Waffles are eaten throughout the world. A waffle is a leavened batter or dough cooked between two hot plates of a waffle iron, patterned to give a characteristic size, shape, and grid-like surface impression. Waffles are cooked until they become golden-brown in color, with a crispy outer texture and a soft interior.
Over time, dozens of types of waffles have evolved. There are many variations based on the type of waffle iron and recipe used.
Brussels waffles are prepared with an egg-white-leavened or yeast-leavened batter; occasionally both types of leavening are used together. The taste is tangier from the fermentation. They are softer and lighter on the inside, crispier on the outside, and have deeper pockets compared to other European waffle varieties. In Brussels, the waffles are rectangular, much larger in size than American waffles, and usually about an inch thick. While waffles may be more of a breakfast dish in the United States, in Belgium they’re typically eaten as a snack or dessert.
Most waffles in Belgium are served warm by street vendors and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, though in tourist areas they might be topped with whipped cream, fruit, or chocolate spread. Variants of the Brussels waffles – with whipped and folded egg whites cooked in large rectangular forms – date from the 18th century. However, the oldest recognized reference to “Gaufres de Bruxelles” (Brussels waffles) by name is attributed from 1842/43 to Florian Dacher, a Swiss baker in Ghent, Belgium, who had previously worked under pastry chefs in central Brussels.
The Liège waffle is a richer, denser, sweeter, and chewier waffle. They are an adaptation of brioche bread dough, featuring chunks of pearl sugar which caramelize on the outside of the waffle when baked producing a sugary crust. It is an oval-shaped, thinner, and smaller waffle than the Brussels waffle. On the other hand, it’s also more substantial, based more on a dough than a batter. It is the most common type of waffle available in Belgium and prepared in plain, vanilla, and cinnamon varieties by street vendors to be eaten out of hand like a donut, hot or cold, wrapped in a piece of paper.
American waffles vary significantly, but are often made from a batter leavened with baking powder and may be round, square, rectangular, or in novelty shapes including hearts, roses, and cartoon characters. They are usually served as a sweet breakfast food, topped with butter and maple syrup, or other fruit syrups, honey, or powdered sugar. They are also found in many different savory dishes, such as fried chicken and waffles or topped with stew. They may also be served as desserts, topped with ice cream and various other toppings. They are generally denser and thinner than the Belgian waffle.
Belgian waffles are a North American type of waffle identified by its larger size, lighter batter, and taller grid pattern which forms deep pockets and has larger squares than standard American waffles. Despite its name, the “Belgian waffle” does not exist in Belgium. It is somewhat similar to the Brussels waffle, but Brussels waffles are hard and crispy on the outside. As opposed to a traditional North American waffle, the Belgian waffle attributes its height to the use of yeast batter instead of a pancake batter. Toppings vary from whipped cream, powdered sugar, fruit, chocolate spread, to syrup and butter or margarine. Alternatively, they are served with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit as a dessert. The waffles were popularized in the United States during the 1964 New York World’s Fair by Maurice Vermersch of Brussels, Belgium, and was named the Bel-Gem Waffle. Largely based on a simplified recipe for the Brussels waffles, Vermersch decided to change the name upon observing the poor geographical skills of Americans.
The batter-based flat cake known as a waffle is a Belgian culinary specialty. The basic ingredients are the same (flour, milk, eggs, and a pinch of salt), but may include yeast, caramelized sugar, leavening’s, and toppings. The recipes are handed over from one generation to the next, as covetously as a great cake recipe!