Have you ever tried Liege Waffles? This classic Belgian street food features chunks of pearl sugar baked inside of a yeasted dough…and it’s delicious!
Each year, my wife and I try to take a fun vacation. It might be something big like an international trip, but it just as easily could be something small like a roadtrip through Vermont. I swear half the fun of these trips is the planning. We grab travel books from the library, pull up several websites and just read away. Last Spring, we took a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands. We didn’t really know what to expect from either country, and I must admit that we were pleasantly surprised. I’m fairly certain that we lived entirely on a diet of Belgian chocolate and Gouda cheese. Oh, and Liege waffles…how could I forget the Liege waffles??
Have you heard of Liege waffles? (If you have, then you likely already know how awesome they are!) What about Belgian waffles? Ok, so Liege waffles are kinda like Belgian waffles…only 342 times better. Belgian waffles and Liege waffles are both common in Belgium, but they are so very different. As soon as we landed in Brussels, we sampled one of each type. We were immediately hooked on the Liege waffle and never went back. What makes them so special? Pearl sugar. Buttery waffles studded with chunks of pearl sugar. (But more on the sugar later…)
Liege waffles are a street food in Brussels. Vendors are plentiful and it’s easy to grab a waffle to nibble on while you are wandering the streets. Or perhaps as an afternoon snack. Or perhaps as a nightly dessert. Or perhaps as all three. (Are you catching my drift here of how awesome Liege waffles are?) You can order them plain, or topped with powdered sugar, whipped cream, chocolate hazelnut spread, sliced bananas, strawberries and/or chocolate. I mean there is seriously no end to the combination of toppings for Liege waffles. We typically just opted for a light dusting of powdered sugar.
Liege waffles are really quite different than the standard American waffle. For starters, the dough is yeasted. (But don’t let that scare you away! It just means you serve them as a later breakfast or maybe brunch. Or maybe afternoon snack and evening dessert. That’s how we rolled in Belgium.) The dough is also thick. It’s not really a pourable batter like you might be familiar with from traditional waffles. (For the record, I still love traditional waffles, too…it’s just that Liege waffles belong in a whole separate category!) Instead of pouring the batter into the waffle iron, you just put a ball of dough right into the center of each section of the waffle iron. The result is a golden, buttery treat that you just need to taste to understand.
But back to this pearl sugar. Liege waffles aren’t Liege waffles without pearl sugar. From our very first bite, we could tell there was some sort of unique sugar in these waffles. Of course, we had to sample (and resample) these waffles as part of our “research.” I think we ended up asking someone in our hotel about Liege waffles. That’s how we learned about pearl sugar. One of our last stops before leaving Brussels was a grocery store where we stocked up on this unique sugar. (I seriously think we bought every box on the shelf…you know, for research purposes once we returned to the States.)
Pearl sugar consists of larger chunks of sugar that do not totally melt as the waffle is cooked. When used in Liege waffles, the result is a treat that has crunchy pockets of sugar scattered throughout it. Like I said, it’s a unique ingredient. You can purchase pearl sugar on Amazon, and I’ve heard that some specialty stores carry it. In a pinch, you could probably just take a handful of sugar cubes and coarsely crush them up, but I suspect it wouldn’t quite be the same.
Not long after we returned from Belgium, my wife and I were wandering through a local farmer’s market on Saturday morning. We were about to leave when we noticed a guy setting up a table with several waffle irons. He had a sign out on front of his table saying that he was selling Liege waffles. Wait…seriously? There’s no way this guy is actually making Liege waffles here in Schenectady, NY. We stopped and talked to him, and sure enough…he told us all about how he went to great lengths to ship in a bulk supply of pearl sugar. I respect that! He wasn’t cutting corners. The man knew his Liege waffles. It was this extra attention to detail that made us stop and pick up a Liege waffle. And we may or may not pick up a Liege waffle each time we go to the farmer’s market now.
Farmer’s markets are incredible for so many reasons! Not only are you supporting local farmers and businesses, but you often come across some of the most unique (and most awesome!) products ever. There’s the pasta guy who makes 30 different varieties of pasta by hand. There’s the local farmer who makes a white wine mustard with a taste that is truly balanced perfectly. And of course, there’s the baker I mentioned above who imports pearl sugar from Belgium so he can make authentic Liege waffles.
This extra special attention to detail is really what makes the food community so awesome. From the guy at the Schenectady Farmer’s Market who ships in pearl sugar to the guy in Chicago who has spent years perfecting the perfect custom coffee roast. There are so many incredible stories like this out there. That’s what makes the foodie world so awesome! Want more stories like this? Check out Bon Appetit’s “Out of the Kitchen” series. It’s full of great content, and it’s definitely worth a visit. Enjoy!
- ½ cup milk warmed but not hot
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2½ Tbsp light brown sugar
- 1½ Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 10 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup pearl sugar See note
- Using a countertop mixer, add all of the ingredients except for the butter and pearl sugar (milk, yeast, flour, brown sugar, honey, vanilla, salt, egg and egg yolk). Mix on medium speed until a smooth, stiff dough forms (2-3 minutes).
- Cover dough and place in a warm (85°F) location for 30 minutes.
- Add half of the butter to the bowl and mix on low speed for 1-2 minutes, or until butter is incorporated into dough. Repeat with remaining butter.
- Add the pearl sugar to the bowl and mix on low speed until well combined.
- Divide the dough into 12 equal balls of dough and place in a warm location for 20 minutes. (Note: This dough is very sticky. Wet your hands with water occasionally to help keep the dough from sticking to your hands.)
- Place one ball of dough into the center of each “section” of the waffle iron. (My stovetop waffle iron has 4 sections, so I cook 4 pieces of dough at a time.) Cook waffles over medium heat until tops are deep golden brown in color (~2-3 minutes).
- Dust waffles with powdered sugar and serve immediately.
Want to meet purveyors who are making a difference with their customers? Check out BonAppetit.com’s “Out of the Kitchen”, an ongoing exploration of the relationships that build and sustain the food industry. See how hyper-local food markets operate and how their focus on quality and service keep customers coming back for more.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Bon Appetit.
The opinions and recipe are all my own.