This year we are doing things a little differently. Instead of simply an ingredient, we are highlighting entire cultures. Kits will include a little bit about the country of focus, a recipe that is native to the country, and a unique ingredient or two from that recipe without which, it wouldn't be the same. Most recipes are from writers native to the country covered (although with the global popularity of this month's recipe, I fudged finding a native blogger a little so long as it complied with what made a legitimate that style of waffle - plenty claim, many don't follow through). I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking!
We will be taking a break from Central and South America for a while and moving across the ocean to Europe. This month: Belgium. Since Smurfs aren't a food - Sorry Gargamel and Azrael. No Smurfs for you! - I was originally going to try to do Belgian chocolate, but as this is a library and we are not nor have we ever been made of money, that idea had to be put aside. And make no mistake: Belgians are crazy about chocolate. In fact, one Belgian-owned blog claimed that they are downright snobbish. Another thing they are crazy about and famous for though are their waffles. So waffles it is. Be prepared to learn more than you ever wanted to learn about waffles in one place... or at least enough to be able to claim to.
A Quick Look at the History of the Waffle
Adapted from various online history resources
Truthfully, both the pancake and waffle have ancient and murky histories. Ancestors to what we think of today as either can be traced back to the caveman days when patties of seeds were soaked and then cooked over an open fire. By the time of ancient Greeks and Romans, we had flat cakes baked between two metal plates (these count as both pancake and waffle due to their cooking method, despite what ChatGPT claims). Then in medieval Europe, we started to see something that looked more like a flatter, fancier version of our waffles today. They were pressed between special metal plates with designs on them, first of religious origin then with family crests, animals, and other designs. They also saw these dishes start to become less savory and more of a sweet treat. By the 1700s, a number of European countries started creating variations within this thin, crispy family of baked goods. However two of the most popular waffles out there are from Belgium: The Liege (cakey dough with no defined edges containing pockets of pearl sugar) and the Belgian (airy yeasted batter, instead of baking powder, and higher, much more defined edges). And surprisingly, neither are traditionally served with syrup but at most simply a dusting of powdered sugar and some fruit.
What we tend to consider the waffle today was first showcased in the 1958 Expo in Brussels and introduced to the US by a Belgian named Walter Cleyman at the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle in 1962. Even then, Belgian waffles, per say, don't entirely exist. There are over 30 kinds of Belgian waffles in Belgium with at least 10 distinctive varieties. The version that is most recognizable overseas as Belgian hails from Brussels. These are what are referred below to as Belgian waffles and are closer to what the US understands as such. Just don't tell a Belgian that.
The Main Event Version 1
Belgian (Brussels) Waffles
As adapted from King Arthur Baking Co. for use by the Brown Deer Cookbook Club
1 1/2 cups milk, lukewarm
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 to 3 tablespoons maple syrup, optional
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
2 large eggs
2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (this is what makes it distinct)
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, leaving room for expansion; the mixture will bubble and grow.
Stir to combine. It is more than OK if the mixture isn't perfectly smooth. You don't want to overmix or you'll toughen your waffles.
Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour; the mixture will begin to bubble. You can cook the waffles at this point, or refrigerate the batter overnight to cook waffles the next day.
Preheat your waffle iron. Spray with non-stick vegetable oil spray, and pour 2/3 to 3/4 cup batter (or the amount recommended by the iron's manufacturer) onto the center of the iron. Close the lid and bake for the recommended amount of time, until the waffle is golden brown. It takes us 5 to 6 minutes, using 7" Belgian-style (deep-pocket) waffle iron.
The Main Event Version 2
As adapted from The Kitchen Whisperer for use by the Brown Deer Cookbook Club
Prep Time: 10 min Cook Time: 5-10 min Total Time: 10-25 min
Both the liege and the Belgian waffle come from Belgium. The main differences between the two are the density of the dough (Belgian are crisp on the outside with tall, well-defined edges and extremely light and airy inside while Liege are more cake-like with less-risen edges), the lack of defined edges of Liege and that Liege puts pearl sugar (small chunks of extremely compressed sugar) in for random crunches of sweetness throughout.
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup warm water
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) instant yeast (can use active dry but you will have to bloom it first)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
2 XL eggs, room temp and lightly beaten
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (can use 1 tbsp extract instead)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft but not melted
about 5 3/4–6 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cups pearl sugar
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the milk, water, and yeast* *If using Active Dry Yeast, gently mix with a spatula and set aside to bloom the yeast for ~5-10 minutes. Once bloomed, add in the granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Mix just until combined and continue to step 2. *If using Instant Yeast, add the milk, water, yeast, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Mix just until combined and continue to step 2.
Stop the mixer and add in the eggs, honey, and vanilla. Mix until combined. Add in 2 cups of flour and mix until the flour is hydrated and mostly mixed in. Stop the mixer, scrape down the paddle attachment, and switch to the dough hook.
Add in the salt and 1/2 cup of flour at a time with the mixer on low until all of the flour is combined. You may not need all of the flour depending on how humid your space is. The flour dough should start to pull away slightly. Next, add in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Be patient here as the butter will take a few minutes to incorporate itself into the dough. The dough will come back together. Remove the dough ball from the bowl and transfer it to a larger clean bowl lightly greased. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter in a warm, dry place until doubled in size (1-3 hours).
When doubled, deflate the dough by punching it down in the center and bringing the edges of the dough over the top (like you’re folding it into itself). Replace the cover and put the bowl of dough in the fridge to allow it to ferment overnight. *Note you can skip the overnight fridge resting if you are short on time. Move to step 6 to continue. The cold ferment just helps develop more flavors in the waffle.
If you cold fermented the dough, the next day, remove the dough from the fridge and allow the dough to come to room temp (about 2 hours).
Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured board. Flatten the dough out into a rectangle and spread out 1 1/2 cups of pearl sugar. Fold the bottom third up and then the top third on top of that. Press down and add the rest of the pearl sugar. Fold the sides up to form a rectangle. Slowly cup the dough and roll it out into a log about 12-14” long Divide the dough into 12 pieces, shape into balls, flatten slightly into round discs, and place on a parchment-lined pan. Cover with lightly sprayed plastic wrap.
Heat up your Belgian waffle maker. Since all makers are different, you’ll have to fiddle around with yours. I would advise starting off on low and increase the temperature a little at a time until you find the correct setting that will caramelize your sugars and cook your waffles to the perfect golden caramel brown. Spray the iron with non-stick spray and place a round of dough in the center of your waffle maker. Close and cook until the waffle puffs up, cooked through and the sugar pearls are caramelized. Carefully remove from the maker, and serve immediately or place it on a cooling rack.
Notes *time does not include proofing or fermenting time
Traditional Waffle Toppings:
Light and sweet is the most traditional.
Butter & sparse dusting of confectioner's sugar (most traditional)
Sliced Bananas & walnuts
Sliced strawberries or other berries
Greek yogurt with honey and berries
Anything heavier is nontraditional but definitely acceptable.
You could go savory in just about any direction you can think of as well, though definitely not traditional.