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belgian waffles

If you have ever had the pleasure of trying a true Belgian waffle, then you know that they are entirely different from the ones in the United States. Three years ago around the holidays, we were visiting our family who live in Amsterdam, and we took a three day side trip to Belgium, wandering the fairytale streets of Bruges, climbing spiral staircases in old medieval castles in Ghent, and roaming around a Christmas market in Antwerp sampling freshly made hot chocolate and of course the waffles that the country is so famous for. We tried several kinds during our short trip, and surprisingly, the best ones were at the train station on our way back to Holland. We knew they were going to be good when the baker asked us if we could wait five minutes while he made a fresh batch so we could enjoy them hot from the iron. Trying these authentic Belgian waffles was an experience that we will always remember. They were nothing like the waffles that we grew up eating for breakfast, as these didn’t come with any toppings or condiments. They had a sweet and crispy glazed exterior covered in a crust of glistening sugar like the best creme brulee, and a soft, sweet and buttery, chewy inside with pockets of molten sugar throughout. We thought that we would never be able to replicate the complex texture and unique sweetness of that incredible delight, but this recipe we discovered perfectly captures the authentic flavors of Belgium that we remember from that glorious day.

There are two secrets to making authentic Belgian waffles, or Gaufres de Liège, as they are known there. The first is to use a yeast-risen dough. Standard American waffles are made from essentially the same batter as pancakes, and usually get their lift from baking powder, which works very quickly. But these are made with yeast, more like a bread dough, so while they may take longer, your patience is greatly rewarded with a perfectly textured and flavorful waffle. The second secret is an ingredient called pearl sugar. Similar to a sugar cube that has been broken into pieces, it has large irregularly-shaped morsels in various sizes. These bright white crystals are mixed into the dough right before cooking, and when they come into contact with the hot iron, they melt and form a caramelized glaze over the outside of the waffle, that is glistening, crispy and delicious, while the pearls inside the waffle dissolve into bits of crunchy molten sweetness. This unusual ingredient is not difficult to find, since it is available online or from kitchen supply stores, and it is the key to getting the perfect golden crust on these decadent treats.

In the US, what we call “Belgian” waffles are served as breakfast. They are light, soft, not too sweet, and traditionally served with strawberries and whipped cream. True Belgian waffles are definitely a dessert: unapologetically sweet and buttery. And while they are often served covered with chocolate, nutella, or cinnamon, toppings can cover up this simple golden perfection. These European treats are a pleasure to make and will fill your home with the sweet scents of vanilla and caramelized sugar. This authentic recipe captures the spirit of Belgium so now you can enjoy the best waffles in the world from the comfort of your own home!

Belgian Waffles
adapted from madewithpink.com
makes 10 to 12 waffles

1/3 cup warm water (105° to 110°F)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup pearl sugar (see note)

In a small bowl, stir the water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Add the yeast, stir to combine, and let sit for about 15 minutes, until the mixture looks foamy.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture and the vanilla extract and stir to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing between each addition. Then slowly add the butter, two tablespoons at a time, continuing to mix well after each addition. The dough will be thinner than bread dough, but thicker and more stretchy than normal waffle batter. Allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 90 to 120 minutes, until doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen, add the pearl sugar, stirring gently until just combined. Let rest for 15 minutes. Heat your waffle iron, and when ready, place about 1/3 cup of dough per waffle on the iron. Close lid and cook until crispy and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, and enjoy!

note:
— Pearl sugar is available online, or can also be found at kitchen supply stores.