The Liège waffle (gaufre de Liège) is a staple of Belgian cuisine. It is also called gaufre au sucre (sugar waffle) or wafe in Liège Walloon. It is famous for its aroma of vanilla or cinnamon and its caramel flavor obtained during its cooking process thanks to pearl sugar.
Etymology of the word waffle (gaufre)
Etymologists attach the word waffle to the Franconian word wafla. Franconian was the language spoken by the Franks. The Franks are a Germanic people at the time of the great invasions, playing a central role in the history of France, but also the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.
Around 1185, the term walfre designated a “sort of pastry baked between two plates divided into cells which give it a relief design”.
In 1433, the Compte de la bonne maison des Ladres, a charitable institution for lepers, listing the utensils of its kitchen, included a waffle iron, while Le Ménagier de Paris, a manuscript book of domestic and culinary economy written in 14th century already used the spelling “gauffre” with two “f”.
At the same time, in the 14th century, Jean Nicot, French diplomat and philosopher, author of the dictionary of the French language, called it goffre.
The Dictionary of the French Academy, from its 4th edition, in 1762, eliminated the doubling of the
“f” in gauffre, while Jean-François Féraud, priest, grammarian and French lexicographer, in his Critical Dictionary of the French language added a circumflex accent (gaûfre).
Since the 19th century, the usual French spelling has been “gaufre” and the female gender except in certain regions of French-speaking Switzerland such as Geneva, Friborg, and Neuchâtel.
From the Franconian also come the words waffle, wafre and wafer in English, wâfel, Waffel in German, wafel in Dutch, wåfe in Walloon, wafe in Liège Walloon, vaffel in Norwegian and Danish, våffla in Swedish.
What is a waffle?
A waffle is a thin and light pastry, baked between two irons, and the surface of which has small tiles or patterns resembling a honeycomb. Crispy on the outside and soft inside, the waffle can be enjoyed hot.
The waffle is a delicacy typical of Belgium, but also of the Netherlands, Northern France, the Alpine regions of Italy (Aosta Valley and Escartons) and French-speaking Switzerland.
There are several types of waffles, the two most famous of which are the Belgian waffle (or Brussels waffle) and the Liège waffle.
The majority of the recipes use a mixture of all-purpose flour, salt, sugar, eggs. A liquid, often milk, but also water, is added, then possibly baking powder, and spices such as vanilla or cinnamon.
What is the difference between Brussels waffles and Liège waffles?
Belgium is undoubtedly considered to be the cradle of the waffle. There are at least two famous variants of this preparation: the Brussels variant and the Liège variant.
A Brussels waffle usually has a perfectly rectangular shape and the dough is usually made of milk, eggs, flour, water, butter, sugar, with or without baking powder. The dough for Brussels waffles can sometimes also be prepared with egg white or yeast. Sometimes two types of sourdough are used in the same recipe. Brussels waffles are not particularly sweet and for this reason, they are served with icing sugar or whipped cream.
In Liège, however, the edge of the waffle is rounded and the ingredients are slightly different. It is sweeter than the Brussels version and is made with flour, eggs, milk (or water), butter, yeast, salt, vanilla or cinnamon, and pearl sugar.
It is the pearl sugar that characterizes the Liège waffle and gives it that delicate, caramelized taste. Also, the texture of the Liège waffle is different from that of the Brussels waffle and is more like a brioche. The dough of Brussels waffle is semi-liquid and closer to a batter, while that of Liège looks more like brioche dough and therefore spreads less in the waffle iron.
What is the origin of waffle?
The waffle is an ancient food, which has accompanied humans for millennia, has evolved over the centuries in terms of ingredients, forms and combinations and owes its shape to cooking between two hot plates.
Born in Greece in the classical period and called obelías at the time, it was adopted by the Roman legions which spread it in Europe.
The ancestor of the waffle would therefore be the obelías, the first “cakes”. They were simple mixtures of flour, milk and honey, that were dried between two stones heated in the sun, 7000 years ago. We thus find this first name, obelías, given to a cake among the Greeks and which means “offering”.
The waffle is also said to be a descendant of oublies, which were religious pastries used as offerings for the Saints and then consumed by the faithful.
But it was in the 13th century that a blacksmith imagined the mold inspired by honeycombs made by bees and the name of waffle appeared.
However, the waffles were still far from the ones enjoyed today. Indeed, they remained savory for a long time. Made of flour and water, they were sold on the street or in front of churches on holidays and sometimes replaced bread.
It was not until the 18th century, for the wealthiest, that waffles were adorned with honey, eggs or milk. From that moment, the recipes multiplied and the many varieties of waffles enjoyed today began to emerge.
Also, in the Middle Ages, in Belgium, a Cistercian abbot and a master forger joined forces to create a honey dough to cook on a cast-iron plate in the shape of a beehive. In medieval French, wafla and gaufra translate as: honey, dessert, beehive. The waffle therefore becomes a “honey dessert in the shape of a honeycomb”.
In Belgium, each city prided itself on having the best recipe and the most beautiful and original form. The waffle makers often reproduced on one side the heraldic coat of arms of each house in a particular city, and each one praised their waffle, until the process of extracting sugar from beetroot developed.
It was a crude extraction method compared to the modern method: the sugar obtained was the size of a pearl and was also hard. Today, this particular form of sugar is only available in Belgium and is called pearl sugar, and it is only produced by two sugar factories.
According to the legend, the Liège waffle was invented in Belgium by the chef of the Prince of Liège in the 18th century. The latter requested the creation of a pastry for his daughter’s wedding on the basis of large pieces of pearl sugar. The cook tried to bake a brioche type pastry in a waffle iron with pearl sugar mixed with the dough therefore substituting pearl sugar for traditional honey.
