep the flavor and add some different toppings. Fresh fruit is always a good option, but what about adding a few slices of smoky maple bacon, or some maple-flavored breakfast sausage?

These don't have to be just for breakfast, either. Maple-flavored waffles make a great base for a dessert, too. Serve them up with some maple-pecan ice cream, decorated with a few pieces of maple candy, and top them with sprinkles made from crispy, thick-cut bacon.

Yeast

There's no one right or wrong way to make waffles, but if your go-to recipe uses baking soda as a raising agent, you might want to branch out and try a batch with yeast.

According to The Guardian's look at the surprisingly long history of waffles, making them with baking soda is a pretty recent change to the recipe. Agents like baking soda really only became common in the 19th century, and before then, waffle batter relied mainly on yeast. Sure, it takes some planning ahead, but waffle batter only needs to rise for a few hours — and if you make your batter the night before you're going to cook them, you're golden.

And the waffles will be (golden), too. There's definitely a difference you can taste in yeast-raised waffles. They're fluffy, lighter, and they'll have a crispier crust than baking soda (or baking powder) waffles. It's worth planning ahead for!

Pumpkin puree

Love pumpkin spiced lattes? How about serving your morning coffee alongside some pumpkin spiced waffles?

It doesn't take much to get all that delicious pumpkin flavor into your waffles, but there is a trick to getting this one to turn out right. Use pumpkin puree instead of pumpkin pie filling, then add a dash of pumpkin pie spice. That's the first part of getting the texture of these right, and the second part is to separate your eggs. Be sure to whip the egg whites until they're stiff, then incorporate that into your waffle batter. Otherwise, you'll end up with a final product that's heavier and denser than a standard waffle (and these are still going to be pretty dense, but tasty). Top them with all kinds of delicious fall flavors, add some chopped pecans, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a dollop of cream whipped with another healthy helping of pumpkin pie spices. This is one waffle that would go brilliantly with some pecan ice cream, too, and no one will judge if this turns from breakfast into dessert.

Coconut milk, oil, and flakes

If you're in the mood for something light, fluffy, completely different, and dairy-free, try swapping the milk in your favorite waffle recipe for coconut milk. You'll be shocked at just how much that one simple substitution changes the flavor of your waffles, and there's the added advantage of being able to turn this one up to the max.

Replace the oil with coconut oil, and finish this one off with some toasted coconut flakes. If you don't have flakes on hand, you can dress it up with a pile of sliced bananas, a side of pineapple, a bit of pomegranate, or your favorite tropical fruit. Add a dusting of cocoa powder, or some whipped cream that's been loaded up with vanilla or Bailey's Irish cream. For something completely different, use something that goes well with coconut but is completely unexpected when it comes to a plate of waffles. Cardamom and a hint of curry, maybe?

Cocoa powder

Add some cocoa powder to your favorite waffle batter, and you have what might be the ultimate dessert base. Make it as strong as you want, use a handful of dark chocolate powder, throw in some chocolate chips or chunks, and make this one a winner with the toppings. Serve it up with a few scoops of your favorite ice cream, hot fudge sauce, sprinkles, and a few cherries for an amazing, waffle-based take on a sundae, or go the fruit route. Slice of up some bananas, and top the whole thing with a banana whipped cream. (Bananas are so versatile, it's super easy to make. Just whip your heavy cream, add some sugar and a dash of vanilla to taste, and fold in a mashed banana. Done!)

The sky's the limit with chocolate waffles. Pile on some pistachio ice cream, add some hazelnut spread, or turn your waffles into a creation with all the fun flavors of a s'more. Dust with more chocolate, add some graham cracker crumbles, dig that marshmallow fluff out of the cupboard, and serve them while they're warm. That's right, we went there!

Bacon (and the bacon fat)

You can't have breakfast without bacon, and there's no reason you should just be serving these crispy strips of goodness up on the side. If your favorite waffle recipe calls for oil, you can absolutely replace that with the juices left behind after bacon's been cooked to a crisp. In case that's not enough bacon flavor, take those strips, cut them into chunks, and stir those into your batter, too.

Any bacon will do, but to really bring the whole thing together pick up some thick-cut maple bacon. That sounds great for breakfast, but you can turn this idea into a delicious dessert, too. Start with the same idea — bacon juice in the batter — then make candied bacon. Crumble and use it to top your waffles, add a spoonful of maple ice cream, and top the whole thing with a drizzle of maple syrup. Everything's better with bacon, after all, and this is one idea you can adapt to fit whatever time of day the cravings hit!

Baileys Irish Cream

Sometimes, it takes the promise of something extra-special to get you out of bed in the morning, even if it's the weekend. Baileys waffles are sure to do the trick (especially if you serve them up with some coffee that's been topped off with Baileys, too!)

Stir some into the waffle batter, and you're going to want to keep some for the whipped topping, too. Mix it up! Baileys original is delicious, but you can also use this same idea with any of the other flavors you can find. Pick up a bottle of the hazelnut, coffee, chocolate, pumpkin spice, or salted caramel, and whichever variety you choose, be sure to make plenty of whipped topping and have a complimentary syrup on hand. Add some chocolate sauce, strawberry syrup, or butterscotch drizzle, finish off with some shaved chocolate or powdered sugar, and serve with a strawberry or two for an added bit of freshness you'll appreciate after this slightly boozy breakfast (or dessert).

Amaretto

Amaretto is one of those things you may have picked up with the best of intentions, but found the bottle sits for a long, long time. Use it in your waffles once, and it won't sit for long again! Just stir into your batter, and you'll find this gives your waffles a delicious, nutty flavor. It's an odd flavor to include in waffles, and the bonus of this one is there's some equally fun and unexpected things you can do with it to finish it off right.

Top with whipped heavy cream with some fresh cherries, flavor your whipped cream with a dash of passionfruit, or pile the plate high with raspberries and strawberries. Give maple syrup a pass in favor of a sugary sweet syrup made with those same berries, or go for simplicity. The amaretto flavor is just as good alone, so you can absolutely enjoy them plain with a hot, steamy cup of coffee.

Molasses and ginger

Love gingerbread? Love waffles? How about gingerbread waffles?

A little bit of molasses goes a long way, so adding it into your favorite waffle batter with enough ginger to get the right flavor combination might take some experimenting. Add a tiny bit if you're going for the light gingerbread flavor of your favorite holiday cookies, add a lot if you're looking for something dark and super-rich. There's seriously no right or wrong way to do this one, and it all comes down to what your family's favorite kind of gingerbread is. These are great for breakfast with a dash of fresh fruit, and they're just as good for dessert. Stay simple with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, or whip up some vanilla icing while your waffle iron is working some magic. Gingerbread is just asking for creativity and fun for those dessert waffles, so serve them with a little side of anything you might put on a gingerbread house. And believe us, no one's going to mind if you do the same thing for breakfast.