Saturday, May 31, 2014

Homemade Eggettes or Gai Daan Jai (雞蛋仔)

While most of you have probably been helping yourself to chocolate Easter eggs last month, my mind has been occupied by an entirely different kind of eggy treat: the Hong Kong street snack called gai daan jai (雞蛋仔), which translates to a diminutive of the word for egg. For this reason, I prefer the terms "eggettes" or "egglets", though they are known by a variety of names, including Egg Waffle, Hong Kong Waffle (even though they actually sell the waffles with the grid pattern in Hong Kong as well), Waffle Balls, Bubble Waffle, Mini Egg Puff, Egg Cake, or simply Gai Daan Jai.

My homemade gai daan jai.

The basic ingredients of this iconic Hong Kong street food are only flour, eggs, and sugar. But there are many variations, and businesses will not share their secrets lightly. The quality between the different vendors can differ greatly, as we discovered first hand, and they look deceptively easy to make. After fail after fail in my kitchen, however, I can assure you that these simple snacks require a high level of skill indeed!

History

Although there is no definitive answer as to how gai daan jai were invented, most people seem to say they originated in Hong Kong around 1950, as refugees fleeing civil war in China flooded into the city. With a growing population, entrepreneurs came up with creative ways to make the best use of scarce resources under strict government price control. Apparently, back then, eggettes were cooked at streetside carts over charcoal stoves, and sold by the egglet for 1 cent.

Some claim they began as a way for small grocers to use up broken eggs, while others say the egg-shaped mould was used to make up for an eggless batter. Eggs may be less of a luxury these days, but it is certainly harder now to get hold of the more flavourful duck eggs which some sellers used at the time.

Sadly, it is now illegal for most waffle vendors to ply their trade in the streets of Hong Kong. With a goal of public health and safety, government officials stopped issuing new hawker licences in the early 1970s. High profile arrests of traditional but permitless cart holders have provoked public outrage, with commentators lamenting the loss of the city's street food culture.

Eggette seller cooking over a charcoal stove.

Makers of eggettes have also largely abandoned the use of charcoal stoves for gas-powered ones, or have switched to electric moulds.

Related Articles
Videos in Cantonese
  • 《文化多面睇 炭燒雞蛋仔伯伯》 (NOW BNC, 2 September 2012) - Mr Ng, a 75-year-old eggette seller who entered the trade in 1982, still uses charcoal stoves and shares his recipe with kids; he cannot afford to open a shop, and the government stopped issuing hawker licences in the 1970s, hence the illegal work; misinformation also led to demise of the street-sellers (posters showed them as horrific and dirty)
  • 《名廚。食出五味人生》 (i-Cable Channel 12 娛樂台, 9 September 2012) - Mr Ng says that no eggs were used at the beginning; eggettes take 8 minutes to cook; interview with Eric from Gu Fah Bakery, a specialist eggette store with modern flavours, using beer to make the dough rise.
  • 《雞蛋仔。香港地道小吃 (Firewalk Productions, 25 November 2012) - Mr Liu, owner of LKK North Point Eggettes, says his mother used duck eggs in the 1950s; it takes 7 - 8 minutes to cook an eggette; he makes a batch of batter using 400 eggs.

The Ideal

In a previous post, I shared our favourite spot in Hong Kong for eating eggettes. While eggettes from other vendors are frequently disappointingly limp and soggy, those from LKK North Point Eggettes are consistently fresh and crunchy on the outside, with a soft pillow against one side inside. As another blogger aptly describes it, they are addictive, "just like popping bubble wrap".

I would say that excellent eggettes need to have the following characteristics:
  • crisp on the outside, but soft on the inside
  • the little balls should be interconnected, so you can snap them apart with satisfaction
  • they should be evenly lightly golden, with the balls the same colour as the bits joining them together
  • smooth shiny surface
  • fresh, fragrant flavour
Related Articles
Equipment

Unlike Chinese egg rolls, you definitely need specialist equipment to make eggettes. How else would you be able to mould your batter into little balls?

