Belgian waffles in North America, are a variety of waffle with a lighter batter, larger squares, and deeper pockets compared to ordinary American waffles. Originally, Belgian waffles are leavened with yeast but baking powder is now used often. They are usually served and eaten as a breakfast food and different toppings are added to them such as whipped cream, fruits, chocolate syrup, and as well as butter or margarine. They can also be served as desserts topped with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruits.
In America, there’s only one kind of waffle that comes to our minds when we hear Belgian waffle. But in Belgium, there are several kinds of waffle including the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle. Also, have you ever wondered how Belgian waffles were invented? If you’re curious, then let us know more about the history of Belgian waffles.
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During the ancient times in Greece, chefs would cook flat cakes which they called obelios or oublie. These flat cakes received ornamentations in the Middle ages when chefs used honey and cinnamon to depict Bible scenes or religious symbols on these waffles. These ornamentations were because of a craftsman who had an idea of forging some cooking plates or irons that reproduce some patterns. Aside from Bible scenes, other waffle iron designs included landscapes and coats of arms.
In the 18th century, waffles became sweeter with more butter and sugar incorporated into their recipes. The Belgian waffle first appeared in America at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. But it was during the 1964 to 1965 World’s Fair hosted in Queens, New York that Belgian native Maurice Vermersch and his family made its popularity skyrocket.
The Belgian waffle in the United States was originally known as the Brussels waffle which was named for the capital city from which it came from. It is crispy on the outside and airy on the inside. It’s also served two ways, one is plain, and the other one with a slight embellishment of freshly whipped cream and sliced strawberries.
The demand for Brussels waffles was so great that the family had to hire a team of 10 people just to slice strawberries. That doesn’t account for those who were whipping the cream, piping that whipped cream or cooking up the waffles on the 24 machines they have. In fact, they have served as many as 2,500 waffles a day topped with strawberries and whipped cream.
The Vermersch family understood that not a lot of people knew details about Belgium during that time and they thought that calling the food “Brussels waffles” would hold it back from becoming popular, and that’s the time when the name “Belgian waffle” was born.
The name of the food may be flexible, but the Vermersch family was adamant about how it should be eaten. MariePaule Vermersch, daughter of Maurice told the story of her mother refusing to give forks and knives to customers at the Fair because that’s not the proper way to eat them on the streets of Belgium. Since they are considered as street foods in Belgium, people there eat waffles with bare hands and they do not use forks and knives like how most of us eat waffles in restaurants and even at home. It’s because, for them, waffles are on-the-go foods which are perfect for people who are hungry but in a hurry.
When the Brussels waffle moved to America, its name wasn’t the only thing that changed because from being street food, it became a common diner breakfast option. Also, with that came the change in the batter as well. Today, Belgian waffles in the United State are more like pancakes that are cooked in a waffle iron. They are no longer made from the delicately-balanced batter that ensures a crisp and airy waffle. Also, the Americanized Belgian waffle is sub-par in flavor that’s why it has been garnished and embellished to compensate.
The Brussels waffle was just one of the two kinds of waffles loved in Belgium. The one that’s less known outside of Belgium is the Liege waffle. If the Brussels waffle is a crowd-pleaser, the Liege waffle is its tougher, younger sibling. It’s because it does not wow you at first glance but it grows on you with each bite revealing its dense, sweet characteristics over time. It has deep wells, perfect rectangular shape, and lighter-than-air texture.
According to legends, the Liege waffle was invented when the Prince-Bishop of Liege, a city in the Belgian region of Wallonia, asked his cook to make a pastry made with lots of sugar. Since then, Liege waffles have become a mainstay of Belgian cuisine. They are largely made with special sugar called pear sugar which creates a chewy level of caramelization when cooked.
Liege waffles are predominately sold on the street, outside of train stations, in grocery store parking lots, at fairs, and many other places. There are eaten with your hands and nothing else. Belgians also prefer not to mask the waffle’s sweet flavor and texture with toppings because it would also be difficult to eat on the go.
It’s interesting to know that original Belgian waffles are different from their American counterparts in two main ways which are the toppings and mode of eating. Original Belgian waffles only feature minimal toppings which are whipped cream and strawberry slices. They do not put maple syrup to it, and they are also preferred on-the-go as a quick and tasty way to get your sugar fix.