Liège Waffles: Starring Belgian Pearl Sugar

Belgian Waffle Ingredients

Growing up, my favorite waffles were, of course, Eggos. Flavorless, with a fun catch-phrase, they were the perfect vehicle for syrup and butter. It’s no wonder that I always preferred pancakes at renowned breakfast restaurants, like IHOP and Denny’s. In college, our cafeteria was equipped with a flip-waffle iron and a bowl of batter. You could make waffles at any time of day. But, after eyeing the thin batter and tasting the outcome, it was clear that these were merely pancakes posing as waffles.

Alyssa making Belgian or Liège Waffles.Then, I moved to Massachusetts, where I learned a lot about food (Aunt Jemima’s isn’t real maple syrup!?). I worked at a creperie as a barista who didn’t drink coffee. The crepes were filled with strange, exotic ingredients I had never heard of, like arugula and Brie. I also learned that the owner actually specialized in a variety of waffle called “Liège waffles” (also sometimes known as Belgian waffles). I had no interest in trying one – I knew what waffles were all about. But an extremely enthusiastic coworker convinced me to give it a go. She took the deep-pocketed rectangle, toasted it, got out the whipped cream and strawberries and impatiently watched as I took my first bite. And then my taste-buds exploded (with flavor, not literally exploded). Sweet, dense, yeasted, chewy, filled with sweet crunchy pockets of sugar that also caramelized on the surface of the waffle – why ruin this with whipped cream and strawberries? Eggos were no competition – in fact, I wasn’t even sure if they were really waffles at this point – these were the best waffles I had ever had!

That brings us up to date. This past holiday season at Formaggio Kitchen, I had numerous customers ask if we had something called Belgian Pearl Sugar. I looked into it and learned that this was the secret sweet crunch in the Liège waffles I remembered so fondly! I was thrilled and stocked the shop with it as quickly as possible, eager to try it out and spread the word about this magical stuff. This is where the journey for making the perfect waffle began.

Belgian Pearl Sugar being added to waffle dough.

Belgian Pearl Sugar

Pearl Sugar: crushed blocks of sugar; coarse, hard clumps of sugar that don’t melt at normal baking temperatures but will caramelize on the outside of waffles and create crunchy sweet spots on the inside.

Failing to find any recipes in my cookbooks, I began searching on the internet. After hours of research and reading through dozens of recipes, I narrowed my test recipes down to two candidates. Unfortunately, these waffles require patience – you need to start them a day in advance, or wake up before dawn to have them ready for breakfast. The first time I made them, I ate them with chicken (a classic pairing), collard greens and mashed sweet potatoes (props to the fiancé!) for a late dinner. That was the first two pounds of the eight I’ve gained on this waffle journey.

Chicken and Belgian Waffles

Chicken and Belgian waffles – a classic combo.

Another requirement in waffle-making is a waffle iron. Mine is a CuisinArt Belgian Waffle Maker. Belgian waffle makers are typically square and have deeper pockets than those used for batter based waffles. It took a few test waffles to find the ideal temperature and cook-time, but I found that setting the heat just below 3 (the scale system is 1-5, 5 being hottest) for about 5 minutes allowed the waffles to fully cook through while also caramelizing a bit on the exterior.

The first batch of waffles I made were too dense and chewy. I also left the pearl sugar whole, and the caramelizing effect on the outside wasn’t nearly as intense as I’d hoped.

Crushing the Belgian Pearl SugarFor the second batch, I tried cutting the bread flour with all-purpose flour (50/50 ratio), and although they weren’t as dense, they still weren’t light enough. The pearl sugar was an easy fix: I spread it out and crushed it with a rolling-pin. I also tried using a mortar and pestle and spice grinder, but both options made the sugar too fine. The rolling-pin created some powder and smaller nuggets of sugar that caramelized beautifully on the outside of the waffles – inside, there were still the sought-after crunchy sugar pockets.

After several more experiments in which I tested different flour ratios, I settled on a ratio of 1/2 bread flour and 1/2 pastry flour as the winning combination. However, if you want a very soft waffle, 1/3 bread flour and 2/3 pastry flour works well too. Personally, I thought it was a bit too soft to support the caramelized coating, falling apart easily – however, my fiancé was partial to this batch. I must admit – the pastry flour also adds a nice golden cream color.

3 different Belgian waffle doughs - to the left, more yeast - to the right top, buttermilk - at bottom, more pastry flour to bread flour and maple syrup.

3 different Belgian waffle doughs in progress: to the left, more yeast – top right, buttermilk – at bottom, a higher ratio pastry flour to bread flour and maple syrup.

