"We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter but work is third." - Leslie Knope, Parks & Rec
"What do we want?"
"What do we eat?"
Or so I imagine the conversation between day-off Rachel and the kitchen appliances to go. See, authentic, Belgian Liege waffles will forever be meshed with rough weather in my mind. On my first trip to NYC on a rainy evening when we had already walked over thirteen miles, my sister and I got almost-lost trying to find the Wafles & Dinges truck in Bryant Park. Just when we gave up the search, we quite literally bumped into the place which wasn't a truck at all, but a sort of cabana thing. Nothing has ever tasted as comforting and home-like as the hot waffles and black coffee we footsore travelers consumed in the middle of a city where we knew not one soul. It's memories like those waffles that makes writing about food so worthwhile. What tastes like a hug from an old friend? A hot Liege waffle. I mean, you don't get to that conclusion by writing about economics, do you?
While most of you were getting a solid start on your New Year resolutions, I was still enjoying my holiday and burrowed into the first day or two of 2017 with Liege waffles piled high on a Dutch-blue plate. Liege waffles are not to be confused with Belgian waffles: those airy, pale, "wait, I thought the hotel breakfast bar was open till noon" sort of thing that sometimes come in the shape of Texas if you happen to be in Texas and always sink into sad, dismal discs of disappointment the moment they come off the griddle. No, my friends. Belgian waffles are not Liege waffles, though Liege waffles are Belgian by heritage. First, a brief history:
The Liege waffle came to popularity in (of all places) Liege, Belgium. There's a whole of lot legend, mysticism, and understandable exaggeration surrounding its origin but the well-researched facts are that it probably came about in the mid-late 1800's, snatched from similar brioche-dough waffles from France, though no official recipe is to be found until 1921. You can read it all in this article if you'd like to know more than you ever thought you needed about the production of beet-based sugars and one sugar in particular; the secret weapon of all Liege waffle-makers from the moment the first one was turned, piping hot, onto a plate for some decadent Belgian nobleman:
Belgian Pearl Sugar
When I think of a Rachel in the Belgian waffle era, I like to think of her as some beautiful wife of a nobleman, half-sunk in her massive feather-bed. Her cook brings her a crystallized, beautiful waffle on a pewter plate - no silverware. That's the important part of this waffle fantasy, the no-silverware bit. She congratulates the fat, blushing cook and asks what made the exquisite pockets of shattering caramel and said fat, blushing cook stammers out, "P...pearl sugar, my lady."
Yeah guys, the pearl sugar is where it's at. I had a pretty roundabout time getting pearl sugar. Save yourself the trouble - get it straight from Waffle Pantry because first we got Swedish pearl sugar which is basically a baby version of the item you actually desire for the perfect Liege waffle and doesn't quite fit the bill. In lieu of ordering Belgian pearl sugar, some research suggests that you can hammer sugar cubes and achieve a similar effect, but having not tested this personally, I say try at your own risk. Liege waffles are a yeast dough, allowed to take a nice nap in the fridge overnight, turned out the next morning on a counter-top where you then knead a cup of this sugar-gravel into the mix. There's something so awesome about having breakfast made the night before - the only work for the morning with this recipe is hazarding your hands by squishing in the sharp chunks of sugar. then you get to cook the actual waffles which is so much fun. If you're one of those people who likes to impress other people with an amazing brunch when you've stayed up till two AM the night before watching Magnificent Seven to try to get over the emotional devastation of the newest episode of Sherlock, then this recipe is for you. At almost zero work the morning-of, you have the yummiest breakfast you're ever going to taste this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The staying power of a Liege waffle is legendary. The most delicious way to eat them is straight off the griddle, no toppings at all. You can add "bling" if you're that sort of person (confession time: a smear of Biscoff is such a hit that you almost don't realize you're a full grown adult woman eating cookie butter for breakfast) but these babies don't need a blessed thing. Crisp on the outside, built like a soft pretzel on the inside, encased in this touch-me-not coat of sugar glass...you are in serious danger of a vanilla and pearl-sugar-induced coma upon smelling them cook. And maybe the best part of it all is that these don't go soft when they get cold. Thanks, sugar-glass. Get some black French pressed coffee ready, cook your waffles, and consume them with joy and thanksgiving. Linger as long as possible in the flavor of peace on earth, goodwill toward men. I don't think even baby angel breath smells as sweet and innocent.
(makes app. sixteen small waffles)
3/4 cups warm water
1 teaspoon, plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 1/2 cups flour
2 large eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup Belgian pearl sugar
- The Night Before: in a large bowl mix together flour, salt, and 1/4 cup sugar. In a medium bowl whisk eggs with melted butter and extracts.
- In a small bowl proof yeast with water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Allow to rest 5 minutes, then add to the flour along with the egg mixture. Mix together with wooden spoon until very well combined, then turn onto floured surface and knead for 5-7 minutes.
- Transfer to oiled bowl, cover, and rest in refrigerator overnight. ** a quicker method can be achieved by allowing dough to rise for two hours in a warm place until doubled.
- The Next Morning: remove dough from fridge and allow to rest on counter. Turn onto clean surface and knead in 1 cup of pearl sugar.
- Divide dough into 16 equal chunks and cook in greased waffle iron at about 350 degrees F, if possible. If your waffle iron does not have adjustable heat, cook waffles for 1-2 minutes, then unplug iron and allow to continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes longer. Serve hot, either plain or dusted with powdered sugar and topped with desired "bling."
Fix these on a rainy when you need a hug. Get a friend to come over. Collect the hug and revel in waffles. Cheers!