The Many Different Names
First off, it’s good to know that you’re never simply eating a ‘Belgian waffle.’ You’re either munching on a square Brussels waffle – this is usually the one being served abroad with all kinds of sweet toppings for a sturdy breakfast – or a Liège waffle, its oval-shaped cousin. While the Brussels waffle is completely rectangular with perfectly shaped square holes and an airy batter, its Liège counterpart would be the more rebellious, alluring one of the two. Made with brioche dough and with caramelized sugar chunks inside, its gooey richness makes it so any other toppings such as powdered sugar or whipped cream become completely redundant.
With this important distinction in mind, on to the Brussels waffle’s origins. As is the case with many a delicious recipe, its exact date of birth and its genius inventor’s name remain unknown. While the first written mention of the ‘Brussels waffle’ dates back to 1874, it’s pretty safe to say that the doughy treat has been around a lot longer than that. The word ‘ waffle’ pops up in Brussels literature as early as 1604, and in a Dutch caricature about the Belgian independence in 1830, Willem I’s throne has a picture of a waffle on it next to two types of Brussels beer.
How Belgium Became the Capital of Waffles
Belgium truly became the place of a blooming waffle industry in the early 19th century, with many Brussels families adding on a booth to their house or opening up a salon at the coast (an area still known for its large number of tearooms or gauferies). The most renowned baker families added yeast to their batter – we’re in beer country after all – and slowly, Belgium’s reputation as a home to waffle craft masters spread throughout the neighboring countries of France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Intercontinental fame took a while longer but finally came its way when the Brussels waffle took a trip overseas for the 1964 World Fair in New York. The booth ‘Bel-gem,’ run by Belgian Maurice Vermeersch, served as many as 2,500 waffles a day topped with strawberries and whipped cream. Amazed by its light and fluffy qualities, the Americans were smitten. Even the Japanese followed suit when their 2005 Expo in Aichi saw rows and rows of people in line at the Belgian Pavilion for a taste of what’s widely recognized as the best waffle in the world.
Modern Day Adaptions
Toppings and Fillings: Modern Belgian waffles often feature a wide array of toppings and fillings to enhance their flavor. Common choices include fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and bananas, as well as whipped cream, chocolate sauce, Nutella, caramel sauce, or maple syrup.
Savory waffles: While the traditional Belgian waffle is typically sweet, savory versions have become increasingly popular. Savory adaptations involve adding ingredients such as cheese, bacon, ham, vegetables, or herbs to the batter. These savory waffles are often served with toppings like sour cream, salsa, or even fried eggs.
Waffle Sandwiches: Another modern adaptation is using Belgian waffles as a base for sandwiches. The waffles are typically cut into halves or quarters and filled with ingredients like fried chicken, pulled pork, smoked salmon, or various deli meats. The combination of sweet and savory flavors makes for a unique and delicious meal.
Waffle Sticks or Pops: waffles can also be transformed into convenient handheld snacks. The batter is poured into a special waffle stick or pop maker, creating individual portions that can be eaten on the go. These waffle sticks or pops are often served with dipping sauces like chocolate, fruit preserves, or caramel.
Waffle Cones and Bowls: Belgian waffles have found their way into the realm of ice cream and dessert by being shaped into cones or bowls. These waffle cones or bowls provide a tasty and edible vessel for serving ice cream, gelato, or other frozen treats. They add a crispy and flavorful element to the overall dessert experience.
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