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The Authentic (Belgian) Liège Waffle Odyssey

Get ready. This blog post REALLY IS AN ODYSSEY. If you make it to the end (which you should, if you care about waffles) and correctly answer the skill-testing question, you will receive a solid gold waffle-shaped medal, handcrafted at the Franklin Mint. Please allow 4-29 weeks for delivery.

Dilovely’s Personal Waffle History

As some of you know, after I finished my undergrad, I lived in France for the better part of a year, teaching English conversation classes at a high school. To be specific, I lived in Dunkerque, France, which is at the very top of the star, right next door to the English Channel and Belgium.

map-of-france-regions
Can you find it?

To put things in perspective, Belgium is close enough that we could take a city bus there when we needed a chocolate fix (a Leonidas shop was right on the border). In fact, three of my friends and I once walked to Belgium along the beach, just to prove that we could. It took about three hours, and when we got there, we wanted to have waffles, because obviously.

We sat in a cafe and ate waffles that were well-deserved and nice enough, but I remember thinking, What’s the big deal? I could get something identical at a pancake house back home.

That was because they were REGULAR Belgian waffles. Like what you can make yourself at the breakfast buffet at a Best Western – the kind you top with fruit and whipped cream.

Very soon after that, a friend bought me a waffle at the beach (on the French side, funnily enough) that demonstrated what the fuss was about.

They call it a Liège waffle, or gaufre liégeoise, and it needs no garnish. It’s small, chewy, sweet, and scrumptious. No plate required; you just hold onto it and nibble its crunchy, caramelicious edges. It changes your conception of a “waffle” forever.

The Christmas I was pregnant with E, we got a waffle maker. While I do enjoy a regular waffle, I wanted to make the REALLY GOOD ones – but I could not find an authentic recipe. I had no idea what made these waffles so good; I figured out quickly that adding toffee bits to your waffles, while yummy, does not come close to producing the Liège waffle.

The Secret (or part of it)

Finally, a year or so ago, I found this recipe, which revealed the secret to me: Belgian pearl sugar. NOT to be confused with Swedish pearl sugar, which does not produce the same results.

 belgian-pearl-sugar

Trouble is, you can’t just go out and buy Belgian pearl sugar at the grocery. Not even a European grocery.

When I finally got organized enough to order some online, because I wanted to make real Liège waffles for Auntie Em’s birthday in January, I went to belgianpearlsugar.com… and they were under construction. I tried to order Lars’ Own from Amazon.com, but they wouldn’t ship it to Canada. I ended up at The Belgian Shop, where I unfortunately had to order some chocolate as well, to make up the minimum order size. (We dealt with that ordeal like champs, though. Especially me.)

Now I went back to recipe territory, and realized there are way more recipes for Liège waffles than there used to be (good ol’ internet – give it time and it’ll always come through). And they varied a LOT – from whip-these-up-whenever recipes to you-must-craft-these-like-an-artist recipes.

Thus began The Authentic Liège Waffle Odyssey.

Attempt #1: The Moderate Recipe

As you might have guessed, the inaugural attempt used a recipe that fell between the two extremes, entitled “The Best Waffles Ever.” The recipe takes a couple of hours, including rising time, so they were lunchtime waffles.

Emi and Sean and I agreed they were delicious, although I knew I still needed to tweak the cooking process. The pearl sugar still seemed mostly raw, not properly melty and caramelized. You see, I do not have a hardcore waffle IRON. I have a cute, lightweight “waffle baker” from Proctor-Silex. It has no temperature indications on it, just “Min – Max” and a light to say it’s preheated.

proctor silex waffle baker
This is my waffle baker. Well, a twin of my waffle baker anyway.

The other drawback with this recipe (and it may have to do with the type of waffle maker I have) is that it was MESSY. It left a veritable pool of melted sugar-butter on my counter. While this may sound like fun, it really wasn’t. Using a Q-tip to remove clumps of caramel from the crevices of my now-defiled Proctor-Silex felt like surgery, or perhaps archaeology.

