Can you love a waffle so much that it becomes essentially impossible to do justice to its magnificence? The first time I tried Gaufres de Liege I was in Amsterdam, where the waffles must have migrated and settled. The vendor was located on the museumplein near the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Van Gogh museum. Served with a modest dusting of powdered sugar, the waffles were golden and crispy on the surface, with a chewy yet tender crumb within.
The yeasty sweetness of the dough inside was complex, like that of a baguette, yet it was so much richer and more indulgent. It was ineffably, incomparably delicious, and while the Van Goghs and Vermeers had taken my breath away, these waffles were works of art in their own right. Upon second bite, I swore that I would reproduce them once I returned home.
If you order Belgian waffles at a restaurant in the United States, chances are you’ll be served an oversized waffle topped with whipped cream, surrounded by a battalion of strawberries. This is not necessarily a bad thing, not at all. Americans are old hands at indulging in style, with toppings and mix-ins galore. But there’s a lot to be said for understated elegance and for that, we must look to Europe.
In Europe, a Belgian waffle is an entirely different matter, a subtle yet complex creation that holds its own against the world’s most famous pastries: croissants, brioche, and so forth. Like its French counterparts, these waffles, Gaufres de Liege, use an unnaturally delicious amount of butter. They can be found on the streets and outdoor markets in Belgian cities, where vendors cook them on the spot for you.
In addition to the butter, Gaufres de Liege are distinguished by their yeasted batter as well as a healthy dose of large sugar crystals called pearl sugar. As the waffles cook in the iron, the sugar crystals melt and caramelize on the surface, contributing to the bite of the exterior.
In learning how to make these waffles in the States, I have selflessly consumed more than ten pounds of butter over the past three months to hone, perfect, and bring you what I consider to be the best Gaufres de Liege recipe out there.
The dough, which is similar to the type used for brioche, employs bread flour to produce an especially chewy waffle. While pearl sugar makes a stellar Gaufres de Liege, I’ve found to my great delight that turbinado sugar contributes to a more tender crumb, one which I have come to prefer over the course of my trials (I lost count after “Take Nineteen”). Best of all, you can cook these waffles in your regular waffle iron provided that the pockets are fairly deep. Otherwise, the batter will not be cooked through.
For true aficionados of Gaufres de Liege, be aware that vintage stovetop waffle irons can be purchased on eBay for thirty dollars or so, and that these kinds of irons make exceptionally dense and crisp waffles. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for vintage cookware. My Nordicware iron, with its endearing little dial that notifies me when the iron is on low, medium, or best of all, “cook,” is my most beloved companion on lazy Sunday mornings.
Finally, this recipe is adapted from an eGullet buddy, Doc Doughtery. His generosity in sharing his insight, combined with his original development of the recipe, has made it possible for me to relive my epiphanic moment in Amsterdam.
Gaufres de Liege
makes 12 waffles
6 tablespoons warm milk (no hotter than 110°F)
1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cups (230 grams) bread flour, sifted
1 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 medium egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, at slightly cooler than room temperature
140 grams turbinado sugar, or pearl sugar if you choose
Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk; then add the yeast. Make sure that the milk is not too hot, lest it kill the yeast instead of promoting its growth. Place a plate or some kind of cover on top of the bowl with the milk, sugar and yeast. Set aside for about five minutes. When you check on it, the yeast should have bubbled up, looking light brown and spongy.
Meanwhile, mix the sifted bread flour with the cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour in the yeast mixture; then add the whole egg and egg yolk. Mix on medium speed until it is fully combined. The dough will be yellow and stiff, yielding only slightly to a poke.
Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in a warm place for about thirty minutes.
Beat in the butter piece by piece; you do not have to wait for the prior piece to be fully incorporated before adding the next. When the dough has incorporated about half of the butter, the mixture will be like a very thick, somewhat broken-up paste. If you keep engaging the mixer on medium-high speed, the dough will eventually become a cohesive whole, looking smoother and more feeling more elastic. Scrape the sides of the bowl if needed.
Kneading very gently, incorporate the sugar crystals just enough to get them evenly distributed. Work quickly so as not to soften the buttery dough too much.
Divide the dough into a dozen equal pieces, gently forming them into balls.
Place the balls of dough on a cutting board in a warmish place for fifteen minutes or so. During the last two minutes of this resting time, preheat your waffle iron until it is very warm, but not hot.
Spray the griddles with cooking oil. Place each ball of dough in a whole square or section of the waffle iron. Like regular waffle batter, the dough will start to puff up. Cook the waffles until the surface is golden to dark brown. Be sure that the waffle iron you are using is appropriately deep, or else the interior of the waffle will not be cooked through. If you are using a vintage stovetop waffle iron, flip the iron every thirty to forty seconds, lifting the iron to check the rate of browning. The browning should be gradual to allow the interior to fully develop.
Set the waffles on a cooling rack as they come out of the iron to promote a crispy exterior. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
Any leftover waffles, if they are not dark brown, can be carefully re-cooked in a toaster for approximately thirty to sixty seconds. Leftover waffles may also be kept in an airtight container between sheets of parchment paper, for up to three days.
Thank you for sharing, Chichi! We recently had Gaufres de Liege for the first time and now we're obsessed with them too. They are in another class from regular old waffles; we can hardly wait to try making them!
(Images: Chichi Wang of My Chalkboard Fridge)