To Americans, Belgian waffles mean fluffy waffles with big pockets. But Belgium has two famous kinds of waffles, even if one of them failed to become famous over here. There are Brussels waffles, which are more or less like what we think of, though they’re yeast-risen, and then there are Liège waffles, which are rich, dense, and dotted with chunks of sugar. In Belgium, waffles are a snack food, served with whipped cream, fruit, chocolate, you name it. I even got waffles from a vending machine once in France. And Liège waffles live up to that calling, even without any toppings. They’re essentially brioche with pearl sugar mixed in, cooked in a waffle iron instead of in an oven.
Brioche: yeast-risen bread with butter, eggs, and sugar. About as rich as kneaded bread can get.
Pearl sugar: lumps of sugar made under intense pressure that hold their shape in heat. I ordered some online, but in my experience half-crushed sugar cubes do just fine.
I used this recipe, and man, did it serve me well. They all but canonized me when I brought these into the department for a colloquium reception along with some jersey whipped cream. (Jersey refers to the kind of cow – it makes a higher-fat milk than our (Americans’) usual Holsteins. It also made a denser, less smooth whipped cream.) It was definitely the most loved contribution I’ve made to the department, and most of the desserts I post here end up eaten by people in the department. A gay man proposed to me so I could make them for him all the time.
The recipe requires very little work but quite a bit of time and careful scheduling. I find the instructions a little hard to follow, so I’ve gone through it again here.
1. Mix the flour, water, milk, yeast, and egg, and let it hydrate and develop some gluten and rise a bit before you add all the stuff that will make gluten development difficult (that is, sugar and fat – I supposed the egg goes in early because of its water content and in spite of its fat).
2. Wait 1-1.5 hours. Put the butter out during this wait so it’ll be soft.
3. Then add everything else, except the pearl sugar. (The recipe breaks this into a few steps, which I find unnecessary – and I’m stirring by hand!) Mix well, knead a little.
4. Wait 4 hours.
4.5. Then the recipe says to put it in the fridge for half an hour before stirring it down, folding it a few times, and refrigerating overnight. It says the preliminary refrigeration is critical, so I haven’t been gutsy enough to test it, but it baffles me why you would need to refrigerate it before refrigerating it. The stirring down part just knocks out some air and redistributes the yeast – I can imagine, if I squint, that the yeast need to slow down before being introduced to new food sources, but no other bread recipes I know of require you to refrigerate before the punch-down. Anybody have any clues? Anyway, I add the pearl sugar at this point because it’s easier than when the dough is cold. I haven’t had any problems because of it.
5. So, stir the pearl sugar in, refrigerate overnight (or whenever), and then take the dough out, divide it into waffle-sized pieces (the recipe is for five waffles, but I make about 8 small ones, and I usually double the recipe for a total of 16), and let rise at room temperature for 1.5 hours.
6. I have a Cuisinart Belgian waffle iron that I use normally (not the way the recipe says) at about level 3 or 4, out of 5, in terms of the heat. I usually let them cook for a little longer than one cycle. They’ll get pretty dark because they have sugar and protein, which brown well. You’re aiming for the pearl sugar to caramelize but not burn, but even if it doesn’t caramelize, it will be de-freaking-licious.