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The History of the Belgian Waffle
Photo: Waffl mit Kirschgrütze image by M.R. from Fotolia.com

Photo: Waffl mit Kirschgrütze image by M.R. from Fotolia.com

The Belgian waffle does not refer to one specific waffle recipe. A culinary specialty, each region of the country developed its own recipe. While the main ingredients (flour, milk, sugar and eggs) remain the same from place to place, families maintain secret ingredients that pass from one generation to the next. Some waffles are served on a plate with fruit, but others are similar to American doughnuts and are a hand-held treat. Since part of Belgium speaks Flemish, the treat is called a “wafel,” but since the other part of Belgium speaks French, Belgian waffles sometimes go by the French name “gaufre.”

History of Waffles

Waffles first appeared on the scene in the thirteenth century. A blacksmith, inspired by the shape of the alveoli (honey comb) made by bees, produced an iron with the same crosshatched pattern. Soon, waffles made their way to the streets through bakeries and vendors. According to Agustin’s Waffles, “For religious celebrations or saint’s days, the waffle vendors (after paying an honest remuneration to the clergy) were allowed to sell their waffles at the exits of the churches.” King Charles IX (King of France 1560 to 1574) decided to regulate the waffle business due to the growing number of fights and trouble between vendors.

Belgian Waffle Invention

Maurice Vermersch and his wife, a couple from Brussels, first added yeast to the recipe just before World War II. The couple cooked waffles in cast iron pans seasoned with lard. Their friends and family were so pleased with the result that the Vermersches decided to take them to the 1960 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium. In the wave of success that followed, the Vermersches opened several restaurants specializing in waffles and brought them back to the next World’s Fair in 1964, this time in Queens, New York. The Antwerp Tourist Guide notes, “Observing that most Americans, with their poor geography skills, couldn’t place Brussels, he named the waffle the Belgian Waffle a few days into his World’s Fair stay.”

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Brussels Waffle

Brussels waffles are fluffy, rectangular confections eaten with fruit, powdered sugar or whipped cream. Most North American waffles rise due to baking powder, but Brussels waffles use yeast. Combined with beaten egg whites, the yeast causes the waffle to be much thicker and lighter with deeper indentations. Yeast changes the chemical make-up of the batter, and the fermentation gives the Brussels waffle a tangier taste.

The Liège Waffle

Liège is an eastern province of Belgium on the German border. Gaufre de Liège, also called Luikse wafel in Flemish and Lutticher waffel in German, are oval and are thinner and smaller than the common Belgian waffle. Small nuggets of pearl sugar (small sugar pellets) added to the batter caramelize on the waffle iron, giving the Liege a sweet crunch. Liege waffles are commonly eaten without toppings, and sometimes even cold.

Waffle Culture

In Belgium, they do not eat waffles for breakfast very often, although you can get one if you ask. You buy Belgian waffles from bakeries and street vendor’s stands as a “casual snack food.” Common toppings range from butter and powdered sugar to fresh fruit and whipped cream.