Belgium: Belgian Waffles

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In this world of foods that people label as coming from one place when they actually come from somewhere else (like French fries ) and dishes that people think everyone in a country eats when that's not the case at all (like corned beef and cabbage), it's a relief to find one food that actually comes from the country it's named after, and is really popular there as well. Into this class falls that shining example of sugary goodness, the Belgian waffle -- known to French-speakers on its home turf as the gaufre or gauffre, and to Flemish- / Vlaamse-speakers as the wafel, waffel or suikerwaffel.

This is where things get complicated, though, as it turns out there isn't just one kind of Belgian waffle. There are at least two main varieties -- possibly more, depending on who you talk to -- and a lot of minor regional variations.

But before getting into details about the recipes, it has to be said that in their native Belgium, waffles aren't eaten all that much as a breakfast dish -- though naturally tourists ask for them at breakfast, and get them. And though they appear as a dessert dish, again, there are lots of other desserts that are as popular among Belgians.

Where the waffle really shines in Belgium is as a casual snack food -- something you buy from a bakery or street stand, and eat hot and out of hand. (There is so much of this that there are lots of places, especially in the big cities, where you'll see signs like the one on the left, begging people not to bring waffles into shops or stand around eating them out in front and blocking the view in or out of the windows.)

The waffle that most North Americans would think of as a Belgian waffle is known in Belgium as gaufre de Bruxelles, "the Brussels waffle". General Belgian affection for it is sufficiently great that this waffle was chosen as one of the national "birthday cakes" for the European Union's fiftieth birthday celebrations.

The Brussels waffle is based on a batter raised with yeast -- as opposed to most North American waffle or pancake batters, which are raised with baking powder.


Gaufre de Bruxelles: Brussels-style waffle

This is where many North American attempts at the Brussels/Belgian waffle fall down: the yeast raising changes the chemistry of the batter, producing a tenderer crumb in the finished waffle than a baking-powder raising can. The yeast and the beaten egg whites which are folded into the batter work together to produce a light crisp waffle. The Brussels waffle is rectangular and usually about an inch thick, with fairly deep "dimples". When you buy it on the street or in a shop in Belgium, it usually comes dusted with a little confectioners' sugar / icing sugar, and maybe spread with chocolate or thick whipped cream. But you can also get it piled high with fruit and other goodies.

The other main kind of waffle is the Liège waffle, named after that city. (This waffle is also known as the Luikse wafel in Vlaamse and as Lütticher waffeln in German.) It's oblong, more or less oval-shaped, a thinner and smaller waffle than the Brussels waffle. But it's also more substantial, based more on a dough than a batter, and has a significant crunch due to the small nuggets of parelsuiker or "pearl sugar" that are added to the dough just before baking. These bits of sugar melt when being baked on the waffle iron and caramelize, producing a sugary crust like what's found on top of a creme brulée.


Gauffres de Liège | Liège-style waffles

Please note that pearl sugar isn't easy to find. Some stores that specialize in cakemaking and other confectionery carry it, and there are some online sources, such as the King Arthur Flour website, as well as this source and this one. (Minneapolis readers: you can get it at Maid of Scandinavia, 3244 Raleigh Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55415-2299. 800.328.6722.) EBay users: this search will help you see where pearl sugar is available at eBay. If you're in Europe, you can get pearl sugar directly from the Belgian online chocolate-candy-and-food-specialties store Smart-Shoponline.

...If you can't get your hands on pearl sugar, you can fake its effect somewhat by smashing some sugar cubes to sunflower-seed size bits, and then sprinkling the fragments into the batter when directed in the recipe below.)

Francophones: see also this excellent page of minor regional waffle varieties such as the gaufre de Flamande, gaufre de Herve, gaufre de Verviers, gaufre de Perron, etc.

For the gauffre de Bruxelles / Brussels waffle:

  • 1 kilogram flour (2.2 lb)
  • 30 grams of yeast (one package of fast-action yeast)
  • 25 grams of brown sugar
  • 1250 ml of lukewarm water (use tepid sparkling water if possible)
  • 250 grams powdered nonfat dry milk (Carnation or similar)
  • 10 grams of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or one small packet vanilla sugar (about 2 teaspooons)
  • 400 to 500 grams of melted butter
  • 6 to 8 egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks

For the waffle batter:

Put the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the flour: add the yeast and 250 ml of the lukewarm water.

Add the brown sugar, powdered milk, the vanilla extract or vanilla sugar, and the remainder of the water. Mix the dough well: allow to rise for at least 20 minutes - 1/2 hour. During this period, melt the butter. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

Add the melted butter: mix well. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks,: fold carefully into the batter mixture until evenly mixed through.

Heat a large waffle iron. Spread each section with the batter, close and bake until done.

Serve dusted with comfectioners' / icing sugar, or topped with whipped cream and fruit, or with melted chocolate or Nutella.

For the gaufre de Liège / Liège waffle:

  • 420 grams flour
  • 7 grams salt (about a half teaspoon)
  • 25 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 50 grams yeast / one package fast-acting yeast
  • 300 grams butter
  • Around 20 centiliters cold water (preferably sparkling water)
  • 270 grams pearl sugar
  • Vanilla or spicery to your taste

Allow eggs and sparkling water to come up to room temperature first.

Sift the flour into a bowl: make a well in the middle.

Melt the butter over hot water or in the microwave. Allow to cool to lukewarm. Beat the eggs well: add the butter and the yeast: mix well. Add the water and mix again.

Add to the flour along with the granulated sugar and vanilla or other seasoning (cinnamon works well).

Beat the dough for at least ten minutes. It will probably be sticky and difficult to work with. This is normal.

After this beating, allow to stand and rise in a warm place for 15-30 minutes. 5 to 10 minutes before baking, add the pearl sugar.

Heat the waffle iron. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto each quarter or section of the waffle iron. Bake until well browned.

Serve hot off the iron, dusted with confectioner's sugar, or top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

 

A note to European readers: if you're interested in sourcing a waffle maker / waffle iron that will turn out Liege waffles, you probably have your work cut out for you, as most machines to be found on the Web seem to be high-priced commercial models like these.. Try searching for Belgian household machines under the name "Luikse wafel ijzer" (the Vlaamse / Flemish word for waffle iron or waffle maker is wafel ijzer or wafelijzer), and also search using brand names like Nova, Petra, Krups, Cuisinart, Frifri, Bestron, Domo, Tristar, Efbe-Schott, and Severin. Try to find pictures of the waffle iron that show the typical Liège plate, which produces two oblong waffles rather than any combination of square ones. And good luck!

...One last note on this. One brand, Frifri, seems to have a good selection of snap-in waffle plates, and at least one or two of these are for Liège waffles (depending on the size of the waffle maker). Check the manufacturer's page for an illustration of what they've got. These waffle irons go by the name "Gaufrex" or "Multex". ETA:  The Keukenlust online cookware store has them in stock and ships all over Europe.

(Top image courtesy of Purrrpl_Haze at Flickr)

The French-language video below shows both Brussels and Liege waffles being made, as well as potato waffles.