I didn’t take a picture of the maelstrom. I knew I’d need to try a different recipe.

Attempt #2: The Most Intimidating Recipe

I figured I would eventually have to try the super-complicated recipe I’d found, just to see if it was worth all the trouble. I mean, it’s an overnight procedure. It’s also the most obnoxiously pretentious recipe I have ever read, but hey, that’s part of the fun. In fact, it’s so fun that I’m reproducing it below.

{Note to the Creator of this recipe, if you ever read this: Please understand, I hold you in the highest respect. I am in awe of your perseverance and your dedication to the cause, even if I imply that your diction is persnickety. My own diction is hardly above reproach. And I can hardly wait to try your Ultimate Pumpkin Waffle Recipe. Beau travail, mon ami.}

So here is the text from the blog devoted entirely to the Liège Waffle, in red. (It’s worth visiting the real site, to see the mouthwatering pictures.) In black, I’ve added my own thoughts as I was making this crazy recipe.

Authentic Liege waffles are one of life’s great indulgences — caramelized sugar glistening on the most delicious buttery-sweet treasure beneath. [Whew. First sentence and I already feel like I’m intruding on an intimate moment.] Unfortunately, they can be nearly impossible to find, even in their homeland of Belgium, where chains like Belgaufre have taken them so far afield from their 18th century brioche roots. Stateside, chains like Bonte (in Philadelphia) don’t use the right sugar and others like Wafels & Dinges (in NYC) simply import mass-produced substandard pre-made frozen balls of dough from Europe. Basically, to enjoy the ever-curiously oblong [is it really curious? ‘cuz later you instruct us to make them oblong] Liege waffle, you need to make one yourself.

Sadly, the vast majority of recipes found online and in cookbooks are appallingly bad. Some are over-yeasted. Many are just leaden or grainy. And, due to one factor or another, virtually all of them lack the smooth and complex flavors of a true Liege waffle. [Wow. I wonder what you’d think of the last recipe I tried, because those folks thought their recipe was perfect.]

The recipe that follows is a culmination of A TON of research into recipes of the last 200+ years, study of artisinal Belgian street vendor techniques, and a heavy investment in the right tools (including the above 35lbs. Krampouz Liege waffle iron). [Oh crap. I’m guessing my Proctor-Silex is not even in the right league.] Get ready to experience a perfectly traditional 18th century “Gaufre Liège”.

Baking these waffles is involved and takes patience, but the result is well worth it. The only caveat I must give is that the iron’s temperature is very crucial [not just regular crucial] in making an exceptional Liege waffle. It helps to have an infrared thermometer handy [double crap, I don’t have that either], as there’s a fairly narrow range in which the sugar will caramelize perfectly and not burn. You can make do without one though. It may take some trial and error, but you’ll get it right. [Thanks for believing in me! :)]

INGREDIENTS
makes 5 Gaufres Liège [Okay. If you’re gonna geek out on authenticity, check your French: it’s Gaufres DE Liège or Gaufres liégeoises.]

• 1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
• 1/4 cup scalded whole milk at 110-115 degrees
• 2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. of water at 110-115 degrees [Those two extra teaspoons are very crucial.]
• 2 cups King Arthur Bread flour [I don’t have this brand, but it sure does sound “artisinal”, n’est-ce pas?]
• 1 large room temperature egg, lightly beaten [Sh*t. Room temperature according to whom?? We keep our thermostat at 20C, is that okay?]
• 1Tbsp. + 1 tsp. light brown sugar
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 8 1/2 Tbsp. soft room temperature unsalted butter
• 1 Tbsp. honey [Seriously. Just honey? Should it be pasteurized or not? Liquid or creamed? Clover or buckwheat??]
• 2 tsp. vanilla [Is that with meniscus or without? Screw it. I’m living dangerously and using a generous splash of rumnilla, baby.]
• 3/4 cup Belgian Pearl Sugar (“Lars Own” brand is an excellent choice) [Sure. Rub it in, Yankee.]

liege belgian waffle
This photo is from the original site. This person, unlike me, takes good foodtographs.