There was one batch I added double the amount of yeast to, hoping to create an airier texture. I do not recommend that anyone follow in my footsteps! The finished dough tasted almost sour. The waffles also had layers (almost like a biscuit) when cut open, but the texture was far too doughy.

Buttermilk (in lieu of milk) didn’t seem to make much of a difference, other than curdling quickly when heated (this didn’t have any adverse effect on the dough). And, replacing the brown sugar and honey with maple syrup seemed like a great idea, but it lacked the hoped-for sweetness – instead, the almost burnt-like aspect of maple syrup flavor was what seemed to prevail – not particularly pleasant.

It has been a long (but tasty!) road to developing my go-to waffle – ultimately the majority of my inspiration and end result traces back to the Liege Waffle Recipe / Gaufre de Liège Recette Blog (that original recipe is available here).

Liège Waffles

Yields about 6 waffles (can be doubled, tripled, even quadrupled!)

Alyssa with a basket of her Belgian waffles.1 ½ tsps active dry yeast
¼ cup whole milk or buttermilk
2 tbsp + 2 tsps water
1 cup pastry flour
1 cup bread flour
1 egg (room temperature, lightly beaten)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp light brown sugar
¾ tsp salt
8 tbsp or 1 stick of room temperature butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 more tsp. extract…I just like the way the beans look in the dough)
¾ heaping cup pearl sugar, chopped

Whisk together the flours. Put the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer with the dough hook attachment, or a large mixing bowl. Heat the milk and water to about 110-115°F. Mix in with the yeast. Add egg and 2/3 cup flour (or 1/3 the total amount of flour).

Incorporating the butter, bit by bit.

Incorporating the butter, bit by bit.

Mix together just until combined. Then, gently sprinkle the rest of the flour on top of the mixture. Cover with cling wrap and let sit out for 1 hour to 1 ½ hours, until the yeast is bubbling up over the top.

With the electric mixer on low-speed, add the brown sugar and salt. Add vanilla and honey. Then add the butter, 2 tbsps at a time.

At this point, the dough will be pretty sticky and hard to handle. After all the butter is added, let the dough rest for a minute. Then continue kneading (by mixer or by hand) for another 4-5 minutes. Let the dough rest, and repeat. Eventually the dough will cling together and form a large ball, coming away from the sides of the bowl. Be patient, it will happen!

Belgian waffle dough coming away from sides to form a ball.

The dough coming away from the sides of the bowl to form a ball.

When the dough is ready, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature (between 64-70°F is best) until about doubled in size. This can take up to 4 hours, and probably won’t take less than 3 hours.

(Note: you can also retard the dough by putting it in the fridge after letting it rise for 2-3 hours, taking it out the following day to finish. However, the dough becomes stiffer and takes much longer to get to room temperature. After trying it both ways, I found that letting the dough fully rise creates a fluffier waffle.)

When the dough has fully risen, punch it down and mix in the pearl sugar by hand. You will get extremely buttery, but this is the best way to ensure the sugar gets evenly distributed – plus the dough feels really nice. Let it rest for 15 minutes.

Risen and ready for the waffle iron!

Risen and ready for the waffle iron!

In the meantime, heat up your waffle iron. On my waffle iron, I like the setting at about 2¾ (i.e. just shy of the 3), but change the temperature in accordance with your waffle preference and your equipment – this may take some experimenting. If you have a kitchen scale, start dividing the dough into 112 gram (4 ounce) pieces. If not, make balls of dough that are 3 heaping tablespoons each in size.

Belgian or Liège Waffle Dough Portioned Out

The dough portioned out.

When the iron is heated, press a ball into the middle of each waffle square. Close the iron and let cook for about 5 minutes, depending on how well-done you like your waffles.

Et, voilà! You have made the amazing Liège waffles!

Belgian or Liège Waffles - hot off the waffle iron!

Hot off the waffle iron.

Now, the trickiest part is cleaning the iron. I’ve tried using a rag to wash away the sticky sugar while it’s still warm; a knife to chip away at the solid pieces after they have cooled; scrubbing with a sponge. Nothing seems to work well, so I’d love some suggestions!

A waffle spread!

A waffle spread!

You can freeze the waffles by wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap and either putting them in ziplock bags or plastic bags. Or, best of all – eat as is, warm off the waffle iron! No toppings are necessary but you can go all out (as we did at staff tastings!) with whipped cream, fresh berries, candied kumquats, blood orange marmalade, lemon curd and/or cinnamon sugar.

Belgian or Liège Waffles with cream, cinnamon sugar and preserved fruits.

Stay tuned for a gluten-free waffle recipe, a sourdough waffle recipe, and a bacon and waffle recipe…

Alyssa Persinger is the Bakery Manager at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

  • Joan

    When will you have them again at FK!?

