There’s a food truck at the Lake Merritt farmer’s market every Saturday that sells blisteringly hot, sweetly caramelized Belgian waffles, best eaten out of hand with a scrap of brown paper to collect the crumbs. Jen and I stumbled upon this little treasure a few weeks back, and since the discovery I’ve counted my busy weekends out of Oakland a waistline preserving blessing.
Anyone who’s eaten a waffle from a street vendor in Belgium, or even parts of France, knows the liege waffle. It’s the kind of waffle that needs no syrup and no fork, please. Yeast leavened, but much denser than my go-to yeast waffle recipe, these waffles have a magical texture that is deeply caramelized and crisp outside and what I can only describe as delicate and vaguely stringy, but in the way cotton candy is stringy, on the inside.
I’ve heard liege waffles described as “the brioche of waffles,” a depiction I understand now having fooled around with a few recipes at home. It seems there are two key ingredients here…wait for it, because this is surely going to come as a shock: butter and sugar. And lots of both.
Butter. On my first survey of liege waffle recipes, I assumed the whopping half pound of butter required was a transcription error. Sadly though, it is not. You need a lot of butter here. So much butter that it’s best to retire your math skills now. Really. Whatever you do, do not start calculating the per serving butter intake here.
Sugar. Here’s the magic. You need Belgian (not Swiss or German because it’s too small) style pearl sugar. It’s hard to find retail, but available online here. We stumbled upon some in Berkeley a few weeks back (for those of you familiar at a little specialty store next to Tacubaya.) The secret is adding the pearl sugar at the end, after you let the dough rise and ferment, and just before you cook it. Some sugar melts, and along with all that aforementioned butter, forms an incredible crisp caramel crust, while some sugar stays whole and crunches pleasantly in the finished waffle. Anyone who’s had a liege waffle knows these “sugar lumps” are kind of magical, and I’m sure for the rest of you, lumps of sugar sound exactly like what your mother told you to avoid in baked goods. Trust me though, as long as you like sweets, there’s some serious addictive properties here. One caution: with all that sugar, the outside of these waffles can easily go from caramelized to burned, so watch them carefully and play around with your waffle maker to find the right temperature and time. We tried these once in a regular (thinner) waffle maker and once in a Belgian-style (thicker) machine, and actually preferred the thinner incarnation with its higher crust to inside ratio.
Serves 4 generously. You will want coffee and mimosas. These babies are rich. Total time here is 1 1/2-2 hours with the rise.
- 1 (1/4 ounce) package yeast
- 1/3 cup lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tbsp granulated white sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional, but recommended)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup melted unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup pearl sugar (see above)
Combine the yeast, water, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside for 10 minutes until frothy. (If your yeast doesn’t get frothy, it’s dead & you need to buy some fresh yeast!) In a large mixing bowl, combine the salt, flour and cinnamon. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture and one egg. Mix, using a wooden spoon, incorporating the flour into the wet ingredients as you go. Mix in the other two eggs one at a time, then gradually add the melted butter and vanilla extract. The dough will be quite sticky at this point. Cover and let sit at room temperature at least 1 hour, or up to 2, until doubled in size.
When ready to cook, preheat your waffle iron to medium and lightly oil it (unless it’s non-stick, in which case it will be fine without oil.) Mix the pearl sugar into the waffle dough. Scoop a small amount of dough into each “waffle space” on you iron – less is more here. Shoot for about a 2 inch ball, or a ball about half the size of each waffle space on your iron. Cover and cook until deeply golden brown and crisp – 3 to 4 minutes. I used level 4 on our iron, but you will want to play around with the temperature and timing. I like a waffle that’s on the crisper side, without being burned. Keep in mind that all the sugar in these does have a tendency to burn, so watch them carefully!
Serve warm with powdered sugar if you like.