DIRECTIONS

1. Place yeast, milk, and water into the workbowl of a stand mixer. [Hey! You said “perfectly traditional 18th century”. THEY DID NOT HAVE STAND MIXERS IN BELGIUM IN THE 1700s. I’m sure of this. And despite ostensibly belonging to the 21st century, I don’t have one either. WTF.] Stir for a few seconds to moisten the yeast. [Using a SPOON.]

2. Add the egg and 1/3 of the total flour. [Oh no, math. Sigh. That’ll be 2/3 C.] Mix to blend. Scrape down sides of bowl.

3. Sprinkle remaining flour over the mixture, but do not stir it in. Cover and let stand 75-90 minutes (at the end of that time, you’ll notice the batter bubbling up through the cover of flour). [Yes, I do notice that! I AM ROCKING THIS RECIPE.]

4. Add brown sugar and salt to the workbowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed – just to blend.

5. With machine on low [yeah, I’m doing this with my hands, and it feels WAY MORE artisanal, by the way], add honey and vanilla. Then add 2 Tbsp. of butter at a time. Mix 4 minutes at medium-low speed; scrape down sides once or twice in that period. [Well is it once or is it twice??] Let the dough rest for 1 minute and then continue to mix for 2 minutes. [How many minutes when I’m hand-mixing?] If you measured your ingredients perfectly [HA], the dough will be sticking to the sides of the bowl in the last minute of mixing and then, in the last 30 seconds of so, will start to ball-up on the paddle. If this does not happen, let the dough rest for 1 more minute and mix for another 2 minutes. Whatever the outcome of the extra mixing, proceed to Step 6. [“Whatever the outcome”? Are we just flying by the seat of our pants here?]

6. Scrape the dough into a large bowl, sprinkle lightly with flour, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 4 hours. This step is crucial for developing the flavor. [Don’t you mean very crucial? And exactly four hours?]

7. REFRIGERATE FOR 30 MINUTES BEFORE PROCEEDING TO STEP #8. This is [very] essential. The yeast respiration must be slowed before continuing. [Respiration must be slowed. You may want to write to your MP.]

8. Stir the dough down (meaning: gently deflate the gases from the dough, by pressing on it with a [traditional Belgian] rubber spatula), scrape it onto a piece of [artisanal 18th century] plastic wrap, and then use the spatula to press the dough into a long rectangle. Fold that rectangle over on itself (by thirds – like a letter) so that you have a square of dough. [Hell. This does not look like a square. Effing geometry.] Wrap it in plastic, weigh it down a bit (I put two heavy dinner plates on top of it) [but – my dinner plates are circular! How does this work??] and refrigerate overnight. [Or, dig a traditional Belgian hole by the apple tree and fill it with chips off the ice block and put your dough in there.]

9. The next day, place the cold dough (it will be quite firm) [why, you’re right! How did you know?] in a large bowl and add all of the pearl sugar to a bowl. It will seem like a lot of sugar, but it’s supposed to be :) Mix it into the dough by hand until the chunks are well-distrubuted. Once mixed, divide the dough into 5 pieces of equal size. [I made a double batch, because Skye was joining us and Sean insisted we must have lots. It made more like 16 – at least in my waffle baker it did.]

10. Shape each chunk into an oval ball (like a football without the pointy ends) [let’s call an ellipsoid an ellipsoid, shall we?] and let it rise (covered loosely in plastic wrap) for exactly 90 minutes. [Hold on. They must rise for exactly 90 minutes… that means I must have five waffle irons and five assistants so that we may drop our balls of dough onto the bakers with perfect synchrony at the 90-minute mark! Otherwise some will rise too long!! Why didn’t you warn me?]

11. If you have a professional waffle iron (meaning: it’s cast iron and weighs over 20 pounds) [NOPE] cook at exactly 365-370 degrees (the max temp before sugar begins to burn/decompose) for approximately 2 minutes.** Give each waffle a few minutes to cool slightly before eating. [Very good advice. That sugar is HOT.] No syrup or toppings are needed, unless you’d like to add some fruit or a dusting of powdered sugar; they’re quite sweet on their own.

