Posted by: acooksca | 06/23/2011

Searching Out Real Belgian Waffles

Belgian Waffle maker in Ghent

We arrived in Brussels after an overnight flight with a hunger pang and need for coffee.  The first coffee shop we came to had waffles on the pastry menu. Of course! Here we were in Wafflelandia. What we got, however, were pre-frozen toasted waffled-squares of dry blandness. Nothing you would order again. At a café packed with locals we noticed the main snack, morning through late at night, was a waffle topped with ice cream but these waffles were also commercially made and hardly anything to be enthusiastic about.

Waffle Mania truck

I began to doubt the hoopla surrounding this local delicacy. Then we stumbled onto a made to order one-man waffle shop in streets of historic Ghent. We waited patiently in line, charmed by the colorfully costumed waffle baker concentrating on his waffle irons. With the pride of one who knows his product is very good, he handed us a waffle like we had never had before. I thought at first it had apples incorporated into the creamy, dense interior, but perhaps it was a yeast batter allowed to age to a fruity, slightly fermented flavor. There was a definite crust with a great chew and the taste of caramelized sugar. 

Back home my research into real Belgian Waffles turned up three main points. 1. The recipe is not a thin batter but a yeast-based dough aged overnight to bloom that fermented flavor. 2. A true Belgian Waffle iron with deep pockets is required to caramelize the crust. 3. There is a guy with a food truck who sells the real deal at the Wednesday Civic Center Farmers Market in San Francisco.

The spanking white Waffle Mania truck sits on Market Street at the foot of United Nations Plaza, drawing farmers market shoppers with its aroma. Allen, an engaging Frenchman, is handing out waffles made fresh that morning. It takes too long to cook the waffles to order in this setting so he makes waffles through out the morning and keeps them warm for a quick hand-held snack.

Allen welcomes you to the Waffle Mania truck

Allen tells us that he tried for several years to replicate the proper waffle dough in the Bay Area, but it never reached his satisfaction. “Maybe it is the wild yeast here, or the flour, maybe the water.” So he contracted the Brussels-based company So Good Belgian Waffles to ship individual balls of frozen dough by air. One can accent their waffle with Nutella, jams or whipped cream. Allen told me “if you really want to taste the waffles just a dusting of powdered sugar is best.”

Allen’s waffles are authentic and they are a real treat. Not as extraordinary as those we had in Ghent, but that dough didn’t fly half way around the world before becoming a waffle, everyone in that line waited 5 minutes for their order to cook and maybe that waffle really did have apples in it (Allen’s supplier, the So Good Belgian Waffle company, has an apple waffle dough.) Even so, make a point to stop by on a Wednesday at the Civic Center or at the Saturday Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland. It’s the next best thing to heading out to Belgium.

Allen's waffle

Below is a recipe I have made several times with success. They do not freeze well once cooked so invite some friends over. If you are serious about making Belgian Waffles at home you need the proper waffle iron. Multiple reviewers at selected the VillaWare Uno Classic Round Waffler (about $55) as their favorite.

Civic Center Farmers Market, 1182 Market Street, San Francisco. Wed. 8am – 2pm
Grand Lake Farmers Market, Grand Lake Ave. at Lake Park Ave., Oakland. Sat. 9am-2pm

Allen’s dough company:

Belgian Waffles                                serves 8

* 1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
* 1/4 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
* 3 egg yolks
* 2 3/4 cups warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
* 3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
* 1/2 cup white sugar (or part maple syrup)
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 4 cups all-purpose flour
* 3 egg whites

1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm milk. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the warm milk and the melted butter. Stir in the yeast mixture, sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in the remaining 2 1/2 cups milk alternately with the flour, ending with the flour. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks; fold into the batter. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate immediately and let age overnight for deeper flavor or let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour,
3. Preheat the waffle iron. Brush with oil and spoon about 1/2 cup (or as recommended by manufacturer) onto center of iron. Close the lid and bake until it stops steaming and the waffle is golden brown. Serve immediately or keep warm in 200 degree oven.


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