memories ...

memories ...

dinsdag 21 april 2015

Belgian (Brussels') waffles

What do people say when you ask them what they know about Belgium. There are two possibilities for this situation. In the first possible reaction, people stand and stare at you with their mouths wide open and, sometimes stammering something like 'Isn't Belgium the capital of Brussels?' (it's the other way round if you're wondering).
The second possible reaction is the most heard one. As a Belgian girl, I've heard people say the same things all the time: Belgium is the land of war (a term loosely interchangeable with political crisis for some), beer, chocolate and waffles. 

I'm an atypical Belgian because I'm not a huge lover of waffles and I dislike beer of all sorts. Saying you don't like these things is not a good idea when you try to be popular in Belgium. With hundreds upon hundreds of beer varieties, from sour over bitter to somewhat sweeter beers, there is a lot of it to choose from but so far I haven't met my match. 
Luckily I fit in because of my huge love of chocolate. I make cakes (my favourite) and biscuits with it and love eating it in a lot of ways. I have my ritual cup of hot chocolate nearly every winter night and I make single servings of cookies or cakes filled with chocolate just to have chocolate every day. 

Now, back to the goal of this post: I was going to introduce you to Belgian waffles. 
Belgian waffles do not exist for a start. This may come as a shock because abroad all they talk about is BELGIAN waffles. 
To clear this out for once and for all: there are a few varieties of waffles that are typical in Belgium. They are also acknowledged as regional specialties so we don't joke around with these. 

First of all, the waffles everyone calls Belgian are known as Brussels' waffles (Brusselse wafels). They are the one made with a yeast batter and that have a rectangular shape. They don't contain sugar and are served with whipped cream and icing sugar. Most people eat them plain like that but we also serve them with strawberries and that's a very nice addition.
I am not a huge fan of waffles but baking a sliced apple and some cinnamon in the batter while it bakes is very gooood! (a must try and the apple gives you all the more reason to eat them because the apple = fruit = healthy)

Secondly there are the sweet waffles, the so called Luikse wafels (waffles from Liège or gaufre de Liège). These are the rounded waffles made with sweet batter and these contain big sugar cristals. They are best eaten warm but they are also sold in supermarkets as snacks and these are cold of course (Suzy waffles for example).
When you walk in the streets of Belgium, especially during the colder Autumn and Winter months, you are literally drawn to the baking stands where they serve these waffles. The smell is irresistible and eating it when it's chilly warms you inside. Of course these waffles contain lots and lots more calories than their counterparts from Brussels. They are served plain and that is the best way. For tourists, the waffle stands serve these waffles also with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, strawberries, ... but trust me: they are more than sweet and tasty enough on their own and you'll just spoil the experience when you top them with extras.

My dad loves Brussels' waffles and one of the main reasons is his life long love of the series Nero. It's a comic book series by Marc Sleen about the adventures of Nero and his family and friends. Every story ends with a long table on which piles of waffles are being served for every character of the story. This end is called 'de wafelenbak' (the baking of the waffles). My dad insists on having a wafelenbak with these waffles a few times a year and for this occasion we always ask people around because it's a fun way to get together. 

As you see, unlike the customs in America for example, we Belgians don't see waffles as breakfast items. We serve them in the afternoon as a snack shared with family or friends and often there is enough to replace dinner with them.

A typical wafelenbak. Nero is on the far left. On this picture,
Marc Sleen (the author of the series) is also invited to eat
some waffles and he's the 4th person on the right. 

In our home town, Sint-Niklaas, we have an actual monument for Nero and his friends, next to the public library:

To make Brussels' waffles is not something you can do in a whim. You need time. Not because it's that hard to make or so time consuming but because the batter needs to rise at least a few hours and preferably about a whole day. 
You need to plan these waffles. Maybe this is a good reason why people here don't serve them for breakfast when everyone is rushing to get out of the house in time for work or school.

Also the best way to make these is in a big batch. The ingredients below are enough for 4 people but we usually make them for at least 8 people and we often triple the recipe just to have enough. Any left over can be eaten afterwards. You either not bake a part of the batter and bake fresh waffles the next day or you bake all of the batter and eat the waffles cold.

- 500 grams plain flour
- 7 grams or one package of instant yeast powder
- 200 grams butter
- 1/2 liter milk, lukewarm
- 1/2 liter water (sparkling water or beer can be used to make an even lighter batter)
- 4 eggs
- vanilla essence
- 5 grams salt

How to:
Mix the yeast powder with the water.
In a deep (!) and large (!) pot, pour in the flour and make a hole in the middle. Pour the yeast and water mixture in the hole in the flour.
When you've let the yeast stand there for a while, pour in the lukewarm milk and add the egg yolks as well. Mix this batter thoroughly.
Melt the butter and add it to the batter, mix well. Then add the vanilla essence and the salt. Mix well.
Beat the egg whites until firm. Gently add them to the batter by stirring them in with a wooden spoon.

Put the lid on the pot and put the pot on a warm place in the house. Best is in the kitchen. I put the pot on top of the dishwasher that was on so that the warmth of the machine could help the batter rise.
Give the batter at least a few hours. Check regularly without wiggling the batter so that it won't sink. Just pull off the lid and check whether or not the batter has doubled in size. We always make the batter in the morning and bake in the late afternoon. 
When ready to bake, heat the waffle iron. When it's hot, grease the iron with neutral oil and ladle enough batter to fill the holes of the waffle iron. 

this is a very full waffle iron!
(it was the left over batter I squeezed
in all at once in the end), you see the
bubbles coming up

Close the iron and don't open it for at least one or two minutes. Check very carefully. When the iron can be opened without breaking the waffle, the waffle is done. You can leave it in for a little longer when you like them browned some more. 


Serve with lots of whipped cream (mixed with some icing sugar to taste), strawberries and icing sugar.


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