Authentic Liege waffles are one of life’s great indulgences — caramelized sugar glistening on the most delicious buttery-sweet treasure beneath. Unfortunately, they can be nearly impossible to find, even in their homeland of Belgium, where chains like Belgaufre have taken them so far afield from their 18th century brioche roots. Stateside, chains like Bonte (in Philadelphia) don’t use the right sugar and others like Wafels & Dinges (in NYC) simply import mass-produced substandard pre-made frozen balls of dough from Europe. Basically, to enjoy the ever-curiously oblong Liege waffle, you need to make one yourself.
• 1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
• 1/4 cup scalded whole milk at 110-115 degrees
• 2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. of water at 110-115 degrees
• 2 cups King Arthur Bread flour
• 1 large room temperature egg, lightly beaten
• 1Tbsp. + 1 tsp. light brown sugar
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 8 1/2 Tbsp. soft room temperature unsalted butter
• 1 Tbsp. honey
• 2 tsp. vanilla
• 3/4 cup Belgian Pearl Sugar (“Lars Own” brand is an excellent choice)
Place yeast, milk, and water into the workbowl of a stand mixer. Stir for a few seconds to moisten the yeast.
Add the egg and 1/3 of the total flour. Mix to blend. Scrape down sides of bowl.
Sprinkle remaining flour over the mixture, but do not stir it in. Cover and let stand 75-90 minutes (at the end of that time, you’ll notice the batter bubbling up through the cover of flour).
Add brown sugar and salt to the workbowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed – just to blend.
With machine on low, add honey and vanilla. Then add 2 Tbsp. of butter at a time. Mix 4 minutes at medium-low speed; scrape down sides once or twice in that period. Let the dough rest for 1 minute and then continue to mix for 2 minutes. If you measured your ingredients perfectly, the dough will be sticking to the sides of the bowl in the last minute of mixing and then, in the last 30 seconds of so, will start to ball-up on the paddle. If this does not happen, let the dough rest for 1 more minute and mix for another 2 minutes. Whatever the outcome of the extra mixing, proceed to Step 6.
Scrape the dough into a large bowl, sprinkle lightly with flour, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 4 hours. This step is crucial for developing the flavor.
REFRIGERATE FOR 30 MINUTES BEFORE PROCEEDING TO STEP #8. This is essential. The yeast respiration must be slowed before continuing.
Stir the dough down (meaning: gently deflate the gases from the dough, by pressing on it with a rubber spatula), scrape it onto a piece of plastic wrap, and then use the spatula to press the dough into a long rectangle. Fold that rectangle over on itself (by thirds – like a letter) so that you have a square of dough. Wrap it in plastic, weigh it down a bit (I put two heavy dinner plates on top of it) and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, place the cold dough (it will be quite firm) in a large bowl and add all of the pearl sugar to a bowl. It will seem like a lot of sugar, but it’s supposed to be Mix it into the dough by hand until the chunks are well-distrubuted. Once mixed, divide the dough into 5 pieces of equal size.
Shape each chunk into an oval ball (like a football without the pointy ends) and let it rise (covered loosely in plastic wrap) for exactly 90 minutes.
If you have a professional waffle iron (meaning: it’s cast iron and weighs over 20 pounds) cook at exactly 365-370 degrees (the max temp before sugar begins to burn/decompose) for approximately 2 minutes.** Give each waffle a few minutes to cool slightly before eating. No syrup or toppings are needed, unless you’d like to add some fruit or a dusting of powdered sugar; they’re quite sweet on their own.
** If you have a regular waffle iron, heat the iron to 420 degrees (hint: many regular waffle irons go up to and over 550 degrees at their highest setting) , place the dough on the iron, and immediately unplug it or turn the temp dial all the way down. Otherwise, the sugar will burn.
The recipe that follows is a culmination of A TON of research into recipes of the last 200+ years, study of artisinal Belgian street vendor techniques, and a heavy investment in the right tools (including the above 35lbs. Krampouz Liege waffle iron). Get ready to experience a perfectly traditional 18th century “Gaufre Liège”.
Baking these waffles is involved and takes patience, but the result is well worth it. The only caveat I must give is that the iron’s temperature is very crucial in making an exceptional Liege waffle. It helps to have an infrared thermometer handy, as there’s a fairly narrow range in which the sugar will caramelize perfectly and not burn. You can make do without one though. It may take some trial and error, but you’ll get it right.
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