I wanted something basic, so I purchased a traditional eggette pan from Shanghai Street in Hong Kong. These old fashioned devices are basically made of two metal moulds that fit together, attached to wooden handles. I was surprised to see that the two halves were not the same - the bottom was significantly deeper than the top half.

Traditional eggette pan.
There are very few of the old-school eggette craftsmen left, who still use the traditional moulds over charcoal fires. Most commercial eggette sellers in Hong Kong now use electric eggette makers, which can simultaneously heat your batter on both sides, as well as providing a constant, controlled temperature without any effort from the cook. They may also have a Teflon-coated surface, so the waffle can be removed easily.

Egg waffle maker from Alibaba and Shentop.

If you can't get hold of either of the above, then you might want to consider Western-style eggette makers, which don't look quite right because they tend to make completely round balls rather than egg-shaped ones. As before, you can either get these as a standalone pan, or as electric one.

Nordic Ware Egg Waffle Pan and CucinaPro Bubble Waffler.

Recipe for the Batter

Depending on what you search the internet for, you will end up with different recipes for gai daan jai. I ignored the ones that were clearly not what I was after, such as those using pancake mix or a sourdough starter.

Looking for "eggette recipe" or "Hong Kong waffle recipe" turned up two basic recipes, with a number of different sites repeating them (sometimes without accreditation!). Christine's recipe provided by Anne Yeung (published September 2010) is the more Asian version and seems to be very popular. It has the same proportions of ingredients as the recipe shared by I Love Cake (video uploaded September 2009), but differs slightly in the method, for instance not using an electric egg beater, adding the oil after the flour (rather than mixing it with the wet ingredients), and letting the batter stand for an hour in the fridge instead of at room temperature. It is also almost the same as Recipe 1 shared on the eGullet forum (posted July 2005). The other recipe that frequently pops up is the one provided by Williams-Sonoma, which seems totally inauthentic, calling for the egg whites and yolks to be beaten separately, and adding unconventional spices in the form of nutmeg.

Search for "gai daan jai recipe" and you get the same top hits, but also a couple of extra recipes such as one from Hong Kong Lightbox (published August 2008). This recipe is nearly identical to the one I found in Fan-Yuk Hui Chan's Chinese-English cookbook 香港特色小吃 Distinctive Snacks of Hong Kong (17th edition published February 2010, first published September 1998), but with the use of cornflour rather than tapioca starch. As a reviewer pointed out, despite the book having an egg waffle on the cover, it "doesn't taste like the real thing". There is also a recipe from Wynwyn's Place, which is given without any description or picture, but has a higher egg content than the other recipes I have seen so far.

Google "雞蛋仔" or "雞蛋仔 recipe" and there are a few more new recipes, such as one given by Yvonne Lo (published July 2010), directly after writing about the Lee Keung Kee North Point Eggette shop—though I am pretty sure the business owner would never give his recipe away. I also found a recipe in Chinese (published April 2012) that was different again, with no evaporated milk.

I think the oldest recipe I found online was one posted in Google Groups in September 2003 by Betty Lee, who in turn was quoting Anna Au (though the address http://www.pipeline.com/~rosskat/wizzab.html does not exist anymore), who had found a recipe in her sister's Chinese cookbook. It had a high ratio of eggs, unlike another recipe from a Reddit forum post, which had far more flour and water.

Searching for videos on YouTube turned up a few more variations. For instance, the eggettes from the Gu Fah Bakery (古法烘焙) are apparently made with beer. Mr Ng, the "eggette uncle" (雞蛋仔伯伯) who was arrested and heavily fined multiple times for selling these delicious snacks (and has now sadly passed away), shares his simpler recipe containing only the four ingredients of egg, flour, sugar and oil - though he also adds a powdery "secret ingredient" as well as water.

I suspect, however, that technique you use has as much, if not more, to do with the outcome than the recipe you choose.

Technique

I wanted to reproduce the eggettes of the LKK North Point store, and watched a bunch of videos of their creations being cooked. However, as they use electric waffle irons, I was not able to learn much. Basically, they pour the batter to fill the indentations, then flip the pan once, and pretty much just leave it for 7-8 minutes. This would not work with my eggette mould as I can only heat one side at a time. They then remove the eggette, curve it, let air from a fan blow across it, and put it into a paper bag with breathing holes.

