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Recipe Tue Feb 13 2007
In the U.S. we eat waffles on a plate, with a slathering of syrup and, often, a side of bacon. In Belgium, waffles are sometimes eaten on a plate, if they come from the northern part of the country, and they're covered in powdered sugar, whipped cream or fruit. But the better tasting version of the Belgian waffle is sold from trucks or out of pastry-shop windows, wrapped in paper and eaten on the go. These are known as Gaufres Liegeoises, or Sugar Waffles from Liege, a city in the southern part of Belgium. Unlike the cakey northern waffle, the sugar waffle is dense and sweet. No topping needed. They’re made with large sugar crystals, or pearl sugar, which caramelize on the outside and form a glaze, but stay crunchy on the inside.
I lived in Belgium for three years and, of course, fell in love with the cheese, the beer and the waffles. It's not too hard to find the cheese or the beer in the U.S. The waffles: not so easy. I brought back a cookbook, "Everybody Eats Well in Belgium," and the intention to make some sugar waffles of my own. But every time I'd look at the recipe (and it's been six years), I'd slam the book shut and back away from the kitchen. So it was a special treat for me when my husband brought me to the sugar waffle shop he’d discovered in Lake View, called Baladoche (2905 North Clark St.)
Both times my husband has been in he's engaged the guy that works there in a heated discussion on what constitutes a real gaufre. The inside should remain doughy, he insists. And the sugar should crunch. At Baladoche they use pearl sugar, but the waffle irons are so hot that the sugar melts. When you bite into a waffle, you get intensely sweet bites where the sugar pearls were, but you don't get to crunch them. According to the guy working behind the counter, this is because of a Chicago health code. They can't take the waffle out of the iron while the center is still doughy.
My trip to Baladoche inspired me to go for gaufres of my own. I spent a few days touring the baking-goods aisles of several supermarkets. Dominick's and Jewel don't carry pearl sugar—no big surprise. But neither do Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. I finally tracked some down at Treasure Island; in the Swedish food section I found a box of Lars' Own Swedish pearl sugar. I discovered later that Lars makes Belgian pearl sugar, which is available by mail order from Deli Meyer.
The bits of Swedish sugar I brought home weren't as big as the pearls of sugar the guy at Baladoche had shown me. So I was a little worried. I was also worried about the recipe. It involves two batters, folded together to form dough rather than batter. But I soldiered on, with the help of my Belgian-born daughter. The first step, mixing together yeast, flour, sugar and water, yielded something that smelled a lot like Belgian beer, so I figured I was on track. Fifteen minutes into the recipe, we'd used four bowls and had only made the first batter. I put it in the warm oven to rise, my helper ran off to watch Hannah Montana, and I moved on to the second batter. An hour or so later I combined my batters, but didn't get the dough I wanted. I scooped the runny results onto the waffle iron anyway. Almost as soon as it hit the hot surface, my kitchen smelled like sugar waffles. What came out looked good, smelled delicious, but wasn't as dense and gooey as what I'd bought on the streets of Brussels.
I made another trip to Baladoche for some insight. This time I was able to talk to one of the owners, Terrence, who needs to keep his last name out of print for reasons related to his top-secret waffle recipe and his pearl-sugar source. Terrence says my main problem was the recipe I used: too much milk and too much egg. And he advises anyone who wants to master the sugar waffle to first master brioche, croissants and chocolate-chip cookies. The sugar waffle is like a combination of the three. And, don't use Teflon.
Sounds a little daunting. But for those of you who'd like to give it a try, here’s the recipe from "Everybody Eats Well in Belgium." (Adjust egg and milk amount as needed.)
Or, there's dough available by mail order from Belgian Iron Works.
1¼ ounce fresh cake yeast or 2 ½ package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup warm milk
9 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
pinch of salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
½ cup pearl sugar or ¾ cup crushed sugar cubes
For Batter 1: In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 tbsp of the flour and the sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
Sift the remaining flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast mixture, egg and milk. Mix to make a smooth batter. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until the batter has doubled or tripled in volume.
For Batter 2: In a medium-size bowl, mix the butter, flour, salt, vanilla, baking powder, cinnamon (if using), granulated sugar and pearl sugar into a paste.
With hands, work the two batters together. Shape the dough into 10 balls; flatten each ball then dust lightly with flour.
Bake in a medium-hot waffle iron. If the iron is too hot the sugar will burn. Bake until the waffles are golden brown but still soft, 3 to 4 minutes.