Belgium // Gaufre de Liege // Belgian Waffles

In the second installment of my Cuire le Monde project, we're visiting Belgium.  Over these last few days of January I'll be sharing several different foods and recipes of different kinds, rather than a complete meal or menu.

A couple of years ago, when we were in Belgium, walking the streets of Brussels in search of the Manneken Pis, we tried our first liege waffle.  Micah walked up to the street vendor's stall, and ordered two waffles in French- or so he thought. In answer to his "Deux, s'il vous plait," she gave a him a strange look and in near-perfect English said "You want two?"  He nodded, gave her the two Euro in exchange for the two steaming waffles wrapped in parchment papers, and we went down the street, stuffing our faces when it hit me.  He hadn't said deux, but in the tiny vowel differences that make up so much of the French language, had instead said Dieu, or God.  I, of course, found it hilarious that he had ordered God waffles, while he wasn't quite so amused.

Though I wouldn't take it so far as irreverence, those waffles were eye-opening.  Beyond the iconic waffle shape (they had the deep, large squares of the Belgian variety, of course) they didn't resemble what America knows as waffles at all.  They  were denser with a bread-like, brioche texture, and the little pockets of melted, warm sugar lacing the inside and lightly coating the outside was a far cry from the typical American waffle that is drowned in syrup.  And in Belgium, these are a street vendor food, eaten as a snack or dessert and almost never for breakfast. In standard food-nerd fashion, I remember taking pictures and trying to dissect and discover the secrets of the waffle-- after I'd finished laughing at my adored husband, of course.

Fast forward a few years, and low and behold, there is a Belgian waffle maker beneath the Christmas tree, a beautiful Gaufres de Liege recipe in my Pinterest account, and a project for the new year that gives me the best of reasons to try my hand at the waffles.  A couple of things to note-- I made my own pearl sugar, and it ended up liquifying on the outside of the dough to some extent, cause a bit more sugar burning than I would have like.  Next time, I would invest in purchasing it, just to simplify my life.  But the homemade kind definitely worked!  Also, these have to be eaten warm, or said sugar will harden and you will be gnawing on a hard, crunchy (not in a good way) waffles.  If you want to make them ahead of time, simply pop them on a baking sheet and warm in a 200 degree oven.  They can also be frozen and then thawed and warmed the same way.  Could the world possibly be a better place?

I won't lie- they took a lot more time and work than your standard mix-and-dump waffle recipe, but thanks to a fabulous recipe from Smitten Kitchen that I adapted for people {like yours truly} who don't have a stand mixer, they are so doable.  The extra time and elbow grease is worth it though, and you'll have fabulous, epic waffles to share with your family and friends-- or eat them all yourself.  I won't tell.

Gaufres de Liège // Liège Waffles

Makes 12 six inch or 16 four inch waffles

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 packet or 2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 14 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups pearl sugar

Warm the milk and water together to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, then combine with brown sugar and yeast in a large mixing bowl until combined.  Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes, or until mixture is nice and foamy.

Whisk in the eggs and vanilla, and stir in about 2 and 2/3 cup of the flour and the salt with a wooden spoon.  Next, stir in the softened butter a spoonful at a time, making sure to mix it in to the dough very thoroughly.  This is something of an arm workout, but it's necessary with a brioche dough to incorporate it thoroughly for a tender, laminate dough.  Once all of the butter is incorporated, knead in the remaining cup of flour.  You may need to refrigerate the dough to avoid melting the butter with your hands.  Knead until the dough is soft and glossy, about 5-10 minutes.

Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.  Deflate by stirring, cover again, and place in fridge overnight, or up to 24 hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it get to room temperature so that you can work with it more easily.  At this point, you can knead the pearl sugar into the dough and then divide, or you can create your 12 to 16 dough balls and knead about 1.5 tablespoons of dough into each.  I opted for the second method, since that is a lot of dough to knead by hand and I wanted to make sure that the sugar was well distributed.

To cook the waffles, spray and preheat your Belgian waffle iron.  Make sure that your dough balls are soft and pliable, as they will cook and rise better for a softer and fluffier waffle than if they are cold and the dough is hard.  Flatten each one slightly, and set in the center of the hot waffle iron.  Close the iron firmly and hold the top down for about 30 seconds so that the rising dough doesn't separate the two iron halves.  Cook waffle until golden brown (this took about 2.5-3 minutes in my iron).

Serve warm alone or with ice cream,, whipped cream, melted chocolate, and fruit.