The Beloved European Breakfast Food That’s Taking Over Grocery Shelves
Waffles have long been an important American breakfast staple. The concept arrived with the Pilgrims in 1620, after a stop in Holland, and the Dutch immigrants who settled in New York helped cement its place on our morning tables.
In more recent history, the bulk of a generation grew up yelling, “Hey! L’eggo my Eggo!” while even more bore witness to Leslie Knope’s love for the “world-famous” waffles at JJ’s. Offscreen, in 2015, Choice Hotels International made fresh, hot waffles the reason to stay at its chain, with the competition following suit and introducing upgrades not long after. Waffle House, a regional chain so devoted to serving them 24/7/365, is used by FEMA to gauge the threat level of disasters and emergencies.
Despite all that, since Belgian beauties were introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair, winning Americans over with soft, fluffy middles and quartered portions, there hasn’t been too much change on the waffle front — until recently. You may have noticed there’s a hot new European import that’s creeping up in multiple aisles at the grocery store: Belgian Liege waffles. And, dare I say, they’re in a league all their own.
What Are Liege Waffles?
Liege waffles, named after the city where they were invented, aren’t anything new overseas. “When you go to Belgium, you’ll be offered two types [of waffles],” explains Lynsey Edge, a head of new product development for St. Pierre Bakery, a beloved brioche brand. “The Brussels waffle, made from a liquid batter, and a Liege waffle, made from a yeasted raised dough, which includes sugar pearls.” These two traits are the key differences between conventional and Liege waffles, which St. Pierre launched in March.
Because Liege waffles are made with dough that’s pressed into an iron, they’re more compact, fat, and irregular around the edges, points out Ayeshah Abuelhiga, CEO and founder of Mason Dixie Foods, a Baltimore-based company that makes frozen biscuits, waffles, and breakfast sandwiches. “Belgian waffles are usually rectangular or square,” she notes, or wedges from a round iron.
And they’re not made with any ol’ dough: Both Mason Dixie Foods and St. Pierre Bakery use brioche as the base for a richer, more indulgent, and denser bite.
On top — or, should I say, inside — of that is pearl sugar, what Joe Beauprez, a senior director of marketing for Frozen Foods at Kellogg Company, Eggo’s parent company, calls the “magical ingredient” that makes the brand’s Liege-Style Waffles “so delicious.” He adds, “It gives it an added crunch and sweet layer around the exterior.” Edge agrees, which is probably why her brand is “generous with [the] sugar pearls.”
Why Are We Suddenly So Sweet on Liege Waffles?
Well, a few reasons: Waffles are trending, and not just on social media. “Waffles are a growing category in the U.S., worth $1.2 billion in retail and up 10 percent on last year,” says Edge. “We are seeing double-digit year-over-year growth trends in Liege waffles in the U.S., especially in food service locations (like restaurants and cafes),” adds Beauprez, “which grew 39% over the last year.”
“They’re a great base for creative food ideas,” says Abuelhiga, coupled with the grab-and-go appeal for parents and others returning to their offices. Plus, as Edge points out, “the trend for ‘premiumization,’” or shoppers looking to elevate their everyday meals (a carryover from home cooking at the height of the pandemic) “is still alive and well.”
3 Liege Waffles to Seek Out
When we say Liege waffles are popping up all over grocery stores, we really do mean all over. You can now find them in the freezer, fridge, and bread or bakery sections, including the highly sought-after end-of-aisle displays. You’ll even find them in bulk warehouses (hello, Costco) and online retailers, like Goldbelly. There are well over a dozen options (all taste best warm — a quick spin in the toaster unlocks the waffle’s crunchy elements and its aroma). These are three to keep an eye out for on your next grocery run.
1. St. Pierre Brioche Waffles with Butter
You may find other brands on display in the bakery department (some for individual sale), but St. Pierre’s crackling sweet, but subtly and gently flavored Liege waffles with butter (lightened with a little oil) take the win in this category. “We make them slightly thicker for a bigger bite,” Edge shares. Additionally, this brand, known for its luxe brioche bread, makes its waffles with its signature dough — fresh yeast, whole eggs, and nib or pearl sugar — a major differentiator you can taste, compared to brands who will mix their doughs with just granulated sugar.
Buy: St. Pierre Brioche Waffles with Butter, $5.99 for 6 at Kroger
2. Kellogg’s Eggo Grab & Go Liege-Style Waffles
The newest waffle from the iconic brand is the only one in its line that doesn’t require reheating nor freezer space (although you may find it in the freezer section at your local grocer). It can be refrigerated for 15 to 35 days without any degradation of quality, and eaten as soon as it comes to room temperature. The waffles thaw in under an hour if you do choose to keep them frozen.
What sets Eggo above the other fridge-chilled brands is the “unforgettable nostalgia” of the distinctive Eggo taste, but with a richer flavor and fuller texture, and its availability in three different flavors. Strawberry and Buttery Maple launched first, giving us the option of an even more flavorful Liege-style waffle, and in May Vanilla Bean joined the ranks. No other brand is offering this selection, allowing Eggo to dominate with options.
Buy: Kellogg’s Eggo Buttery Maple Liege-Style Waffles, $5.99 for 4 waffles at Instacart
3. Mason Dixie Maple Liege Waffles
These are my personal number-one pick. Still, I couldn’t put my finger on what made these waffles so extraordinary. Luckily, Abuelhiga was happy to help me grasp exactly why I love them so much: Not only do they contain 100% butter and no oils, but they also “use pearl sugar crystals sourced directly from Belgium and whole-grain wheat flour for a hearty and satisfying texture.” Mystery solved. It’s the nutty, deeper flavors, the more robust crunch, and the embedding of the large nib sugar and maple and molasses throughout the waffle that creates spectacular “crispy sugar pockets,” as she calls them.
They also come in an excellent apple cinnamon flavor, with chunks of ripe fruit pressed into every fragrant waffle. If you want to kick things up yet another notch, the company recently released slightly thinner Liege waffles in sandwich form with a savory chicken sausage patty (you’d never guess it wasn’t pork!) squeezed in the middle. While you can let the waffles come to room temperature, you’ll need a microwave or oven for these sandwiches!
Buy: Mason Dixie Maple Liege Waffles, $6.99 for 4 waffles at Amazon