** If you have a regular waffle iron, heat the iron to 420 degrees (hint: many regular waffle irons go up to and over 550 degrees at their highest setting) , place the dough on the iron, and immediately unplug it or turn the temp dial all the way down. Otherwise, the sugar will burn. [There are no degree markings on my waffle baker. I engaged in quite a bit of trial-and-error.]

So: the Result?

lunapic_136527857341000_7

They were YUMMY. And handsome. Skye heartily approved, and Sean and Em agreed they might even be better than the first ones. I knew I was getting better at the temperature manipulation (which I will describe below). As the one who had eaten the real thing, I did think that this recipe had a more complex flavour, and I can’t deny it was delicious. Also, no sticky butter-swamp, so that was awesome.

But wow. That was a lot of work.

Attempt #3: The Simple Recipe

Over Easter, I wanted to make waffles again, to share the experience with my folks, but couldn’t imagine doing the Intimidating Recipe on a holiday weekend. I said to myself, Hey – why not try the recipe on the pearl sugar box? Instructions in French AND Flemish… That’s authentic! Must be pretty good, right?

tirlemont_sucre_perle_500gr
Peal sugar, straight from Belgium.

The un-simple part of this recipe was translating it – not just French to English, but grams to cups. And figuring out how much is a “half-sachet” of vanilla sugar. And how to account for “levure fraîche” or “fresh yeast”, which Auntie Em luckily knew was not the same as our standard dry yeast. Also luckily, Auntie Beth knew about this recipe conversion website that solved our problems. Plus I tweaked it slightly, based on my newfound experience. Bonus – I learned a few new French words in the process.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C (plus an extra splash) warm milk
  • 3.5 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla (or rumnilla)
  • 3/4 C + 2 T softened butter
  • 3/4 C to 1 C pearl sugar
  • a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired.

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Make the dough with all the ingredients except the butter, pearl sugar and cinnamon.
  2. Let it sit for 30 minutes. (In French, they say “laisser reposer”, which I love, because “reposer” also has the connotation of relaxing peacefully – like maybe at the spa, with cucumber-lemon water and a clay facial.)
  3. Knead in the butter and then the pearl sugar and cinnamon. (Pétrir = to knead.)
  4. Divide the dough into 100g blobs. (Pâton = “dough roll” = blob.)
  5. Begin cooking after 15 minutes (of relaxation).
  6. Preheat the iron. Cooking time: 3 minutes. It is not necessary to grease the iron. (No kidding. Hello, butter content.)

And the Result?

lunapic_136527857341000_8

They were good! In fact, my family (mostly waffle rookies, but still) thought they were pretty delicious.

Now, if you’ve made it this far, you have certainly earned Two Bonus Sections!

How to Cook Liège Waffles Using A Cheap Waffle Baker Without Temperature Indications

  1. Turn up the heat all the way (to “Max”) and wait for the green “preheated” light to turn ON.
  2. Once your dough blobs are ready, place one blob on each side and close the baker.
  3. Watch for the green light to turn OFF.
  4. Turn the heat down to halfway between Min and Max.
  5. Wait three minutes. (I always set a timer because I WILL lose track otherwise.)
  6. Remove waffles when the time has elapsed, and let waffle cool before consuming.
  7. Re-preheat to Max before putting in the next two blobs.
  8. Don’t fret about the sugary residue in your baker; as long as you keep your batches going consistently, it will be fine. Until you are done, at which point you may start fretting.

And now you’re gonna need the final Bonus Section,

How to Clean a Cheap Waffle Baker That’s Really Effing Messy

When I googled “how to clean your waffle maker”, the advice I found made one of two wrong assumptions:

  1. I have an actual waffle IRON with removable (and soakable) plates, or
  2. I am making AVERAGE waffles with my cheap nonstick waffle baker.

They say things like “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you attempt to clean your waffle maker while it is hot!”