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Alyssa will be whipping up her next batch of waffles on Sunday, April 14 at the shop!

      • Matthias

        Most exciting. Starting at what time?

        • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

          Hi Matthias – Alyssa is aiming to have waffles coming hot off the iron when we open at 10am this Sunday! Hope to see you there!

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  • Joan

    I’ll be there!

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Super! All of us staff members are excited too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/becky.large.90 Becky Large

    Is it a no-no to use canola spray on the waffle iron to prevent sticking?

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Hi Becky – Thank you for reading our blog! We checked in with Alyssa and she told us that her waffle maker is a non-stick one. The first time she used it, the instructions advised brushing it lightly with vegetable oil (which she did). Since then, however, she hasn’t used anything on the iron – the waffles have been coming off cleanly, only occasionally a bit of the pearl sugar will caramelize on the iron and she will gently scrape those pieces off. Hope that helps!

  • Veronica

    I have tried those Liege waffles, they are incredible and I have find the real Belgian Pearl Sugar online http://www.belgianpearlsugar.com :)

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Indeed the waffles are delicious – we’re glad you think so too! Here’s the variety we use: Belgian Pearl Sugar.

  • Joy

    Alyssa, the best way I’ve found to clean the waffle iron is to heat to the temp you’d cook a waffle. add a little soap and water and use a natural bristle brush to scrub out the sugar. Rinse and repeat the process 2 to 3 times and the iron will be as new. If you use an electric waffler, make sure not to get the water into the electrical portion of the machine and only on the waffle plates.

    Thanks for the recipe!

    • alyssapersinger

      Thanks Joy! I am definitely going to try that out! :)

  • ajay

    I have tried to explain “real” Belgian waffles to people (more dough than batter, caramelized sugar coating, etc) and look! Here they are! I am anxiously awaiting your Gluten Free recipe.

  • Cat

    Hope to see the gluten free one soon!

  • layal alesayi

    I just tried them, I followed the recipe step by step but my waffles turned out like rocks from the outside and not fluffy from the inside.. is it possible the reason is that I used a regular waffle maker and not a professional one?

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Hello Layal – Thank you for visiting our blog! We are sorry to hear your waffles did not come out as hoped. We checked in with the waffle lady herself and Alyssa reports that she uses a regular waffle iron (Cuisinart WAF-100 4-slice Belgian Waffle Maker) – not a commercial/industrial grade one. However, it is important to note that there are special waffle irons for yeasted, Belgian waffles as opposed to regular, batter-based waffles that are leavened with baking soda or baking powder. The Belgian waffle irons have deeper pockets and, as we chatted about your dilemma, we speculated that the deeper pockets may be there to allow for “oven spring” – the rise that yeasted products get immediately after they are put in a hot oven (or in this case, the waffle iron). If the pockets aren’t as deep on your iron, perhaps the dough can’t expand enough and this is why the waffles seem dense? We were also speculating that Belgian waffle irons may get hotter than the conventional ones – again, this would encourage “oven spring,” making the waffles fluffier in texture. The exterior of the waffles do get firm sometimes as pieces of sugar caramelize and harden but they should definitely not be like rocks. We hope that this comment helps – let us know if you have any other questions!

  • trent

    hi, i would really like to know why dont you put all the liquid as milk rather that milk and water?

  • michael firestein

    Actually, to clean the waffle iron, I’ve had great success by using a mixture of corn starch and water. Just mix a few tablespoons together with 2 cups of water, pour into the heated waffle iron and close. when it’s “cooked,” just pull out the cornstarch waffle gook and toss. This gook pulls away with all of the mess from the sugar and dough caught up in it.

  • Greg

    Hello there,

    I am traveling through Salt Lake City and just had a similar waffle revelation (Eggo vs Belgian) at this great little waffle stop called Bruges waffles (brugeswaffles.com if your interested). They were so amazing I had to find out how to make them…. Hence my visit to your blog. Anyway I thought that I would leave a quick note in response to cleaning waffle irons. I’m going to have to assume that this super busy little waffle place is the authority on anything waffle. Half of my fun eating the waffle was watching the poor waffle chef continuously clean the waffle iron! Again and again, even when she hadn’t even cooked another waffle and thought that no one was looking she kept on cleaning it. Something tells me that a healthy part of the $9 that I spent on the waffle went towards the painstaking cleanup. It looked like she was using a damp terry cloth wrapped around a butter knife. Then a napkin (one of those expensive chinet ones) however I can’t be sure. I’m going to have to assume that there is no magic tric to cleaning a sweet sticky waffle iron, but the treat is worth the work!

