Quite possibly one of the most iconic foods attached to any nation, the Belgian waffle might be the only thing from Belgium some people are aware of. Eating them in Brussels was a treat, and learning about their interesting history fed the hunger for knowledge as well!
Waffles of Brussels
For our waffle sojourn, we went to Gaufres de Bruxelles, the chain of waffle shops (and a hotel?!) that proudly owns belgiumwaffle.com. At most waffle shops, you can get the waffles natural (only a sprinkling of powdered sugar, like we did) or with a variety of toppings, such as fruit, chocolate, nutella, creams, caramel, and more!
We ordered one Brussels and one Liege waffle, not knowing much about what made them distinct from one another, other than their shape. Once we bit into them and did a little digging into their origins, we cultivated a greater appreciation for these delightful treats!
The first variety of waffles we tried was the Brussels Waffle. This type is rectangular and fairly large. The texture is much firmer and crispier on the outside and very light and airy on the outside. They are also made with yeast, which can really change the baking experience for many tasty treats (just think of yeast donuts vs cake donuts, for instance).
The first proto-waffles actually came from Greece, and were known as obelios. In Belgium specifically, and across most of Europe during the Middle Ages, a type of waffle was sold outside of churches as a street food. They often had honey and cinnamon on top to show religious imagery and took on a bit of a religious connotation. The first waffles’ popularity expanded in America during the 1964 World’s Fair, when Americans were introduced to the tasty Belgian treat.
Most other information I found about Belgian waffles I could not confirm, such as the agreed-upon date of 1835 as the year of the “true introduction” of the Belgian waffle. If anyone has any Dutch or French leads on more info, please let me know!
There’s also fun etymology surrounding the word: Gaufres can translate to “honeycomb of bees” in French, and the shaping is greatly influenced by honeycombs. They even had honey on them for a while as a main topping, so the connections seem to be there.
The second type of waffle we tried was the Liege Waffle, which aligned more closely to what I thought a Belgian Waffle was (and could purchase in Japan): Circular in shape with the iconic square divets. It’s also much thicker and heavier: The outside is not nearly as crispy, opting for a softer cake-like texture and consistency. They are also cooked with pearl sugar crystals in the mix, so you can get a sticky sweet consistency in places on the outside of the waffle. Interestingly, rather than being made from a batter like their Brussels counterparts, Liege waffles are made with a brioche dough!
Legend has it that the Liege waffle was first commissioned by the Prince-Bishop of Liege to his chef to make him a delicious sweet treat. However, at the time, sugar was prohibitively expensive, so not many could partake in this sweet treat. The first waffles in Belgium to use pearl sugar appear in 1820, around when sugar was becoming more affordable. From there, the Liege waffle continued its steady, tasty march into the hearts and stomachs of Belgians across the nation.
Eating these waffles was such a treat; I’m very happy I was able to eat some while I was in Brussels. If you’re in the center of the city, near the Palace, it’s difficult to walk very far without finding a waffle shop, and it’s hard to go wrong with such a simply delicious treat!
What about you? Do you have waffles where you’re from? And how do you eat them? Let us know in the comments below!