About ten years ago I was wandering the fairytale-like streets of Bruges, a picturesque town in Belgium, searching for a particular chocolate shop when suddenly the most magnificent scent stopped me in my tracks. Sweet, yeasty with slight caramel notes; I was entranced. I blindly followed the scent around a corner as if some cartoon-like finger under my nose was pulling me along. On the side of a little shop down a cobblestone street was a small window with a tiny hand-painted sign: “Liege Wafels”. Waffles? Couldn’t be. There must be a misunderstanding. After weeks of fine Belgian beer, buckets of mussels, impossibly crispy frites and really really good chocolate, I didn’t want a waffle. I wanted whatever smelled so good. Oh how little I knew. These were not the Eggos of my youth nor the IHOP Belgian Waffles loaded with bad strawberry puree and canned Reddi-Whip. Oh no, not in the least. Puffy, slightly sweet, caramelized and crunchy on the outside, these beauties were more like a crunchy dimpled cookie than anything else. Hot off the griddle, I was hooked. I hit that shop window twice a day for three days in a row.
Once home I searched, always on the look-out but there’s not a little shop window on my present day corner or any Chicago corner for that matter. I hear there’s a food truck in NYC that does a good job but that seems far to go. There’s a place on Clark Street, near a favorite bar of mine, that held promise but disappointed. The “Belgian waffles” we find at various American pancake houses do not resemble the real thing in any way shape or form. Some day, I thought, I’d figure these things out. Or get back to Belgium – which is actually a better idea.
Life has a funny way of working things out. Last year, I decided to do a little research into how those crafty Belgians got that gorgeous caramelized texture. Around the same time, my friend Caroline over at Whipped, was having the exact thought unbeknownst to either of us. She and her equally obsessive husband figured it all out and beat me to the punch. They even special ordered the very particular type of sugar to get it exactly right (this is why they’re my friends – we’re all insane.) Why reinvent the wheel when they had the recipe all figured out and provided my own bag of special sugar so I could make some too? Awesome.
That bag sat on my counter for a year. I stared at it, moved it, ignored it, always thinking the same thing: I need to make those waffles. The work was done, the special ingredient procured. What was the hold up? Every time I thought I was ready something more pressing came up time and again – vacations, work conflicts, the holidays, the need to take a nap. Finally, in the midst of chaos, I make those waffles. They were remarkable, exactly like I remembered. The scent of caramelizing sugar, vanilla and sweet yeasty goodness took over my apartment and made me smile.
The key thing, just like they said, is that special sugar. You need that sugar. It’s a rather large grain, surprisingly large really. When mixed into the puffy dough and exposed to the heat of the waffle iron, they melt slowly and caramelize in little pockets rather than burn. It’s magical. I tried once, as a particular recipe dictated, to sprinkle regular sugar on my hot waffle iron then scoop the batter on top. What a disaster. Don’t do that.
These are relatively small and rather rich, as far as waffles go, and I like their cookie-like size. In fact, they are more like a cookie than a breakfast treat though you can certainly eat them for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner and a snack in between which is exactly what I did. The batter is rather sticky so I used a small ice cream scoop for 2” balls of dough and the size was perfect. Caroline advocates the use of a Belgian Waffle Maker like this one but mine, which I’ve used for all kinds of waffling projects, was just fine. It does have variable heat, which is nice, but if you don’t have that nifty feature just keep an eye on them.
I was surprised at how well these kept. The next day they were still pretty crisp, fresh and delicious. I wasn’t expecting that. I ate them all plain, mainly because I couldn’t stop to be bothered with toppings but they’d make a great composed sundae, would be delicious with a sauce or compote and I hear a nice Belgian chocolate sauce is divine. But really, I like them just by themselves exactly how I enjoyed them walking to the square in the center of that lovely town.
On this blog one year ago: Guinness Stout Floats
On this blog two years ago: Pretzel Rolls, my most popular post ever. For good reason.
a great waffling blog: Waffleizer (from my friend Dan)
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: HOLY WAFFLES BATMAN! To say these are good, no great, is the understatement of all times. If you’ve been to Belgium, and you really should go, then you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, and again you really should go, these will make you realize what you’re missing. Precede these with a big bowl of mussels, some perfectly crispy frites and a cold Trappist ale and you have one hell of a meal. In fact, let me know and I’ll be right over. I’ll bring the special sugar.
LIEGE SUGAR WAFFLES - recipe from Caroline at Whipped
Makes 1 – 1 ½ dozen waffles with an 1/8 cup scoop (1 ¾”)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (one ¼ ounce package)
1/3 cup lukewarm water (about 105°F–just warm to the touch, too hot will kill the yeast)
1 ½ Tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
16 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (1 cup/2 sticks)
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or extract)
1 cup large pearl sugar
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the yeast, water and sugar and let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.
- Add the flour and salt and mix with on medium low until combined.
- Increase the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing between additions.
- Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the butter and vanilla, then increase the speed to medium-high and mix until well combined. It will look broken at first but keep going and it will come together. The batter will also be very sticky.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk – about 1 hour.
- Gently fold in the pearl sugar and let the dough rest for 15 more minutes. While the dough is resting, preheat the waffle iron to medium-high (If you don’t have variable heat, just turn it on.)
- Spray the iron with cooking spray and scoop or spoon a 2″ ball of dough into the center of the waffle iron or each waffle “square”.
- Cook until golden brown and crisp which will take 3-5 minutes to bake depending on your iron (in my waffle iron, they took 4-5 minutes on medium-high.) Due to variances in waffle irons, you may have to sacrifice a few for “testing” to determine the correct temperature and time.
- Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly. Can be eaten warm or at room temperature but they’re best warm. Really, you should eat these warm.