A jaffle maker will revolutionize your toasted sandwich game
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I forgot about the jaffles for a good decade. But thanks to restrictive pandemic border policies and old-fashioned nostalgia, lately I am feeling nostalgic and strong with these toasted sandwiches iconic to my beloved Australian homeland.
Each sanga, as we call them, comes together in a jaffle maker, an electric cooking device somewhat similar (in theory and name) to a waffle iron. Here is how it works: 1). Butter or mayo the outside of two pieces of bread and fill them with delicious foods. 2). Load your sandwich between the non-stick hinged concave plates. 3). Close the press, which squeezes the bread and simultaneously heats the filling, toast the outside, seal the crusts and cut the sandwich into two neat triangles while doing a small jaffle jig in the kitchen.
Before rolling my eyes on buying a single-use device, even though people to do bake French toast and omelets in their jaffle makers – think Platonic toastie. It’s golden and crisp on the outside, warm and tender on the inside, perfectly contained in a hand-held pouch and ideally tilted for dipping in tiny ramekins of aioli, ketchup (known ONLY as tomato sauce in ounce) or mayonnaise. You can think of it like a sloth’s pizza pocket or meat pie, which is also how you know the jaffle maker is an Australian invention. Who has time to work hard on puff pastry when the surf is on, folks?
Bondi-based Doctor Ernest Smithers, the same man who invented the surfplane (a kind of inflatable rubber surfboard), is credited with popularizing and patenting the jaffle maker in 1949. Smithers’ original version, often referred to as a pie iron in the US, was a metal contraption with long handles to hold over a flame or barbecue. Later, in 1974, the Sydney-based brand Breville launched the first manufacturer of electric jaffles, the Snack ‘n Sandwich Toaster, which 10% of Australian households owned in its first year on the market.
Growing up, jaffles were the perfect route for easy dinners or refrigerator cleanups. We ate them stuffed with cheddar, baked beans and Vegemite; ham and pineapple or banana; leftover bolognese and parmesan cheese; canned spaghetti and mozzarella; roast chicken with avo and Swiss cheese; and banana and Nutella. But there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to jaffling except this one: Even if you will be tempted, don’t overfill your sandwich or it will explode like a mini volcano.
While the name, jaffle, isn’t always the same, the sealed sandwich has been around the world making it Australia’s greatest cultural contribution (you know, aside from Milo, Tim Tams, Vegemite and various other national treasures). My colleagues Rachel Gurjar and Antara Sinha grew up eating Bombay sandwiches, an Indian riff stuffed with variations like potatoes and spicy peas; crumbled paneer; and cucumber, tomato and cheese with chutney. The British call them grilled sandwiches (so creative). And in South Africa, you’ll find snacks or jaffles stuffed with salted minced meat that are often still made in the pie pan over direct heat.
Of course, not all electric jaffle makers are created equal. Those available in the US are usually not concave enough to handle filling loads (unlike the Breville ‘Big One’ sandwich maker Australians can buy). But I love the Two-Toast-at-a-Time Cuisinart, which at 9.07 x 8.87 inches is smaller than most hardcover cookbooks. It features all the good things: non-stick plates, a locking clip, indicator lights to let you know when your sandwich is ready, and raised ridges to prevent spillovers in case you ignore my aforementioned advice.
On evenings when the sanga siren song is loud, you will find me methodically buttering bread in my kitchen. I’m going to open up a can of beans, put a layer on a layer, add a pinch of cheese, slip in a salty lick of straight Vegemite and let the Jaffle Maker take it from there. At less than $ 30, that’s a cheap ticket to the house.