Many foods that are ubiquitous in American culture have distant origins. Waffles, for instance, can be found in diners, cafes, and breakfast spots around the country, yet long before they made it across the Atlantic they were being devoured as a street snack in Belgium. Unlike some of the mammoth towers of waffle dishes regularly found in these parts, the Belgian treat is often enjoyed simply for what it is, sans accompaniments. That’s not to say some toppings aren’t welcome but the tasty dough is perfectly balanced and wonderfully sweet by itself.
HuffPost explains that there are two types of waffles in Belgium, both named after the cities where they are found — Brussels and Liege. The Brussels waffle is light, with a crispy exterior and a perfectly rectangular shape. Meanwhile, the Liege waffle has uneven sides and is denser, with a rich caramelized flavor thanks to the inclusion of pearl sugar.
Jessica Morone of Jess Loves Baking has a real passion for baked goods, which naturally extends to waffles. About the two types of Belgian treat, she remarks, "I don’t think I can choose my favorite," noting that "they are both delicious." Nevertheless, she chose to recreate a recipe for authentic Liege waffles, describing their prized characteristic: "I do love how the pearl sugar in the Liege waffles caramelizes to give you little crispy pops of sugar when you eat them." Start off with this heavenly recipe. And if you want to compare, you can always make the other version.
Gather up ingredients for authentic Liege waffles
For these tasty waffles, whole milk is the primary wet ingredient. This will add moisture and is also used to hydrate and dissolve the active dry yeast. Unlike American waffles, the Belgian type is generally leavened, resulting in more complex flavors. Next, you’ll need some light brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. You’ll also want to secure some all-purpose flour and butter, the latter of which you’ll want to take out of the fridge before you begin. That way, it reaches room temperature and will be simpler to combine with the other ingredients. If you’re really in a pinch for time, you can gently soften the butter in a microwave.
You won’t want to skip the Belgian pearl sugar, the key ingredient that really makes Liege waffles stand out from the rest. While you may not necessarily find it on your local grocery store shelf, Morone says that it’s still readily available with a bit of planning. "The easiest way to get Belgian pearl sugar is online through websites like Amazon, where you can get a bag for about $10," she says. "Some specialty stores, like Sur La Table, may carry it in stores as well."
Finally, there are plenty of options to dress your cooked waffle including fruit, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and powdered sugar. We’ll leave the particulars there up to you.
Combine the milk and the yeast
Pour the milk into a microwave-safe container and heat it for about 40 seconds. Morone warns that you do need to keep an eye on how hot the milk gets. "You don’t want the milk to be too hot or too cold, or the yeast won’t be able to react properly," she says. If you have a thermometer, aim for 100 to 110 F.
Transfer the warm milk to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir in the packet of active dry yeast. Let the milk and yeast sit for about 5 minutes or until the mixture starts to foam and bubble. That’s your sign that the yeast is active and ready to go. If nothing happens, the milk may not be at the correct temperature or the yeast might be dead. If that is the case, you’ll have to start over for best results.
Add remaining ingredients to the bowl
Once the yeast mixture has started bubbling, add the brown sugar, two eggs, vanilla extract, salt, all-purpose flour, and the room temperature butter into the bowl. Fit your stand mixer with the dough hook and mix to combine the ingredients into a soft dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it in a warm location for 90 to 120 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size.
The exact amount of time it takes to double the dough really depends on the ambient temperature of your kitchen, so keep an eye on the mix. Morone notes that "You want to make sure you let the dough rise long enough," and explains that if it doesn’t double in size, "the waffles won’t be as fluffy as you want them to be." So be patient, because the results are worth it!
Let the dough rise, then add the pearl sugar
After the dough has doubled, it’s time to add the pearl sugar into the mixture. Gently fold it into the dough, distributing the sugar evenly so that the taste lingers in every bite. Just be careful not to overmix, which could result in too much gluten development and unpleasantly tough waffles. At this point, if you want to plan ahead, Morone notes that you can "store [the dough] in the refrigerator for a few days before cooking it, or even freeze it for a few months."
For successful results post-freezing, she advises to "make sure you thaw the dough to room temperature before cooking it." If you’re ready to go ahead and enjoy these delicious Liege waffles right after adding the pearl sugar, divide the dough into 12 balls. Each will be roughly the size of your palm.
Cook in the waffle iron
Now it’s time to warm things up. To that end, preheat your waffle iron until it is nice and hot. To make the cleanup easier, take an extra second and grease the waffle iron with some cooking spray while you’re at it.
Place a single dough ball into the middle of the waffle iron and close the lid. Cook the waffle until the exterior is a nice golden brown and the center has fully cooked through. The timing will vary slightly depending on your waffle iron so keep an eye out for the telltale characteristics of a cooked waffle, namely that golden brown color. Repeat to cook the remaining 11 waffles. Remember that you can also freeze some of the dough to enjoy at a later time.
Serve the waffles warm with toppings
These authentic Liege waffles are especially heavenly when they’re served warm right after coming off the waffle iron. You’ll probably want to try at least one that’s free of toppings to fully savor the rich caramelized aromas of the waffle itself. Morone agrees. "I love the flavor of these and how crispy they are," she says of the unadulterated waffles.
All the same, some toppings are definitely welcome. So, go ahead and get creative! If you’re looking for some direction, Morone recommends fresh berries, whipped cream, powdered sugar, or chocolate sauce. That said, this is the perfect place to experiment with savory topping as well. The time of day might even dictate your selection. Morone explains that "traditionally, waffles in Belgium are eaten more as a snack than breakfast, but there’s no reason why you can’t eat them for breakfast."
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 1 packet (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 8 ounces Belgian pearl sugar
- Microwave the milk for approximately 40 seconds, until it reaches 100 to 110 F.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm milk and the yeast. Stir together, then let sit for about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes bubbly.
- Add the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, salt, flour, and butter to the bowl.
- Use the dough hook of your stand mixer to combine the ingredients until a soft dough forms.
- Cover the bowl and leave it in a warm location for 90 to 120 minutes, until the dough doubles in size.
- After the dough has risen, fold the Belgian pearl sugar into the dough.
- Divide the dough into 12 balls about the size of your palm.
- Preheat your waffle iron and grease with cooking spray.
- Place one dough ball in the middle of the waffle iron. Close the iron and cook until the waffle is golden and the center has cooked through.
- Repeat until all the balls of dough are cooked.
- Serve the waffles hot with your desired toppings.