The scent of caramel released during cooking delighted the Prince and this waffle recipe quickly entered the culinary traditions of the Liège region and then quickly spread to the entire kingdom of Belgium
A century earlier, the Pilgrim Fathers brought the first waffles to the Americas, but it was enthusiastic President Thomas Jefferson, returning from a trip to the old continent, who personally helped make the waffles popular in the new continent.
On both continents, recipes have continued to evolve, as have waffle makers. In the United States and in the Anglo-Saxon world in general, the waffle cooked at the present time represents, with the pancake, the traditional breakfast, and is available in a sweet and savory version.
Variants of waffles around the world
In addition to the above-mentioned Brussels and Liège waffles, here is a list of the most well-known variants of waffles, many of which come from Belgium, where they are considered a real national dessert:
- The galettes campinoises (Kempense galetten) are a type of waffle popular in Belgium. They are hard and crunchy, buttery, and crumbly.
- Gaufres à la Flamande (Flemish waffles): typical of the eastern part of Belgium and the neighboring French part, they are served with orange blossom water and sugar on top.
- Bergische Waffles: typical of the German region of Bergische, located in the eastern part of Germany, with Cologne as the capital, they are thin and crunchy and are served with cream and cherries.
- Stroopwafel: it is from Gouda in Holland; this is the Dutch waffle. Literally meaning “waffle in syrup” in Dutch, the stroopwafel is made up of two pieces of waffle filled with caramel syrup. The whole is circular, about 2 to 3 inches (6 to 8 centimeters) in diameter and about 1/6 inch (four millimeters) thick.
- Potato waffle: typical of Great Britain and Ireland, they are made with potatoes and are used as bread to accompany meat, sausage or vegetable dishes.
- Norwegian waffle: the wafler, served with savory ingredients, like traditional brunost or other blue cheeses.
- Swedish waffle: traditionally consumed on March 25, locally called Vaffeldagen (the day of waffles) to celebrate the Annunciation, they are garnished at will with cheese, fish, fruit, butter, etc.
- Icelandic waffle: it is traditionally served with jam and blueberry, although in recent times, the jam has often been replaced by chocolate.
- Finnish waffle: it can be both savory and sweet.
- Piedmontese gofri: it is circular, very crisp, and is stuffed with cold cuts and folded in half.
- Abruzzo pizzella or ferratella: it is characterized by an aroma of anise seeds.
- American waffle: American waffles are of various shapes and sizes and are usually eaten for breakfast topped with eggs and bacon, sometimes even with fried chicken. They are also served as a dessert, with butter, maple syrup or honey. American waffles vary widely. Generally denser and thinner than Belgian waffles, they are often made from a batter with baking powder, which is sometimes mixed with pecans, chocolate or berries. They can be round, square or rectangular.
- Hong Kong Waffle: circular in shape and wider than the standard waffle, it is served on the street by street vendors with butter, sugar or peanut butter.
- Pandan waffle: this is the Vietnamese version of the waffle, prepared with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk and with the sap of the leaves of the Pandanus plant, which gives a very shimmering green color.
- Hot Dog waffle: a long waffle with a hot dog cooked inside, similar to an ear of corn. Originally from Thailand, this waffle is served with ketchup, mayonnaise or both. The dough is similar to American waffles, but uses margarine instead of butter.
What is pearl sugar?
Pearl sugar is a classic beet sugar whose state has been modified by compressing refined sugar, which is both agglomerated and heat resistant.
It is a sugar that stands out from the rest by its purity, lightness and incredible crunchiness, without being hard. It has the same sweetening power as traditional white sugar. It is often added as a final touch, sometimes directly in the dough.
There are several sizes of pearl sugar, between 1/30 inch (0.8 mm) and 1/2 inch (12 mm), but also different colors and different flavors. It can be coated, that is to say covered with vegetable fat to solidify it.
Pearl sugar is derived from classic beet sugar, and unlike coconut sugar from coconut flowers, palm sugar from palm flowers, or Muscovado cane sugar from sugar cane, this sugar is first humidified, then agglomerated by compressing it cold at very high pressure, then gradually dried and finally ground to obtain an aerated sugar.
It is known as pärlsocker (pearl sugar) in Sweden and perlesukker in other Scandinavian countries. In Finland, it is called raesokeri (hail sugar) or helmisokeri (pearl sugar).
In the Nordic countries, pärlsocker is widely used to decorate various pastries and confectionery, cookies, especially on top of ordinary Swedish brioche or Finnish pulla cakes, muffins and brioches, such as kanelbullar (brioches à la cinnamon) and chokladbollar.
In Germany it is known as Hagelzucker and traditionally used on Christmas cookies and cinnamon rolls.
In France, it is often used on chouquettes but also in many Liège and Verviet pastries.
- 4 cups flour , sifted
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water or milk (at 97 F / 36°C)
- ½ cup caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup butter , melted
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (or vanilla extract)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cup pearl sugar
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast in water (or milk).
- Add half of the flour 2 cups), the eggs, 2 tablespoons of butter and the sugar. Mix until everything is combined.
- Sprinkle with the remaining flour and butter and the cinnamon (or vanilla).
- Let sit for 30 minutes in a warm place away from drafts.
- Using the dough hook, knead everything and add more flour if necessary. The dough should not be sticky.
- Let stand for 15 minutes in a warm place, away from drafts,
- Roll out the dough to a thickness of ½ inch (1 cm) using a rolling pin and sprinkle the whole surface with pearl sugar.
- Roll it on itself.
- Divide the dough into 12 pieces, and let them rest for 15 minutes.
- Bake the waffles in a waffle iron until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.