Clearly, I would need to learn from the charcoal stove eggette makers instead. Rather than flooding the mould full, they pour the batter in a spiral pattern to make a thin coating, then swirl the pan around in all directions to distribute the contents. Sometimes I see them wiping down the flat sides with a cloth while the eggette is cooking. They flip the pan 3 to 5 times, and the finished product is ready in less than 2 minutes in many cases. Unlike the ones at LKK, these eggettes just drop out of the mould when cooked. The waffles are cooled flat, and often fall apart when being bagged. I guess they must be delicious and crispy, when people will queue for an hour for them.



My Learnings

I learnt a lot of things in the course of my experiments, other than the fact that the mould is pretty heavy.

Tip 1: Season your pan

NB. Do not do this if you have a non-stick pan! When I first started making eggettes, I brushed oil on to the mould before pouring in the batter. After burning the bristles of my brush by mistake, I switched to the quicker method of using cooking spray. But even though I sprayed between every single batch, the waffles still stuck to the pan.

Eventually, I realised I was doing something wrong, and looked up how to season my pan. I brushed oil onto the cold cooking surface (not forgetting the edges), then fired up the gas burner and heated the mould until the oil began to smoke. I switched off the heat and let the pan cool, before wiping away excess oil with a paper towel, and repeating the whole process again.

Seasoning the pan not only made it easier to remove the egg waffles, it made the browning of the cake a lot more even. I guess you see the same effect when you are making pancakes, when the first lot (where you added oil) has more colour contrast than the later versions (where you are cooking on a dry frying pan).

Uneven cooking in unseasoned mould, with dark and light patches.

Oh, and as you will be burning oil during the seasoning process, don't forget to open the doors!

Tip 2: Pick an eggy batter

Mr Liu said that the secret to his LKK North Point eggettes is to use plenty of eggs. At first, I thought this was just a marketing gimmick, just a thing that was mentioned to avoid giving away the true secret of his recipe, and to make it sound like his creations were worth more, being made with more expensive ingredients for extra flavour.

Having tried a few different recipes now, I have to say the ones with more eggs definitely taste better. Not only that, they give rise to a crispier result. In contrast, the more watery batters took longer to cook and had a habit of expanding (presumably from the steam) during cooking.

These eggettes pushed the two halves of my mould apart.
Although I am still experimenting, my favourite recipe so far is the one from Wynwyn's Place, which looks like this:
3 eggs
1/2 C sugar
2 T butter, melted
1/4 C milk
2 T cornstarch
2/3 C flour
1 t baking powder
1. Beat eggs whilst gradually adding sugar until fluffy.
2. Gently stir in milk.
3. Sift dry ingredients into egg mixture. Fold gently to combine.
4. Stir through melted butter.
5. Grease waffle plate with oil and heat on stove. Make sure plates are hot before adding batter.
6. Fill plates about 60% full with batter and cook over moderate heat for approx. 2 minutes on each side or until golden and puffy.

Tip 3: Pour your batter from a jug

I started off being lazy and just scooped ladles of batter onto the eggette mould. It is much more efficient, and easier to get the batter to where you want it, if you have everything in a jug though, so you can simply pour it as you wish, rather than having some batter cook while you are reaching for another ladle.

Tip 4: Line your stovetop with foil

There are going to be accidents. Batter will drip out of the pan. If you want to save yourself all the cleaning effort later, line your stovetop with foil first.

Spilt batter - should have lined the stovetop earlier.

Tip 5: Swing your pan to distribute the batter

You want the little balls to be interconnected. If you just pour the batter into the indentations and don't move your mould around, you will end up with discrete spheres that don't hold onto their neighbours. Swinging your pan will ensure that the batter goes up the sides rather than pooling at the bottom, so that your creation does in fact look like little eggs.

Separate balls from not getting batter in between them.

