If you order Belgian waffles for breakfast in Brussels, don’t be surprised if the waiter gives you a curious look. What we Americans refer to as “Belgian” waffles—thick with deep pockets, crispy on the outside, and moist and airy on the inside—do not exist in the land of their namesake. They’re actually a variation of Gaufres de Bruxelles or Brussels waffles. (Not to be confused with a Liege waffles, or Gaufre de Liège, which are made from a dough filled with pearl sugar.)
In 1958, a Belgian restauranteur by the name of Maurice Vermersch featured waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream at Expo 58 in Brussels. Seeing how popular the creation was, Vermersch introduced them to the U.S. by way of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, NY. (Some claim that a similarly thick and delicious waffle appeared two years earlier at the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle, WA.) When he realized that so many American’s were not familiar with Brussels, Vermersch coined the name “Bel-gem” waffles, which eventually became “Belgian” and stuck.
In the U.S., we generally label any thick waffle as “Belgian”, but most folks will tell you that an authentic Belgian waffle is leavened with yeast instead of baking powder. Yeast gives waffles a light, airy, almost sponge-like crumb and adds a nice malty flavor.
But yeast can be tricky and needs sufficient time to work it’s magic. In order to develop a good rise and a tangy flavor, some recipes insist on resting the batter for several hours. This makes it difficult to whip up a batch of waffles one morning when the craving hits you. Fortunately, we found you could get a good rise and develop a mild yeast flavor in as little as 60 minutes following the method presented here.
Texture is the hallmark of a good Belgian waffle. Our goal is a crispy exterior with a light and moist crumb. The ratios of flour, milk and butter play a big role in getting it right. We tested several recipes with varying ratios and results. Some made waffles so light they were practically hollow—nothing to soak-up syrups and sauces. Other recipes were so dense or rich with butter that they hit the stomach like a rock.
We found the right ratios to be 1 ounce of flour to 1⅔ ounces milk and ⅓ ounces butter (1:1⅔:⅓) For each whole egg, you’ll need 6 ounces of flour, 10 ounces of milk and 2 ounces of butter. This will yield about four 4-inch square, 1½-inch thick waffles. These ratios will provide a good balance, but we encourage you to experiment. For a lighter interior, decrease the flour by 10-20%. An extra tablespoons or two of butter will give you a richer, crisper exterior.
To enhance taste and flavor, sugar, salt and vanilla extract are added. We recommend you begin with 2-3 tablespoons sugar and ½ teaspoon each of kosher salt and vanilla per egg and adjust to your own taste.
To ensure a timely rise of the batter, use 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of active dry yeast per egg. Although some cooks will claim it’s not necessary to proof the yeast, we found it helped facility a faster rise. The batter will need to set in a warm environment until it doubles in volume. The ideal temperature is 80°-90°F (27°-32°C). Too much higher, and the heat will stifle the yeast.
A simple solution is to pre-heat your oven to 300°F (150°C/Gas Mark 2), and allow the covered bowl of yeasted batter to rest on top of the stove. The immediate area around the oven should provide enough warmth to double the batter in 60 minutes. Another option is to fill a shallow baking pan with very hot water, place it on the lowest shelf a cold oven, place the covered batter on a shelf above the water, and close the oven door.
Once the batter has doubled, you can begin making waffles immediately, or you can allow the batter to set overnight in the refrigerator and develop a tangier taste.
Folding egg whites into the batter provides additional lift and structure, and while some recipes substitute baking soda to save time, we don’t recommend this. The extra effort to whisk egg whites is well worth it. Our recipe calls for two egg yolks and two whites, but you can experiment by adding an additional egg white for even more lift.
Waffles can go from done to dude in a matter of seconds. Keep a close watch when cooking them. We’re looking for an even golden-borwn exterior to tell us our waffles are ready. Steam is a good indicator. As it dissipates, the waffle nears completion, but don’t wait until all steam completely subsides or your smell burning waffle. It’s okay to open the iron from time to time, once the initial surge of steam subsides, to check the color.
The biggest variable will most likely be your waffle iron. Models vary so widely, it’s impossible to predict cooking times. Some trial and error is necessary. You may need to sacrifice a waffle or two for the greater good until you determine for yourself just how long it takes. Many irons have built-in timers and alerts, but these features are rarely accurate. Once you know the time it takes for your waffle iron to achieve the perfect coloring, shave off a minute, and going forward, use a timer for consistency. That way if you get distracted, the timer will alert you well before you’ve past the point of no return.
There’s no doubt that waffles are best hot off the iron. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar and serve immediately. If you need to serve more than two or three people, keep the waffles warm in a 200°F (100°C/Gas Mark ¼) oven on a sheet pan fitted with a cooling rack. It helps to slightly undercook the waffles so that they don’t dry out in while in the oven.
Belgian waffles are something special and should be celebrated. Skip the maple syrup from time to time and be creative with your toppings. The classic choice of fresh strawberries and whipped cream is always a winner, but any fresh fruit will do – bananas, blueberries or maybe even mangos. How about sliced peaches and pecan syrup, cinnamon-apple compote, or even a little fudge sauce? Use your imagination and create something special.
AUTHENTIC BELGIAN WAFFLES
Prep time: 70 mins | Cook time: 20 mins | Total time: 1 hour 30 mins
Serves: 8 4-inch square thick waffles
These waffles are crispy on the outside with an airy, almost sponge-like interior with a mild yeast flavor. Perfect for breakfast! To insure proper texture, make sure the batter doubles in size by keeping it at a warm room temperature. Cooking times will vary from iron to iron. Keep watch to ensure a golden-brown exterior or consult the manufacturer’s directions.
- 12 ounces (2⅔ cups) All purpose flour
- 3 ounces (⅓ cup) sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups milk, whole or 2%
- 1 packet (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, unsalted
- 2 large eggs, separated
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large non-metallic mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt until blended and set aside.
In a medium sauce pan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until just warm to touch. Should take less than a minute. Do not allow to bubble or steam.
Into a small glass or ceramic bowl, ladle about ½ cup of the warm milk. Sprinkle the yeast evenly over the top and let it set for 10 minutes until the yeast is soaked and bubbles.
While the yeast is proofing, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over a medium heat. Do not allow it to boil or burn. Set it aside to cool briefly.
Pour the yeast mixture back into the pan with the warmed milk and add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and whisk gently until incorporated. Slowly whisk in about a third of the butter to temper. Add the remaining butter and whisk until blended.
Whisk the milk-yeast mixture into the dry ingredients until there are no streaks of flour. Do not over mix. There will be lumps in the batter, but this is fine.
Using a hand- or stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently incorporate the egg whites into the batter.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the batter rest at warm room temperature until it has doubled in size.(See notes.)
Once the batter has risen, you can begin making waffles, or you can store the covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours. The batter will be airy, thick and somewhat gooey (especially if allowed to sit overnight). Gently stir the batter to account for any separation that may have occurred.
Preheat the waffle iron for 15 minutes or follow the manufacturers instructions. Grease the iron before each batch of waffles using a little vegetable oil and a pastry brush. Use a ladle or measuring cup to measure out the batter. Evenly distribute the batter with the back of the ladle or cup.
Check for doneness after most of the steam has subsided. Cook until golden-brown on the outside. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.
We highly recommend measuring your flour and sugar by weight, but volumetric approximations are provided for convenience. [url href=”http://kitchenjournals.com/belgian-waffles-recipe-metric/” target=”_blank”]For a metric version, click here.[/url]