After Attempt #1, I diligently waited for the appliance to cool before trying to clean it. By which time, of course, the sugary residue was shiny black cement utterly resistant to cleaning.

So. This is what I did to get my waffle baker clean.

[Disclaimer: I’m NOT telling you to do this, since it is HIGHLY risky and dangerous!! and I would not like to get sued. There is a definite likelihood of a possibility that you may burn or electrocute yourself. Proctor-Silex has in no way endorsed this method. But it worked for me.]

  1. Plug in waffle baker.
  2. Carefully fill the channels of the baker with water.
  3. Make sure the heat is on Min, and close the baker.
  4. When you see steam, unplug the baker.
  5. Pour off the (black, tarry) water into the sink, wearing Kevlar gloves.
  6. Repeat until water runs clean.
  7. Unplug waffle baker.
  8. Use a Q-tip/cloth/folded paper towel to wipe off any remaining residue.

Finally, you’ve made it! The Skill-Testing Question!! (Provided in part by my son, the resident math expert.)

If two cars start driving at the same time from the Butterfly Conservatory, and one car is going 39 kph, and the other car is going infinity plus one and eighty percent, which one will arrive first at Aunt A and Uncle R’s house?

Good luck! Bonne chance! And happy waffling.

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The Christmas Conundrum

When I first started thinking about the Santa Claus myth in relation to my own child, I wasn’t sure I liked the idea. A bit of a bleeding-heart “How can I lie to my child?” thing. Why would I bother with this farce, this deception?

Now that my child is old enough to start getting the concept… I’m starting to think that perhaps Santa Claus really does exist.

You see, I’ve realized that ol’ St. Nick is here, whether we bring him up or not. We haven’t really talked with E about Santa Claus, but he still knows about him – from books, from talking with the other kids at day care, from ubiquitous festive imagery.

Furthermore, there’s all this proof of his existence. He’s not just at the mall. The government is in on it, and we’ve gone way past the level of Miracle on 34th Street; now, not only can Canada Post deliver your letter to Santa, they can guarantee he’ll write back! And that’s just the beginning: you can Skype with Santa, you can email Santa… and the savvy chap is not just on email – he blogs and tweets!

So if I really wanted to NOT do Santa, it would involve one of two things:

a) revealing basically the entire population of the continent to be liars and co-conspirators, OR

b) engaging in far greater subterfuge and stress to avoid exposing our son to Santa. (We’d obviously have to move to the backwoods.)

I might do the former, if I had a good reason. Sean and I agree that we definitely DO NOT want to raise one of those little spoiler turkeys who chooses opportune moments to sneer, “Santa doesn’t exist, dummy! He’s just your mom and dad,” at kids who still believe. But we could find a way around that, if we had to.

But why fight it? It’s not such a horrible myth, if done right. Jolly magical guy who wants to make children happy – that’s kinda nice. Industrious, dextrous elves and flying reindeer with kickass names – pretty cool. Rewards for good behaviour, well – we parents do that all the time already. As long as we avoid sanctimony when it comes to the Naughty/Nice list. (I’ve seen kindergartners pass judgment on each other’s N/N status based on recess skirmishes.)

And does it destroy a child’s world to find out the truth? We discussed this very question in the staffroom the other day. There were a couple sad stories – one in particular where someone’s Grade 4 teacher told the whole class they were stupid if they still believed in Santa Claus – but for the most part, people remember just gradually figuring it out… and being okay with it. Simply outgrowing the concept.

More importantly, most of us loved believing in Santa, and so did/do their kids. There were lots of cool anecdotes about Christmas elves or bears who would show up every December and keep an eye on children; mysterious reindeer prints to be found in the snow; telltale bits of red to indicate a painted sleigh or a furry suit; even jingle bell sounds far off in the night on Christmas Eve. I have very clear memories of trying to stay up late, so we could even just hear Santa Claus arrive (I don’t think I wanted to actually meet him, just know he was there).

It was SUPER-FUN. Christmas was exceedingly thrilling, those years I believed in Santa.

Point being… I think E’s going to get a dump truck from Santa this year.

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