“You can visit seven countries in one day, never getting on a plane.” The Professor regaled us with stories from his visit to Washington D.C., before extended government shutdowns and general political tumult. “At Embassy Week they serve you beer, wine, chocolate, pastries — all gratis. Plus there’s the traditional dancing, singing, even exotic cars. It’s called a demonstration of ‘soft power,’” he explained, inevitably switching into his pedantic mode — the curse of the academic.
We had the privilege of attending Embassy Week in 2013. The Professor was right; we set foot on the sovereign soil of no fewer than five countries, each playing a diplomatic game of show-and-tell. From Aston Martins and Jaguars in the UK, to wine and cheese in France, to folk dancing and more wine in Croatia, it was nearly a sensory overload. But standing out amongst these near sycophantical exhibitions was Belgium and their waffles.
Belgium’s District of Columbia embassy stands monolithic in its architectural form as the snaking line of gawking tourists take more than 30 minutes to complete the tour. Yet the visit’s benefits are multiform. Requisite milk chocolates, pastries, and even Trappist ales are all handed out nearly as quickly as the masses can consume them. Everybody loves Belgium during Embassy Week.
But that was not all, oh no, that was not all. Once the serpentine line reached its end, each participant — pastry in belly, chocolate on lips, beer bottle in hand — encounters there, erected in the courtyard’s center, the waffle stand.
American’s understanding of Belgian waffles might be limited to the Holiday Inn breakfast spread. Pour in the batter; flip the iron; watch the timer countdown; remove to plate; top with maple syrup. “Banish the thought!” the Professor would exclaim. “That’s just a larger version of the frozen Eggo waffle!”
Back to the embassy: The waffle cart was cranking out yeasty, pearl sugar studded waffles with a crunchy crust of caramelized sucrose, so satisfyingly sweet that maple syrup was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.
Such was the formative experience that taught us that the aforementioned Holiday Inn waffles are an adulteration of the real thing.
Years later, after sporadic searching and a desire to again experience what Belgium has to offer, we’ve alighted on the recipe for real, liège waffles. You’ll never again desire any other waffle.
Gaufres de Liège
- ½ cup milk, whole is ideal
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tablespoons raw sugar, brown sugar or honey
- 1 packet (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3⅔ cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 14 tablespoon unsalted butter, fully softened
- 1⅓ cups pearl sugar (available via Amazon)
Gently warm the milk and water on stovetop till a probe thermometer registers between 110 and 116 degrees (ideal yeast blooming temperature). Off heat, whisk in the raw sugar and packet of yeast; allow to bloom for 10 minutes until foamy. Whisk in vanilla and eggs.
In a stand mixer with dough hook combine the yeast mixture with 2⅔ cups flour (reserve last cup). Mix in salt. Combine in softened butter one tablespoon at a time. (This step is slow but important, and butter must be fully softened to properly incorporate). Add final cup of flour and continue to knead dough until glossy (approximately 5 minutes).
Plastic wrap top of mixing bowl, set at room temperature for a two hour rise. Dough will double in size. After two hours, punch down dough; re-cover bowl; place in refrigerator overnight (or 8 to 24 hours).
After overnight rise, knead in pearl sugar. Cut dough into 16 equal mounds. Follow your waffle iron’s instructions for waffle making.
Note: Each waffle will be better than the last, as the sugar begins to caramelize on the iron’s grates and imbues itself into each subsequent waffle. Dough mounds can be plastic wrapped and kept chilled for up to three days.