Tip 6: Let it breathe

After cooking, don't just throw your eggettes in a pile. You want to leave them spread on a cooling rack so that the steam can evaporate. You can also help this process by fanning away the moisture.

Final Tip: Practice makes perfect!

Don't give up just because your first batch was no good! Nobody gets it right the first time, and those professionals who make it look so easy have been practising for years!

One of my failures.
Better eggettes made later that same evening.
Hope you enjoy making eggettes yourself, and let me know if you have any other tips to share!

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things. This month, it is hosted by Eva from Kitchen Inspirations.

52 comments:

  1. Wow, looks mighty impressive NNP! I've never heard of eggettes until your blog, will look out for them if I'm ever back in Hong Kong. There's nothing better than crispy egg batter except crispy egg batter in the shape of eggs!

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    Replies
    1. A lot of people call them mini egg puffs or egg waffles, which don't make them sound like anything special. They definitely need to be crispy outside, but there's a contrast with the soft inside too, so they are not the same as other crispy egg things. You have to get them from the right shops though - the other ones are frequently no good.

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  2. What a fantastic post, Panda! Well researched and I really enjoyed the history lesson :)
    I never saw eggettes when I was in Hong Kong but have salivated over photos of them! They look delightfully delicate.

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    1. The legal shops tend to be tiny holes in the wall, so it would be easy to miss them unless you were looking out for them. My favourite is LKK North Point Eggettes - you should give them a try next time!

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  3. I'm always so impressed with these projects you take on in the kitchen! I'm not sure if you're interested, but thought I'd let you know that I've nominated you for a Liebster Award. Here's a link to the nomination:
    http://riceandkai.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/the-liebster-award/

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the nomination, Audrey! I prefer writing about food to writing about myself, so I might give this a miss. Loved reading about you though! :)

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    2. No problem, it did take a long time to write about myself (just realised how narcissistic that sounded). Just take it as a compliment for how much I enjoy what you do!

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  4. Hello Panda, I read your article, it is so good and so interesting that it made me curious to try. Well, here it is, I made a few eggettes using few dough trials. But, the inside of my eggette is always filled with dough. I can't seem to make eggetes that is part filled and part hollow which seen on your post here:
    http://nomnompanda.blogspot.co.nz/2013/05/another-week-in-hong-kong-north-point.html

    I followed the Christine's recipe and I used medium protein wheat flour. I'm guessing that I should use a different flour. What kind of flour should I use (high or low protein wheat flour, tapioca flour, water lily flour)? Or should I use a premix flour (if there are any good premix flour)?

    Thank you for making a detailed post about Hong Kong eggettes and aslo thank you in advance for your suggestion :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good to see someone else interested in making eggettes. :) I just used all purpose wheat flour - I don't think it matters much.

      To make the eggettes part filled only, make sure you don't pour too much batter into the pan. Do you have a traditional mould or an electric machine? I have been studying all the YouTube videos of how they make them at LKK and they just flip the pan once after pouring in the batter, so that most of the dough collects on one side. This is a bit harder to achieve with a traditional pan because you have to keep flipping to make sure both sides gets heated.

      Good luck and let me know how you go!

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    2. Hello Panda, it's very nice to hear from you.

      I also use the all purpose flour, but they seem to have rather hard-chewy texture, not as soft as say.. pancakes or A&W waffles.. Am I making it quite right like the original Hong Kong recipe?

      I'm using the electric machine, when I pour the batter, I tend to make sure they have enough batter to fill the egg-shaped mold and won't fall apart, but my finished eggettes is filled quite fully with air holes inside it.

      But I'm going to try more of your suggestion, I'll tell you when I made progress, hehehe.. Thank you and have a good day :)

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    3. Different eggette sellers have different recipes. The LKK ones seem to have quite a thin batter, and they flood one side of the mould with it before flipping. From the video, it looked like quite a bit drips out from the sides (the indentations are not as deep on one side).

      The eggettes made over charcoal stoves seem to have a thicker batter, and the cooks pour less in to begin with, but swing the pan to distribute it.

