What is a Liege Style Belgian Waffle?
Waffles are defined by Wikipedia as “A waffle is a dish made from leavened batter or dough that is cooked between two plates that are patterned to give a characteristic size, shape, and surface impression.” There are several different styles of waffles served across the globe. The Buttermilk Waffle, the Brussels (or generic Belgian) Waffle, and the Liege Style Belgian Waffle.
The US has adapted to the chemically leavened batter variety of waffles, as known as the Buttermilk Waffle or generic breakfast waffle. This style of waffle uses the acid found in buttermilk, to activate with baking soda, and baking powder causing them to rise as they cook in the hot waffle iron. The batter expands and fills in the grid-like shapes of the iron, creating more surface area to brown and caramelize the flour’s starch. The results create crisp cups, perfect for holding melted butter and warm maple syrup. This batter method is quick to make, usually having the eggs separated, so that the whites can be whipped to hold onto the surrounding air (resulting in a lighter, more airy finished textured waffle), then folded into a batter of yolks mixed with buttermilk, melted butter (or oil) and maybe some vanilla extract. This is then stirred into dry ingredients (flour blended with baking soda, baking powder, salt, and a touch of sugar). These waffles use a very similar batter style to a buttermilk pancake recipe and have been used sometimes interchangeably. This variety of waffle is usually served with Fried Chicken (try my ‘Shake and Bake’ Hopped Fried Chicken), to make the Southern classic, ‘Chicken & Waffles”.
Meanwhile in Belgium, waffles are street food classics, served from little booths, stalls, and now food cart | trucks, in many of its picturesque cities. The smell of these Belgian Waffles is so intoxicating, so distinctive, that like Pavlov’s dog, the tourists | locals start to drool when the aroma fills their noses… This style of waffle is completely different from the US counterpart. The dough has flavor, it has fermentation-derived complexity, its texture is denser, with more chew, while still being tender and toothsome. This led me to want to understand what makes a Liege Style Belgian Waffle so amazingly delicious. I have had so many experiences consuming these Belgian gastronomy indulgences, that it is now a food memory, stuck in my head, that I can go back in time and reference. Pulling from this research and travel, I want to share with you how I came up with this recipe version and the technique to incorporate the ingredients correctly.
To clarify, not all Belgian Waffles are the same. There is another style of Belgian Waffle that is important to mention. The similarities between the Brussels Waffle and a Liege Style Belgian Waffle are that they both use yeast as a leavening medium. No baking powder or soda is used in this yeasted waffle. That’s about the end of the Belgian Waffle similarities. They both are crisp, deep ridges, and valleys to fill with toppings, syrups, and such. The Brussels style is simpler in flavor, there isn’t a large portion of butter, nor is the dough made with the steps mentioned below. Nuggets of pearl sugar aren’t used either, finding a more common appearance to that of an American Style Buttermilk Waffle. The Brussels waffle is also lighter in texture than its counterpart. My other Belgian Beer Waffle recipe takes the batter of a Brussels Style Waffle and adds pearl sugar, making a hybrid of the two styles.
A true Liege Style Belgian Waffle is a truly unique culinary experience. With a history dating back over 600 years ago, this ‘street food’ has evolved over the decades and centuries. Due to its hand | snack-size portion and portability, almost like a Belgian style donut (Belgian Olibollen), yet eaten for breakfast, brunch, and | or an afternoon snack. This waffle’s characteristics are denser, heavier, with a sweeter finish than its northern Belgian cousin. The waffle mixture is a dough, not a batter. The formation of an enriched dough sets this Liege waffle apart. Sweet pockets of special pearl sugar melt and caramelize into crunchy candy pieces. The high heat comes from two sides, sandwiched between hot grid-patterned plates, transforming the dough into a baked pastry of sorts. Vanilla, caramel, toffee all waft into the air, as the yeast has created a platform for the wonderful and intoxicating aroma to be released. The finished irregular-shaped waffle is distinctive, blond to a golden brown, with a beautiful structure on the inside, making them the perfect scrumptious treat.
What is an Enriched Dough?
