Once upon a time, there were two waffles… One originated in Brussels while the other one was born in Liege. And they lived happy ever after! Come on now, this is no fairy tale! Well at least not THAT type of fairy tale. As you may (or may not) know Belgium produces quite an array of products enjoyed worldwide. This small country, roughly the size of Maryland, is famous for its chocolate, its beers, its delicate pastries, its cuisine, its casinos, its world famous racetrack at Spa Francorchamps, the Ardennes and Bastogne (where 4 star General Patton engaged in the battle of the Bulge)… the list goes on and on. But, nothing else quite compares to its unique one-of-a-kind “gaufre” – or as we know it here in the United States – the Belgian waffle.
Belgians are surely proud of their waffles. Pancakes are considered everyday food (for breakfast or as a snack), but waffles are a serious business; they are much more special. I remember looking forward to this one waffle shop as a child, where I would stop for a “gaufre Liégeoise” on my way home from elementary school. Around 4 o’clock, when school ended, the smell of sweet, lightly caramelized sugar would filled the air. There was no way I would pass on the opportunity to savor such a delight. Even though I stopped almost everyday at the same time, the merchant always asked if I wanted it hot, warm or lukewarm. Warm it was, for me at least. Nothing can, or will, ever compare to that soothing feeling of comfort. To this day, whenever I have a chance to travel home, I make it a point to visit this unique waffle shop. Although faces and surroundings have changed a bit, the waffle shop and the quality of the product remain the same.
In Belgium, the waffle iron is almost as beloved as the waffle itself. From its original heavy cast iron form to the most sophisticated electric version, pretty much every Belgian household owns a waffle iron of some kind. Some waffle irons are passed on from generation to generation. Mind you, this item is a must on every bride-to-be’s gift registry. In several museums, and even in some homes, a magnificent collection of waffle irons can be found. Some made of beautifully forged silver or copper that date as far back as the 13th century. Many are fashioned with elaborate patterned grids and produce the most beautiful waffles. Over the centuries, these delectable treats have inspired poets and tempted royalties alike – such as French King Francois, who adored his waffles prepared hot off a silver iron. However, waffles were never meant to be enjoyed by royalty, famous people or inspired personages alone – they are indeed for everyone!
There are hundreds of waffle recipes from all over Belgium, often passed from one generation to the next. Most of the waffles are made with yeast, creating lighter, crustier waffles than the waffles made with baking powder typically found here in the U.S. Belgian waffles first came to the U.S. when they were introduced during the 1960’s World’s fair. I find it hard to believe that despite the variety of easy-to-use and readily available electric waffle irons today, waffles in the U.S. remain mostly a breakfast food item. Try to offer waffles during your next party or family get together, as a meal! Serve them with an array of toppings – from fresh fruit, to ice ream, hot Belgian chocolate, crème chantilly, butter, syrup, Nutella or jam! I usually invite friends of family members to visit in the late afternoon and seduce them with the enticing smells of freshly brewed coffee, coco and baking waffles. No one (to date) has ever been able to resist this happy feast. Keep the waffle iron in sight or in the dining room and make it part of the fun. Your imagination and creativity are really the limit!
Please enjoy the following recipes. Both have been tested over time. Do not rush the process. “Take care of the recipe. Pay attention to all steps and details. The finished product will take care of you!”
Chef Alain V. De Coster CEC, CCA, BMCA
ICC Chef-Instructor, Professional Culinary Arts
Gaufre de Liège:
These waffles are little more time consuming to make but the end result is definitely worth the effort. Two separate batters are prepared and ultimately mixed together for a deliciously sweet and crunchy waffle. Please do not forget to preheat your waffle iron.
- 1 ¼ oz fresh cake yeast (or 2 ½ packages of dry yeast)
- ¼ cup warm water (about 100° F)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/3 cup of milk, warmed to 100° F
- 9 tbsp unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 6 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- Pinch of slat
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- ½ pearl sugar (or ¾ cup crushed sugar cubes)
Prepare batter 1: In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 tbsp of the flour and the sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes or so. Sift the remaining flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, egg and milk. Using a wooden spoon mix well until smooth, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the batter has roughly doubled in volume.
Meanwhile prepare batter 2: in a medium size bowl mix the butter, flour, salt, vanilla, baking powder, cinnamon (if using), granulate sugar and pearl sugar until a paste is obtained. Using your hands work batter 2 into batter 1 until well blended. Shape the obtained dough into roughly 10 even sized balls approximately 2 ½ to 3 oz each. Flatten each ball slightly until a disk type shape is obtained. Dust lightly with flour.
Bake in a medium hot waffle iron. Do not let the iron become too hot or the sugar will burn! Bake until waffles are golden brown but still lightly soft, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Serve the waffles lukewarm or cooled to room temperature on a rack. Sugar waffles will keep well for several days in an airtight container, if you manage to have any left over!
NB: Crushed sugar cubes can be substituted fro the sugar pearls. Using a rolling pin crush 1 cup of cubed sugar into small pieces, approximately the size of a sunflower seed. Don’t worry about making them the same size!
Gaufre de Bruxelles:
The following recipe is for a satisfying stack of waffles. It will make about 40 delicious waffles. For a smaller group, simply divide the recipe to yield what is needed. These waffles can be frozen when needed. Leftover waffles can be used as next day’s breakfast by simply reheating them in your waffle iron for a minute or so.
- 2 oz fresh cake yeast or 4 packages active dry yeast
- 6 cups of milk, warmed to 100° F
- 6 large egg yolks
- 12 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
- 12 tbsp margarine, melted and cooled to lukewarm
- 1 cup vanilla sugar or 1 cup sugar + 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 8 cups all purpose flour
- 6 large egg whites, beaten to soft peak
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the lukewarm milk. In a large, deep mixing bowl (the dough will double or triple in volume), whisk the egg yolks with ½ cup of the remaining milk, the melted butter and margarine. Add the yeast mixture, sugar and the salt. Gradually add the flour to the batter by sifting it in. Alternate additions of flour with the remaining 4 ½ cups of milk. Stir with a wooden spoon after each addition. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Cover with a clean towel and transfer to a warm area. Let the batter rise for 1 hour or so. The batter, as noted, will double or even triple in volume pending the ambient temperature you let it rise at. While this process takes place, ample time should be on hand to warm the waffles iron to proper temperature, brew coffee, set the tables and get ready yourself for a great feast. Check the better from time to time as to not let it erupt over the bowl you placed it in. Should it be rising to fast, simply stir it once or twice. The easiest way to get the batter onto the waffle iron is to transfer it into a water pitcher and pour it directly onto the hot waffle iron. Look Mom, no mess! Serve the hot waffles at once, letting your guests decide which topping is best for them. Should you whish to refrigerate these delicate waffles, allow them to cool before storing.