During college I lived in Germany for several months. On a weekend visit to Belgium I bought a waffle from a street vendor. It was piping hot, thick and crispy, with a roughly textured, caramelly crust. I ate it out of my hand, from a folded triangle of wax paper. My aunt had told me to check out these things - she was right - it was nothing like I'd ever known.
That was six years ago, and, since then, I've attempted - on average - 2-3 times per year to replicate this waffle experience at home.
Nothing I tried worked. I used all manners of recipes. I rose the yeast overnight. I beat too many eggs to stiff peaks. I beat one lonely egg to soft peaks. I made any unhealthy adjustment that was remotely promising - whole milk...brown sugar...gobs of butter.
They all turned out like ordinary Belgian waffles - too light, sometimes fluffy, and always lacking in that rich caramel flavor. I was nowhere close to the crazy delicious "real Belgian waffle" that nagged in my memory.
And then, this past Christmas, I visited Wikipedia:
Varieties of waffle
- The Brussels waffle or Belgian waffle is prepared from a yeast-leavened batter. It is often, but not always, lighter, thicker, crispier, and/or has larger pockets compared to other waffle varieties. It is often served warm by street vendors, dusted with confectioner's sugar, and sometimes topped with whipped cream or chocolate spread. It may also be served as a dessert, with fruits or ice cream.
- The Liège waffle (from the city of Liège, in eastern Belgium) is a waffle usually bought and eaten warm on the street. They are usually freshly made in small shops, but it is also possible to buy them in supermarkets. They are smaller, sweeter, and denser than "Belgian waffles". The last-minute addition of nib sugar to the batter produces a caramelized sugar coating. This gives a distinctive flavor. Most are served plain, but some are vanilla or cinnamon flavored, and can be served with toppings like fruits, creams, and chocolate. The Liège waffle was invented by a cook of the prince-bishop of Liège in the 18th century.
As it turns out, yes. I found a recipe for Liège waffles on the Cook's Illustrated message board posted by a kind expat from Belgium:
Sugar Waffles from LIÈGE
2 1/2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water (about 100 degrees F.)
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 c. warm milk (about 100 degrees F.)
9 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 c. Belgian pearl sugar OR 3/4 c. crushed sugar cubes
1. Prepare Batter 1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 tbsp. of the flour and the sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
2. Sift the remaining flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, egg, and milk. Mix well with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the batter has doubled, or tripled in volume (about 45 min).
3. Meanwhile, prepare Batter 2: In a medium-size bowl, mix the butter, flour, salt, vanilla, baking powder, granulated sugar, and pearl sugar into a paste.
4. With a hand-held mixer, work Batter 2 into batter 1 until well mixed.
5. Drop a large lump of batter into a medium-hot Belgian waffle iron. Don't let the iron become too hot or the sugar will burn. Bake until the waffles are golden brown but still slightly soft, 3 to 4 minutes.
6. Serve the sugar waffles lukewarm or cooled to room temperature on a rack. They are best eaten warm!
Makes 10 waffles.
And voilà! The key to Liège waffles is the Belgian pearl sugar, which can be purchased at specialty food stores such as Sur la Table, or online (www.larsown.com). However, for those of us in a pinch, I found that coarsely crushed sugar cubes make a great substitution. (I crushed mine in a mixing bowl with the handle of a large spoon - to square chunks about 1/8 inch on each side)
While the waffles cook, these sugar bits melt to create the sweet, caramelized crust that makes this waffle so outstanding and so memorable.