In my waffle research, both in tasting from stands on the streets of Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels, along with many special Belgian-inspired dinners, I have developed a love for this style of waffle, the Liege Belgian Waffle. Freshly made and served hot, this style of waffle is rich, ultra buttery, crisp on the outside while tender on the inside, with golden brown divots, set in a grid, that increase the cooking surface of the waffle, giving it, well its name. There are sweet pockets of a toffee | caramel | candy crunch unevenly dispersed throughout the flavorful waffle, created by the addition of pearl sugar crystals. Due to the fermentation time and extra steps borrowed from the French baker, in the form of a Brioche bread, this waffle dough is very different from other types of waffles. Brioche bread dough contains a lot more fat, from both egg yolks and butter, lots of delicious butter.
An electric mixer is the easiest way to make an enriched dough. These are the steps to create an enriched style of bread dough:
A sponge is formed; creating the beginning of the gluten development from the flour’s starch while hydrating the flour and also feeding the yeast the first wake-up meal. This step gives the dough more fermentation time, making it more digestible, creating more flavor compounds, and helping with the finished browning | crust formation. This dough is very moist, sticky and this step adds about 30 minutes to the final dough’s preparation.
Next, eggs are added, bring extra fat from the yolks into the dough. More flour is added and the dough is formed, kneaded to create more gluten strains, and then “IT” is added. The ‘it’ being butter, room temperature butter. As butter is fat, I go ‘for the gold’ and use the best butter I can get my hands on. Straus Family Creamery makes a European Style Unsalted Butter that has a higher percentage of butterfat than just standard unsalted butter. The cultured butter is richer in taste, a result of more fat and less water in the final butter. To be called butter in America, the butterfat content needs to be at least 80%. European style butter ranges from 82-86% butterfat. If you can’t find Straus, an excellent alternative, that will make these waffles more ‘authentic is using unsalted Chimay Butter from Belgium. This room temperature butter is emulsified into the dough, slowly, tablespoon by tablespoon. As the electric mixer fitted with a dough hook works in the butter, the final result is a bread dough with more fat than any sourdough or other type of bread dough. The resulting texture and crumb of the bread are tender, pulling apart easily. The dough is then left for 15 minutes, to relax, then mixed again, to further develop the gluten in the dough.
At this point, I turn out the dough, weigh it and then divide it into serving size portions. This recipe yields 1220 grams of dough. Dividing the dough into 152-gram portions makes a perfect size waffle. Using sandwich bags, I form the dough into balls, then place them into the bags, then seal them. Place these bags into the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to 120 hours (or 5 days), to slowly ferment. With a refrigerator being typically set to 38°F | 3°C, the slow fermentation allows the yeast to enjoy their meal, creating lovely flavor compounds to the finished waffle. These steps set this waffle apart from a buttermilk waffle, in almost every way possible. Plus, these waffles are more digestible due to the slow fermentation of the yeast.
My Liege Style Belgian Waffle dough is more similar to a Brioche dough than a standard dough, as I further increase the fat content with extra eggs than a Brioche recipe would call for. I also add in Greek yogurt (more cultures) with the warmed milk, and the use of European style butter all combine to make a very special dough.
For flour, you could use all-purpose flour. I use a combination of flours, to add some extra texture, flavor, and nutrition. Einkorn is an ancient grain that adds an almost nutty element to the waffle. This flour is available from Central Milling. I love using their flours, as they are also freshly milled, have a wonderful texture and the results in your baked goods will be noticed.
To add an extra flavor element, similar to adding miso to a recipe, I sneak in some Malted Milk Powder to give that extra pop of wow, when these waffles are cooked.
Types of Yeast:
As these waffles are fermented and use yeast, I wanted to help share with you the different types of yeast products a consumer can find | buy | trade.
Active Dry Yeast is the most common ‘baker’s yeast’ available in most grocery stores. This product removes the water from the live yeast, then grinds up the yeast into granules and packaged.
Instant Yeast or sometimes called bread machine yeast is created similarly to Active Dry Yeast is, yet the granules are smaller, so it can dissolve easier into the dough. It is said that the yeast strain for Instant Yeast is different from Active Dry Yeast.
RapidRise Yeast is another variety of dried yeast. Fleischmann is a very common grocery store brand. This yeast strain has been developed to create one single ‘proof’ vs other yeasts that require two or three risings. This type of yeast is great for a cinnamon roll, something without a lot of flavor from the yeast. This is not a good choice for pizza dough or this waffle recipe.
For reference, an envelope of dried yeast is equal to 2 1/4 teaspoons or 1/4 (.25) of an ounce.
