June 15th, 2015

Cornmeal Waffles a la chef Tanya Holland


Last month, I had the pleasure of sharing an event at Pegasus Bookstore in Berkeley California with Chef Tanya Holland. We’d not previously met, but quickly found our common threads, beyond each having authored a cookbook. We were both born in New York and have interests rooted in the cooking traditions of the South. We’re both members of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international organization of professional women in the culinary arts. We are both keenly interested in the intersection of community and food.

You’ll learn that about her, once you visit her restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen. Located in a wedge of West Oakland, where 26th Street and Campbell intersect Mandela Parkway, her eatery has become a prime neighborhood gathering spot. A hospitable spirit pervades the open kitchen and dining room, where a diverse crowd sits down comfortably to plates of eggs and biscuits and bowls of shrimp and grits.


In 2008, it was considered a bold move to open BSK in this somewhat run-down industrial area. But when she found the pie-shaped building, Tanya had that immediate sense of “knowingness”—this was where she belonged. The chef created what she calls “an everyman restaurant,” mid-priced, to please a wide range of people. Drawing on her African-American heritage and her French culinary training, Tanya serves her interpretation of Soul Food, prepared with classic techniques, updated for modern tastes.


The restaurant took off, initially as a destination. It wasn’t long before other businesses and residences followed suit, furthering the revitalization. West Oakland is becoming a thriving community, and Tanya Holland has become recognized for instigating its renaissance.

The cornmeal waffle is indeed her signature dish. She was inspired by Marion Cunningham’s yeasted waffle. By adding cornmeal to the batter, she’s given it a southern spin, and made it her own. I had to order it. Having eaten many versions of chicken-and-waffles, I was anxious to try hers.


Wonderful. The waffle was crisp yet airy, the little “grit” from the meal lending a delectable texture and corn taste. Her apple cider syrup, a welcome departure from the traditional maple, had a pleasant tang. It’s an homage to her grandmother, who always served fried apples for breakfast.

An aside: Righteous fried chicken too–well-seasoned, buttermilk-brined, and skillet-fried to golden.


Now, I’ve made it myself. We had company in town–and a waffle brunch was in order. Her recipe, which I share below, was easy to prepare. You do need to plan ahead–the yeasty batter requires a minimum of 4 hours resting time in the refrigerator. It’s best to mix it up before you go to bed. That way, it’ll be ready for you in the morning. And, be sure to put that batter into a large bowl. It gets quite bubbly even in the fridge as the yeast does its work!


I love the waffle’s versatility–sweet, savory, somewhere in-between. Different grains, different preparations. Visit Cooking Light’s clever array of other terrific waffles here.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
3 eggs
3 cups whole milk
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
vegetable oil for the waffle iron
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In a small bowl, combine the yeast and water. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.
In another large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, salt, and sugar together.
Add the yeast mixture to the egg-milk mixture. Whisk in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight—or at least for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Remove the waffle batter from the refrigerator and stir in the baking soda.
Heat the waffle iron, lightly brush with vegetable oil.
Ladle the batter and cook until golden–about 3 minutes.
Transfer the waffle to a rack and keep warm in the oven
Repeat with remaining batter, placing the waffles in a single layer on the rack until ready to serve.

Makes 8-10 waffles.

1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 cups apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup butter

In a large pot, combine the brown sugar, vinegar, cider, cinnamon, and butter. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the mixture is reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Discard the cinnamon.
Keep warm and serve. When cooled, refrigerate in a airtight container. Keeps for a month.


Posted in Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes

14 Responses to “Cornmeal Waffles a la chef Tanya Holland”
  1. Barbara Greene Says:

    Oh yum! We are down here in Rosemary Beach, Linda, Luke, Dan, Alex and myself and Linda and I have been looking thru your posts. Your fried chicken looks amazing as well. I always thought chicken and waffles was a southern thing but Linda tells me it started in California.

  2. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Linda is correct. The South has definitely adopted it. The trick to wonderful fried chicken is an overnight brine in buttermilk. I love it, but sure can’t eat it except on rare occasions. Sounds like a wonderful beach trip—I know that you all will have great fun together. xoxN

  3. Teresa Blackburn Says:

    OMG I want this…all the fat, all the sugar and all the goodness that I am seeing here. This is just so tasty looking that I am drooling a bit right now! My grandmother used to make a cornmeal based waffle and I just loved it with syrup and butter…she did not accompany it with fried chicken as that was for late meals and waffles were for morning meals….isn’t it great that times have changed and now we can just eat whatever whenever? See you at Third Thursday this week for sure.

  4. Teresa Blackburn Says:

    By the way, if you want to read a great story that upon reading, was the first time I ever heard of “chicken & waffles” then “Mildred Pierce” by James M. Cain, written around 1941 is just he best. There is also an HBO series by the same name staring Kate Winslet that is just fantastic…lots of “chicken & waffle” talk there….also set in California!

  5. goodfoodmatters Says:

    I did see the television production of Mildred Pierce, which, of course, wonderfully staged the little California restaurant, and all those plates of chicken-and-waffles. Look forward to seeing you for 3TP!

  6. Barbara Says:

    I do love waffles, all kinds, but mainly use Marion Cunningham’s yeasted waffles. I’m crazy about the idea of using cornmeal (which I’ve been using in more and more recipes lately)…can’t wait to try these, Nancy.

  7. Tammy Says:

    Waffles look great but love that you met another like minded person in pursuit of community through food.

  8. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Absolutely, Tammy. Making the connection with Tanya was a highlight of the trip.

  9. Johanne Lamarche Says:

    Your recipe could not come at a better time Nancy! My husband loves fried chicken and waffles and orders it when we travel in the South at Tupelo Honey CafĂ©. I have never tried making fried chicken but was thinking of corn waffles with lobster for Father’s Day brunch. These look divine!

  10. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Wow, Johanne, the cornmeal waffles with lobster (and some luscious savory sauce) would really make a special Father’s Day brunch.

  11. Gerlinde Says:

    I also enjoyed meeting Tanya at Pegasus in Berkeley. The next time I’m in Oakland I will eat in her restaurant. Those are good looking waffles Nancy , have a great week.

  12. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Thanks, Gerlinde! I think that you’ll like Brown Sugar Kitchen. Hope your week is going well.

  13. Denise Says:

    Oh wow. I really want a waffle now.

  14. Beth Says:

    I’ve never made – or even eaten – cornmeal waffles. They sound great!

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