      Either way, the goal is to have a crispy shell, even though the centre can be a little bit chewy.

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  5. I am trying to find the traditional Chinese cookware to make the Waffles and Chinee egg roll biscuits. Both pans/pressed are stamped "FISH". My wife is Chinese and wants them for her birthday.

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    Replies
    1. Yep, my mould has the "FISH" brand. I bought it from Shanghai Street in Hong Kong.

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  6. thanks for the write up! what kind of milk did you use? lowfat or whole or something else?

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    Replies
    1. Some of the recipes I tried called for condensed milk, but generally I just used standard milk. You might as well make do with what you have first, while you are practising, as you might end up throwing a lot of the batter away anyway, if you are anything like me. :)

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  7. oops, another question i had was, have you tried using your favorite recipe with tapioca starch instead of cornstarch?

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    Replies
    1. I'm afraid I haven't. I'd be interested in the results when you try though!

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  8. Hello nomnom panda, I've got a few questions here. I tried the wynwyn's recipe for several times with different method of beating the eggs. Once I used electric mixer to beat the eggs until it's really fluffy (3-5mins), the result was soft on the inside alike cake but the outside didn't really look great (not expanding well and just a bit crispy). The second time I tried to use hand to beat the eggs using egg beater, the result somehow gave a perfect view with golden colour and a bit crispy outside and also expanding well as described, but the inside taste a bit chewy, heavy and the texture was similar to pancake.

    Now, how fluffy should we beat the eggs according to wynwyn's recipe? Do we need to use electric mixer or just by hand?

    Hope to hear from you soon.
    Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just whisked by hand, but you should do whatever gives you the result you like. I generally expect my eggettes to be slightly chewy rather than spongy, but different vendors in Hong Kong will give you different versions too, so it's really a matter of personal taste.

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    2. How long do you whisk using hand?

      Thanks

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    3. I didn't time the whisking, but would have just done enough that the egg was lighter in colour than at the beginning, and thicker/fluffier too. For a less chewy texture, you could try letting the batter rest for an hour as suggested in some of the other recipes. Hope that helps!

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  9. I found 2 videos from youtube i think its pretty authentic regarding the recipe, however I have not tried it yet because I dont have that mold/pan, but i think its helpful

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ4W0lzRWS4
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PidSpXjuszY

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I didn't try the recipes using beer because I thought they were not authentic, but if they give a crispy result, I guess I should at least give them a go. :)

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  10. i am dreaming to have this kind of business here in the Philippines but can't find the eggette pan. or the machine.don't even know how much it cost. wanna try to have my own egette kiosk to be put inside the mall. what do you think? do you think it will click? ☺

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you've never tried making eggettes before, you should probably try it first. It takes some skill to get them so good that people will return for more, not just come once for the novelty factor.

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  11. Have you tried make all the recipes you have researched?

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    Replies
    1. No, I have only tried about 4 of them. After several batches, I run out of eggs, or get sick of them and can't eat anymore!

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  12. Hello Nom Nom Panda
    Thanks for your hard work on those research.
    I just brought the electric model and will try it this weekend.
    What is the best recipe that you had use that taste like the Hong Kong street vendor?

    Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Hmm, that's hard for me to say, because different vendors I've tried in HK have different versions of eggettes! Just pick a recipe that looks good and give it a go (and let me know how it went too!) :)

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  13. Hello, thanks for the recipe. Sadly it was way too eggy for me and tastes different from those I bought before :(

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! I found the flavour and texture differed a lot between vendors so I would be keen to hear what you think about other recipes you try.

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  14. Lovely recipe with eggsellent results. I'm sure the simplicity lends the recipe greater authenticity than the much more involved separated prep methods and spiced editions.
    Just because I can't follow a recipe I sub'd custard power for cornstarch and used evaporated milk and then cooked my gai daan on a waffle iron. Loved the results!!

    Thanks for your great blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am pretty sure evaporated milk is more commonly used in Asian countries than fresh milk, and custard powder is mostly cornstarch anyway, so sounds like you made a good choice. Thanks, and great to hear it worked out so well for you!