Fresh Yeast, also called cake yeast or compressed yeast, found more in the commercial food | wholesale side of the baking world. This yeast comes in a small block | brick, doesn’t last very long, maybe a week in the walk-in. Professional bakers use this variety of yeast to make bread by crumbling it, adding warm liquid and flour to create a sponge. It does produce a nice, mostly neutral flavor in baked goods.
Beer Yeast, sold in a liquid or dried state, with tons of different varieties to choose from. I prefer using a Belgian style, such as a Trappist variety, that could even be from the bottom of a bottle-conditioned brew. The results I’ve had using Belgian yeast in pizza dough to bread is pretty cool and creates some unique flavors in the final baked goods. When using brewers yeast in baking, it is important to increase the fermentation time, as these yeast strains are more adept at consuming liquid sugars versus moist flour starch. Temperature is also important, to give the yeast a good environment to work in.
Sourdough Starter is a combination of wild yeasts and bacterias. Flour and water are mixed to create a very wet slurry, that is left to feed what yeast is in the air and what microorganisms are coating the flour grains before it is milled into flour. After about three to four days, the starter will come alive, then requiring regular feedings of more flour and water. As with each region around the world, microflora is unique to each area. Each sourdough starter is unique and acts differently, requiring some getting to know how to use it most efficiently. I learned from Nancy Silverston, in her amazing cookbook Breads from the La Brea Bakery to add wine grapes, wrapped in cheesecloth, to the flour-water slurry. The wild yeasts on the grapes help propagate in the starter, further adding flavor by the grape juice that ferments in the sourdough starter. If you make a sourdough starter, you will have lots of starters, with all the feedings required to keep it alive and healthy. Another tip I learned from Mike “The Bejkr” Zakowski: take some of your extra sourdough starters, place onto a piece of parchment paper, using an offset spatula, spread to create a thin layer. Let this air dry for a few days. Then peel off the yeast, grind it in a blender, and store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for later use. This is a great backup for your sourdough starter, just in case anything happens to it. I use this dried sourdough starter in this recipe. While not essential, it does add to the flavor profile in the finished waffle.
Once the yeast is added to the sponge, the dough begins its fermentation. This recipe can be made in about 3 hours, after the dough is made, by covering the mixing bowl with plastic wrap or a moist kitchen towel. Yet the results are not as delicious as a long slow fermentation. I’ll share a cool trick I learned from Peter Reinhart when making pizza dough. First, use all cold ingredients to slow down the fermentation process. Then portion out the dough into individual bags, placing the small dough balls into this sealed environment, preventing it from drying out and being able to ferment in the refrigerator easily. Using this same technique for waffles further makes having a delicious feast as easy as making a pizza. Place the bags into the bottom of your fridge and the next morning, or the morning after that, or each morning, pull a bag and let it sit on the counter for 20 minutes, to warm up slightly. This way, you can have fresh, hot, Liege Style Belgian Waffles for breakfast | brunch all week long.
I also add the pearl sugar to the waffle dough at this point. I roll out the dough slightly, to make a rectangle | oval-like log. I usually add enough pearl sugar to evenly cover the dough, then I wrap it up so that the sugar crystals aren’t exposed to the direct heat of a hot waffle iron, which can create burn spots on the finished waffle. This also helps keep your waffle iron clean, without having to be inspected between each waffle. More on this in the recipe directions below.
What is Pearl Sugar?
I’d mentioned above, this special ingredient called pearl sugar. But what is it? Essentially, pearl sugar is regular refined white table sugar (sucrose) that has been compressed to create larger sugar crystals. As the crystal structure builds from the small sugar granule, the resulting larger piece doesn’t melt at most baking temperatures. The result is a sugar that can be added to the top of a bread or pastry (think danish or other European style pastry), brushed with an Egg Wash to help them stick to the surface, and they will hold their shape and texture, giving the final baked product a crunch of sweetness. Belgian Pearl Sugar is a larger-sized sugar crystal, whereas Swedish Pearl Sugar (pärlsocker) is a much smaller-sized version. Sometimes Pearl Sugar is called Hail Sugar or nib sugar, linking its size and look to small ice crystals. All these sugar products are based on the same compressed sugar product. Belgian Pearl Sugar can be bought online and a good brand that I’ve had good luck with is Lars’s Own. It can sometimes be found in a gourmet or European-style grocery store. If you want to make sure you have enough Belgian Pearl Sugar on hand, it can also be purchased in large amounts: Belgian Pearl Sugar in Bulk.
