I only spent a short time in Belgium, just passing through on a whirlwind post-college European Vacation, many years ago now, yet I do have one endruring memory: the waffles. As an American kid, of course I was always exposed to the idea of “Belgian” waffles, really American waffles made with an iron of deeper grooves. When I got to Belgium, I don’t know that I had any preconceived notions of what to expect, but waffles were everywhere. In train stations. Street vendors. Gas stations. Vending machines. And nobody ate them with maple syrup. Or even a knife and fork, for that matter. Nope, they were just eaten by hand, like a donut.
These waffles, I later learned, were Liege-style waffles, the most popular variety in Belgium (and also commonly found throughout the Netherlands). They’re made with a yeast dough that’s similar to brioche, so they are much denser and breadier than American waffles, and also feature pearl sugar, which caramelizes on the outside when baking, creating a crispy, sweet exterior. They are commonly served hot from a street vendors, with just sprinkling of powdered sugar, or wrapped in cellophane for the mass-market, but can also be found with more elaborate toppings at in bakery windows. (I personally fell for the chocolate-covered version out of the vending machine, as any respectable college kid should.)
American-style “Belgian” waffles are actually based on a different waffle, the Brussels-style waffle, which, although also made with a yeast dough and served with a dusting of powdered sugar, is lighter and fluffier than the Liege waffle. Most Belgian waffles stateside, however, are made with a pancake-style batter, leavened with baking powder. (I never understood the appeal of this myself. Give me a Waffle House-style waffle made with batter any day!)
Let’s Get Back on Topic
Brian and Andrea Polizzi also went to Belgium, and were also blown away by the Liege waffle. Instead of coming back to the states and boring you with a long-winded story about it, however, they decided to take action. They started experimenting with recipes. They shared their waffles with family and friends. Said people swooned. They researched to see if anyone else was making these in the states. (Though many people were, nobody was making them in a way that was widely available – most were either at cafes, or food trucks, things of that nature.) They saw an opening for niche – Liege-style waffles for anyone and everyone. In 2013, Waffatopia was born.
Made with authentic Belgian pearl sugar (not something one can find at the local market) and all-natural ingredients, the Polizzis are passionate about both creating an authentic Liege-waffle experience and adding their own twist with unique flavor combinations. “Sometimes we’ve had Belgians refuse to eat our ‘plain’ waffle because it has cinnamon and vanilla,” says Andrea with a grin, “but usually when they find out we’re making the dough the right way, yeast-risen, with the pearl sugar, they are into it.”
It may be strange to say, but the gateway waffle for one not as familiar with the Liege-style might just be the Chocolate Stuffed. A cinnamon vanilla waffle filled with imported Belgian dark chocolate, it downplays the dense, chewy aspect, the biggest difference for those who’ve eaten batter-based waffles their entire lives. Then again, maybe I’m only saying this because it reminds me of that long-ago vending machine waffle. Even more likely is the fact that it’s so damn delicious with a dollop of salted caramel gelato on top!
I also fell for the Lemon Blueberry, a spring seasonal flavor, that features real blueberries and a spritz of effervescent, citrusy brightness that goes perfectly with our current run of steamy weather. (Other seasonals include Orange Pomegranate, ‘Punkin’ Spice and Gingerbread.)
A customer favorite is, not surprisingly, the Maple Bacon waffle. Because, well, it’s made with real bacon. It’d be my pick for fried chicken & waffles.
For the hopheads out there, Waffatopia has partnered with famed local brewery Victory for a series of beer-flavored waffles, including the Monkey Spice, featuring Golden Monkey Triple, a unique blend of banana and exotic spices, available during the warmer months, as well as Sweet & Stormy, made with Storm King Stout, that’s featured throughout the winter.
A quick warm up in the oven or toaster bring out the best in these, which have a shelf-life of about a week in the fridge (or 6 months in the freezer). They’re probably at their best alongside a scoop of ice cream, but you might also try at least one with a dusting of powdered sugar, eaten out of wax paper, for that authentic Belgian experience. Waffatopia also suggests serving with yogurt and fruit at breakfast.
They can be purchased from Waffatopia’s site in packages of 4 or more, and shipped around the country.