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  15. hi nom nom panda, thanks for sharing the recipe on ur blog. Your recipe "T" & "C" represent? "C"= Cup "T"=tablespoon?

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    Replies
    1. Oh, it's not my recipe, but yes, you interpreted the abbreviations correctly - how did it go?

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    2. Thanks panda..i have not try yet coz not sure if the T stands for tablespoon or Teaspoon. I will try n post the result after...i tried a few recipe before, but my egglet did not turn out as nice as ur light brown..was thinking is it becoz of my recipe or the egglet machine that i used. i used those commercial kind go egglet machine which comes with turning knob (1,2,3)

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    3. Hmm, I had very dark patches until I seasoned my pan, but with a commercial machine I guess it would have a non-stick coating, so that wouldn't be the reason. Did changing the recipe help?

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    4. I tried ur recipe, it turns out very nice on the 1-2 pieces. Sequently, 3-4pieces it turn darker n got burnt.my Guess, need to cool the machine alittle before going for the 3-4pieces. Question, is there a difference in end result if we use electric blender instead of whisking the ingredients?

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    5. Beating the eggs with an electric beater should be fine, but when adding the flour you should mix as little as possible to avoid making the eggettes tough. Good luck and enjoy!

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  16. Thanks for all your blog! I have tried some recipes but they are always coming out different colours and heavy texture. Any tips from anyone? I have an electric machine. Also, how can I make them more shiny and crispy? Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't have an electric machine, so can't give you first-hand advice there - have you tried following the instructions on other sites, like this one? Also, this video advises pouring the batter quickly, flipping the pan straight away, cooking for around 8 min until golden, and blowing away the steam once removed from the pan for crispness.

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    2. I have tried 3 Youtube recipes already! The only one that worked quite well was the CookingHay video, but I had to add lots of beer. will try the one you recommend and use your tips. Will be back with an update soon. Thank you :)

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    3. Thank you Nom Nom, great tips. Tried both the new recipe, the DayDayCook one is the best so far. Both videos have made the difference, especially blowing away steam and being quick turning the plate. I am almost there with the recipe, just can't quite get them as light and crispy as I need to. May water down to get the waffle a little lighter. Will keep going and report back!

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    4. Great to hear your eggettes are getting better! Really appreciate the time and effort you are putting into trying the different recipes. Thanks for reporting back, and wish you lots more success!

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  17. so, I have decided that the original recipe you posted is the best! My family said the DayDayCook & all the others taste of cornstarch and your one is the sweetest.
    How can I thin it so that it is crispier and lighter? I went to buy some from China Town in London (the kids loved them) and theirs were VERY light and crispy, adding water doesn't work. Any tips? Thanks so much

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    Replies
    1. Yay - glad you enjoyed the recipe. Are you trying to give your eggettes a thinner shell? Maybe you could try using less batter and really shaking the machine around when you turn it over?

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    2. Hi, yes, exactly that - a thinner shell. Mine are too heavy and cakey. Tried using less batter. Because it's quite thick it doesn't spread quick enough. Have tried turning the temp down and cooking for longer. Any ideas on how to think the batter, just a little? Water or evaporated milk don't work. Thanks for the support! :)

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    3. Hi TamTam. I have not made eggettes yet, I am still researching recipes, but I am a baker. Maybe try pre-separated egg whites? They tend to be thinner than egg whites you separate yourself, and no leftover yolks to use up. However, check the ingredients on the container, some companies add gums and starches, and even spices and garlic. If you're interested, I can give my reasoning for this suggestion. If you try it, please report back, as your experiences have already been quite instructive for me, along with Nom Nom Panda's original post!

      Delete
    4. Hi dessertschick. My batter is a little thick, the recipe says use 3 eggs but am wondering if I should cut down by 1 to thin it. Would that work using the same amount of sugar? I am also using less cornflour which helps. NomNomPandas first choice recipe is still the best but all the local sellers' batter is thinner, paler and the waffles are crisper!

      Delete
  18. Hi, may I know where do you buy that traditional pan(picture above)

    ReplyDelete

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