There’s a charming restaurant here in Cincinnati called “The Taste of Belgium”. It’s in a hip “revitalized” part of downtown called “Over The Rhine”, a short .8 mile minute walk from my office. They provide trendy modern food (like Brussels sprouts with bacon) with a Belgian influence. Their flagship delicacy? Authentic Belgian “liège” waffles, of course.
In the restaurant, you can get these waffles served as dessert, topped with the classic strawberries and whipped cream, or with bananas and nutella. You can get them for dinner, with their locally-infamous version of Chicken & Waffles, served with maple syrup and hot sauce (what?!). Or, you can pick them up to-go in a little plastic bag of 4 waffles to share with your office mates back at work…or they might mysteriously be gone by the time you make it back to the office… I don’t know…just…it could happen.
What’s the big deal with these waffles, you ask? We aren’t talking just any old waffle. They’re not the big fluffy buttermilk waffles you make in a waffle iron at home or in a hotel continental breakfast bar that soak up maple syrup like a sponge (not that that’s a bad thing…). These are authentic Liège waffles. They have a dense, moist, chewy inside, wrapped in a caramelized sugar crust. And they’re much sweeter than traditional waffles – which makes them dangerously addictive when eaten plain as a snack on the way back to the office. Theoretically.
(Cool sidenote: Taste of Belgium’s website says that the secret to a good Liège waffle is actually the waffle iron. Perhaps because of the high heat needed to caramelize the sugar on the outside and cook the bready inside quickly enough to not burn the sugar. Their founder brought a 120 lbs (!) one over from Belgium with him. After breaking enough waffle irons, they actually had their own custom cast iron waffle makers designed and built. Awesome.)After eating at the Taste of Belgium and having my first life-changing authentic Belgian Liège waffle, I naturally had to figure out how to recreate these at home. Upon research, I found that the process to create them is actually a bit intense. First of all, authentic Liège waffles call for pearl sugar. What in the world is pearl sugar?! It’s sugar that’s a bit coarser than normal sugar, which helps to create that beautiful caramelized crust on the outside of the waffle. Secondly, the chewy, denseness comes from the fact that this is a yeast dough (unlike traditional buttermilk waffles that use baking powder or soda.) Most authentic recipes require several cycles of dough rising, often over a 12- or 24-hour period.
I’m sure these authentic waffles recipes are amazing. But when we were experimenting for the first few times, we weren’t diligent enough to find pearl sugar, and we certainly weren’t patient enough to wait (or organized enough to plan ahead) for 12-24 hours of rising. So we looked at a few recipes and did some experimenting. Several waffle sessions later, we settled on our own homegrown recipe for simpler Belgian waffles. It uses regular granulated sugar rather than pearl sugar, only requires 30 minutes of rising (which – gasp – we’ve even skipped), but does NOT skimp on the butter. Cause…well, butter is glorious. And helps to give it that amazing taste. So – keep the butter.
We eat them topped with fruits and creams, nutella, by themselves – and of course, with chicken. 😉
- 1 package (or 2¼ tsp) active dry yeast
- 1½ Tbsp sugar
- ¾ cup lukewarm milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup melted butter
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 cups flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ¾ cup sugar
- Sprinkle the yeast and 1½ tablespoons sugar over warm milk in a small bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes. The yeast will get all bubbly and form a creamy foam.
- Melt your butter (oh, glorious butter!) in a small saucepan or microwave.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the melted butter and vanilla to the eggs.
- Whisk the egg mixture into the yeast mixture until well-blended; set aside.
- Stir together the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until a soft dough forms.
- Cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. (Confession: we’ve made this several times without letting it rise, and it turns out just fine.)
- Preheat your waffle iron to medium-high/high heat. (The secret to the goodness of these waffles is that there’s so much sugar (and butter) in them that the heat from the iron crystallizes the sugar on the outside and almost forms a crust. So you need high heat here.)
- Take your rising waffle dough and gently mix in the ¾ cup of sugar. Dough should be thick and glossy. It will look sticky, but it has so much butter, it won’t really stick to anything. (Reading that sentence should bring happiness to your buttery soul.)
- Using a measuring cup, place a ¼ to ⅓ cup ball of dough on the heated waffle iron. Cook until a deep golden brown color. Remove from iron. Serve topped with fruit and freshly whipped cream, nutella and bananas, or as a stand-alone treat!