  • http://www.jojies.com jojiescatering

    Hi Alyssa, is there a way to make this pearl sugar from scratch? It’s not available where I’m at. Thanks.

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Hi there! We checked in with Alyssa and she hasn’t tried to make it from scratch before but it may be possible – we did a little research and found this post which may prove helpful: http://tinyurl.com/kejbt7g. Alternately, we suggest checking online to see if there might be anyone in your country that sells the sugar. Good luck with your quest and happy baking!

  • Tina

    Looks to me this is a Terrific recipe! May I ask what waffle maker you are using? I am in the hunt fir one and want to make sure I buy the one that will produce results like your wonderful waffles here.. Thank you!

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Hi Tina – Alyssa was using a CuisinArt Belgian Waffle Maker when she wrote this post! Hope that helps!

  • http://bestrecipesevar.com Lee

    Any word on a gluten free recipe?

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Hello Lee – Thank you for checking out our blog! Alyssa has been experimenting on the gluten free front but hasn’t yet developed a recipe she is happy with – we’ll keep you posted!

  • Artisanal Waffles

    I’m the author of the original recipe you used to create these. Very cool, especially since I had ordered honey from you a few months back for use in a new test recipe of the waffles; I had no idea about this blog entry then! Anyway, I thought you might enjoy the all-new updated recipe: http://www.waffle-recipes.com/liege-waffle-recipe-gaufres-de-liege/

    Too bad I’m on the other side of the country, else I’d love to come sample your take on these little guys. – Adam

    • alyssapersinger

      Hi Adam – So nice to web-meet you – thank you for reading and commenting! Your waffle recipe is a total inspiration! When I first wrote my post, I didn’t actually see your blog but a copy of the recipe elsewhere – I recently became aware of your post as the original source though and have since read through your blog — it’s really fascinating — I completely get the obsession! If you’re ever in the area please do stop by the shop and say, “hi” – it would be lovely to meet a fellow waffle enthusiast! Out of curiosity, which honey did you order? Best wishes, Alyssa

  • Dindi

    Thanks for the recipe. I tried to make some of these, but the waffle came out sour and has a sort of alocohol taste to it. I live in a country with a tropical climate so air temperature gets to about 90 deg F, which I think may have caused the dough to overproof (? not sure, just a guess). How do you think I can change the recipe to adapt to our climate?

    • http://www.formaggiokitchen.com formaggiokitchen

      Hello Dindi – Thank you for checking out Alyssa’s post! Yes, as you say, it sounds like your waffles may have proofed a little bit too long. There is a great item by Shirley Corriher on the ‘Fine Cooking’ website about the role that yeast plays in bread making (http://www.finecooking.com/articles/yeast-role-bread-baking.aspx?pg=0c). The relevant passage here is probably the following:

      “As fermentation proceeds, the dough becomes more acidic. This is due in part to rising levels of carbon dioxide, but there are also more flavorful organic acids like acetic acid (vinegar) and lactic acid being formed from the alcohol in the dough. (This is similar to what happens to a bottle of wine that has been left uncorked for a while: the alcohol combines with oxygen to make vinegar.) The acidity of the dough causes more molecules to break down. The dough becomes a veritable ferment of reactions. Eventually, the amount of alcohol formed starts to inhibit the yeast’s activity.”

      Making yeasted bread products (be it a baguette or Belgian waffles) is finding the right balance between allowing the yeast enough time to do all the things that augment texture and taste and stopping the process before it goes on too long, having a detrimental effect on structure/crumb and flavor. However, it sounds like you already suspected this might be the case! Indeed, in our own bakery, we experience a great deal of difference across seasons in how, for example, our cinnamon bread behaves (a Thursday/Saturday tradition in the shop) – in winter it takes a lot longer to rise, in the summer, it seems like it’s ready to crawl out of the bowl in a matter of minutes! In addition to warmth, bakers’ yeasts love humidity so, when you combine the two, you’ve got the ideal environment for them to do their thing – and they do it much quicker.

      In terms of how to avoid overproofing, we suggest that instead of following the time guidelines, to stick with Alyssa’s size guidance – to let the dough rise to roughly double its size. It sounds like, in your case, this may even take an hour or less (it will really vary by weather and may also be affected by the type of yeast you are using – perhaps more concentrated?). One test that we often perform on softer doughs is, when you poke the dough and it no longer bounces back to shape, it’s ready to go – this, however, works less well for stiffer doughs like these waffles. Going by the size of the rise, however, should give you a much better result on your next batch.

      Hopefully this info helps and we hope your next round of waffles tastes better! Happy baking!