Once upon a time I spent the best semester EVER in Europe. I should say that I studied art…but let’s be honest. It’s all about them EATS.
In between stuffing our brains with things like calligraphic lines and the dark chiaroscuro of Rembrandt, we were stuffing our mouths with things like gaufres de liège – or as we more commonly call them Belgian – more specifically – Liège waffles.
But I’m not talking about those so-called “Belgian waffles” that come as a powdery solution in a box. I mean, the real deal Belgian Liège waffles.
The waffles that you get on the streets in Belgium are more similar to a yeast-risen cinnamon roll dough than the waffles we traditionally make in America.
Liège waffles are generous with the butter while still keeping a fluffy texture that is begging to be broken into by your fork or your face, for that matter.
Hands down, the biggest secret is the Belgian pearl sugar. Those little nuggets of sugar sneak attack the dough like crisp bacon in a cobb salad (you know you dig around for the bacon!), creating treasure pockets of caramelized crunch.
I kid you not! Your eyes will roll into the back of your head as you place your hand on your belly and sigh a sigh of pure contentment with each bite.
Enough talk. My days of study abroad have long been over. (Don’t you dare ask how many years it’s been!) A liège waffle fest was far beyond overdue. And so I took it upon myself to make me some!
Although I love liège waffles, I’ve got to give credit to this recipe for doing some serious legwork. It’s been the closest I could get to achieving the right taste, texture and bite.
Makes: 5 waffles (so double it!!)
Prep Time: Make the dough the day before. (It takes 4 hours to rise before a stint in the fridge overnight.) It takes approx. 2 hours the day-of.
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup scalded whole milk (110-115 degrees)
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. of warm water (110-115 degrees)
2 cups bread flour
1 large room temperature egg, lightly beaten
1Tbsp. + 1 tsp. light brown sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
8 1/2 Tbsp. softened room temperature unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. Mexican vanilla extract (you certainly can use whatever vanilla you have handy)
3/4 cup Belgian Pearl Sugar
Nutella (yes, PLEASE!)
Sliced strawberries, blueberries or raspberries
Cookie butter – i.e. speculoos (crazy, crazy good!)
…the sky is the limit
1. Place yeast, milk, and warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir for a few seconds to moisten the yeast. Let the yeast sit for 5-10 minutes or until foamy.
2. Add the egg and 2/3 of a cup of the flour. Mix to blend. Scrape down sides of bowl.
3. Sprinkle remaining 1 and 1/3 cups of 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).
4. Add the brown sugar and salt to the bowl with the other ingredients. Mix on low speed – just to blend.
5. With machine on low, 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. Let the dough rest for 1 minute and then continue to mix for 2 minutes. If you measured your ingredients perfectly, 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.
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.
7. REFRIGERATE FOR 30 MINUTES BEFORE PROCEEDING TO STEP #8. This is essential. The yeast respiration must be slowed before continuing.
8. Gently deflate the gases from the dough, by pressing on it with a spatula and scrape it onto a piece of 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. Wrap it in plastic, weigh it down a bit (with a heavy bowl or plates) and refrigerate overnight.
9. The next day, place the cold dough (it will be quite firm) in a large bowl and add all of the pearl sugar to a bowl. Get in there and mix it into the dough by hand until the chunks are well-distributed. Once mixed, divide the dough into 5 pieces of equal size.
10. Shape each chunk into an oval ball and let it rise, covered loosely in plastic wrap, for 90 minutes to 2 hours.
11. If you have a professional waffle iron (meaning: it’s cast iron and weighs over 20 pounds) cook at exactly 365-370 degrees for approximately 2 minutes. It may take a little longer or shorter depending on your waffle iron. Make 1 waffle and then adjust your time accordingly. You want the outside to be a warm golden brown and the sugar to be caramelized without it being a dark brown or burnt. (Watch out for that burnt sugar! And make sure you let the waffle cool before you dig in because that sugar gets HOT!)
You can make this dough and keep it in the fridge but it’ll only keep and maintain the right texture for about 1 day or so.