Some websites make pearl sugar by taking white sugar cubes, placing them in a bag, and smashing them with a hammer. I tried this and the product is not the same, nor will the results be the same. I will try to make some homemade versions of Belgian Pearl Sugar and revise this recipe if I get worthy enough results.
Are there any substitutes for Belgian Pearl Sugar? La Perruche Pure Cane Rough Cut Cubes are probably the closest sugar product that I could find. They make a golden and a white rough cut sugar cube that is very different in texture to a standard sugar cube from C&H. Toffee pieces (think chocolate-coated Heath Toffee Bars found in Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch) are also different, as butter, sugar, and water are combined, heated to a hard crack stage, and then cooled. While not pearl sugar, one could make Beer Bark or Beer Brittle, break it up into small pieces, and use this as a sugar substitute for this style waffle recipe.
Special Equipment to Make Liege Style Belgian Waffle:
In order to make a good waffle, one must have a waffle iron. Here are a few that I recommend.
- The basic: Cuisinart Double Belgian Waffle Maker
- The advanced baker: All-Clad Stainless Steel Belgian Waffle Maker
- The professional baker: Commercial Nonstick Belgian Liege Waffle Maker
- And if you want to get fancy: Stainless Steel Waffle Fork
As this recipe and many other recipes on Home Brew Chef are measured by weight, not volume, good quality and easy to use kitchen scale is recommended. I have and used this OXO Stainless Steel Food Scale for years. It’s accurate up to 11 pounds, does grams or ounces, and the pull-out display comes in handy when the bowl | pot | container would otherwise cover the readout.
How to Serve Liege Style Belgian Waffle:
These finished waffles are amazing, just as they are, hot, right out of the waffle iron. They can be slathered with room temperature butter, I prefer an unsalted European Style (having a higher butterfat content) butter, such as Straus Family Creamery. Letting the butter melt into the individual pockets, created by the hot iron, increasing the surface area of the waffle, making a crust, to hold that butter. Some dust their waffles with powdered sugar. I prefer my Malt Powdered Sugar. One could also use maple syrup, or an infused maple syrup, barrel-aged maple syrup, like ones by Blis Gourmet. I like using my Barley Malt Maple Syrup recipe. Or top them with homemade curds, like a Witbier Curd, or a beer jam (my favorite Rhubarb & Rodenbach Grand Cru Jam), Hopped Strawberries, Whipped Yogurt and | or a simple organic whipped cream, with no sugar or extra flavorings, to add the texture and silkiness with a pure, unadulterated finish.
Another way to prepare these Liege Style Belgian Waffle for a crowd is to pre-cook the waffles and either keep them warm in a 200°F | 93°C oven, placed right onto the oven racks (keeping them separated and not stacked upon themselves, so they don’t get soggy). Another option is to cook them 90% of the way, then set them on a wire rack. When your guests are hungry, place a waffle back into the hot iron and re-heating them for about 2 minutes, to finish the cooking. This same idea can be done, by freezing the 90% baked waffle in individual freezer bags and thaw them before re-warming in the hot waffle iron.
Another few variations of this Liege Style Belgian Waffle was used at a San Francisco Toronado Belgian Beer Dinner I did a few years ago. The waffle dough had the same composition, except I added a spice blend, that also has a Belgian culinary origin, Speculoos. Think cinnamon ginger-flavored cookie (Biscoff) and other complementary spices like cardamom, anise seed, white peppercorns, cloves, and nutmeg all rolled into one flavor wheel. The cooked Speculoos Waffle was then cooled and dipped | coated into a Belgian Quadrupel infused dark chocolate ganache for extra richness and complexity.
Liège Style Waffle
speculoos flavored yeast waffle made with Chimay Red, Belgian pearl sugar, dipped in a St. Bernardus Special Edition Abt 12. quad chocolate ganache
De Struise Brouwers Black Albert 2009
De Struise Brouwers Pannepot 2007
This was a different year, 2012 I believe:
Strawberries and Liege Waffles
pearl sugar studded brewer’s yeast waffles, organic strawberry rhubarb vanilla bean Westmalle Tripel jam, and a Dutch Advocaat sauce