Over time, the entirety of my immediate family has trickled down to live in Chesapeake, Virginia. While I love the area, the job market has invariably left me further north. As the odd man out, it can sometimes be difficult to make family get-togethers. This was the case this most recent Mother's Day. I was sad to miss spending time with my family, but doubly so when I learned my equally epicurean sister had served gaufres de Liège, Belgian waffles with pearl sugar, as a holiday brunch.
|Thus, with a waffle, I die|
A specialty of Belgian street vendors and our neighbors across the street, gaufres de Liège (for a rough pronunciation, say "go-fra da lee-ejj") are particularly delectable due to their yeast-risen dough and the crunchy, lightly caramelized pockets of pearl sugar laced throughout. Pearl sugar, while it sounds fancy and highly priced, is simply table sugar in larger conglomerations of crystals. You can buy it ready-made off the internet (as I did) or an enterprising home economist can concoct their own by combining equal parts sugar and water and boiling until all the liquid has just evaporated, then shattering the remaining crystalline structures apart with a kitchen mallet.
|The white inclusions are deposits of sweet, sweet pearl sugar|
What we call a Belgian waffle in America is simply one variety in a country that has elevated waffle making into an art form. The American "Belgian" waffle is differentiated from standard varieties by its greater thickness and deeper pockets, first popularized in the US as "Bel-Gem waffles" at the 1964 World's Fair. A simplified version of what are known in Belgium as gaufres de Bruxelles (Brussels waffles), these are lighter and less sweet than the buttery, sugar-filled gaufres de Liège and, at least in Belgium, often defined by their clean edges and larger pockets. The thinner batter of Brussels waffles spreads and cooks more evenly, giving tight, clean edges, whereas thick, sticky Liège batter forms rough and lumpy sides. American waffles are also more likely to use baking powder for leavening, which gives less of an oomph, whereas in Belgium waffles are leavened with whipped egg whites, yeast, or both.
|Nutmeg makes almost everything better|
Thick and pleasantly dense, with very crispy edges and crunchy treasure troves of pearl sugar, these waffles are a textural delight. Traditionally, they're served only with a light dusting of powdered sugar, but Americans, and those catering to American tourists, will go whole hog: topping them with fruit, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. As you can see from the photos, I couldn't resist gilding the lily, myself. Gaufres de Liège typically come in plain, vanilla, or cinnamon varieties. Continuing the theme of excess, mine have cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg to boot! Sweet and spicy (the spicier Mexican vanilla, if you can get it, helps with this), these are the ideal anytime breakfast or dessert.
|Nom nom nom nom nom...|
Gaufres de Liège (Liège-style Belgian waffles)
These waffles freeze and reheat like magic, just cover tightly in several layers of plastic wrap and freeze indefinitely. Serves 5-6.
3/4 cup whole milk or half and half
1 tablespoon honey
1 packet instant active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons Mexican vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup Belgian pearl sugar
Set a small, heavy saucepan to warm over medium-low heat and add the milk and honey. Stir occasionally until steaming hot, but not boiling (100-110 F). Pour into a small glass bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top and cover with a plate or towel. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes. The yeast should puff and froth to at least double its size.
|A frothy mixture|
In a large glass bowl or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt at low speed. Add the milk and yeast mixture, as well as the eggs, and lightly beat until just combined. The dough will be very dense and slightly sticky.
|Like delicious concrete|
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm place (I heat the oven to 100 F, then shut it off) for 30 minutes. It should rise and at least double in size.
Return to the mixer and beat in the butter, tossing in a lump at a time. The batter will become glossier and fluffier. Fold in the pearl sugar until just mixed, then use your hands to roughly form 5-6 globes of dough.
Cook on a hot, greased waffle iron until golden brown and crispy, about five minutes each. You can store finished waffles in a low oven to keep them warm while you finish the rest.
Serve immediately, with a light dusting of powdered sugar or the decadent toppings of your choice.