When I was in high school, I got to go on a trip with my family to Belgium (after my brother's church mission there). Before we left, our neighbor Sister Hickman gave us $20 and told us to buy ourselves some gaufre. Gaufre are the famous Belgian waffles, which you buy hot and fresh from carts on the street all over Belgium. The first time we tasted them (right outside of the airport, I think), we were amazed. They were utterly unlike any waffles we'd had before. They had these little bursts of crisp caramelized sugar throughout, and a soft, light inner texture. SO good. Every time we saw another waffle cart we'd stop and buy more of them, saying, "This time we will use the money from Sister Hickman!" We must have bought "Sister Hickman's waffles" five or six times over while we were there.
After we got home I thought I'd probably never get to taste something as good as those gaufre again. But many years later, we tried the waffles at this place in Salt Lake, and they tasted almost as good as the ones in my memory! I started thinking of finding a recipe to imitate them, but I read that you needed some special ingredients, and since we didn't have a Belgian waffle maker anyway, I never got serious about it.
Then for Christmas last year I got this double waffle maker (I love it! It keeps up with the mouths and mouths we have to feed around here!) and I knew it was time to pursue the Belgian Waffle dream.
It's true, you do have to order one special ingredient: this Belgian Pearl Sugar (not to be confused with the Swedish Pearl Sugar you use for these lussekatter—the Belgian version is in bigger pearls). Sometimes it goes on sale and then you should order lots of it. BUT—there is also an alternative. This blog suggested using sugar cubes rather than the pearl sugar. You just smash the sugar cubes up into large chunks and stir them into the batter. We tried this, and it tastes great, although I should warn you that the sugar cube chunks seem to melt a little more quickly than the pearl sugar, and so will make a bit more of a mess in your waffle iron. Nothing too terrible, though.
I'll get right to the point: there are lots of recipes online, some more time-consuming and pretentious than others, and all claiming to be the truly authentic, the superior, the time-tested. I suppose tastes vary, and perhaps the overnight rise or the special waffle iron really is essential for some people. But we have been happiest with the very simple recipe on the back of the box of pearl sugar. I think these waffles get closest to my memory of the waffles I loved so much in Belgium (and remember, in my memory they were a shining and golden and heavenly thing, so finding a recipe that lives up to the memory is a pretty impressive feat). And Sam chose these for his birthday dinner this year, so that tells you how much HE likes them. :)
These are yeasted waffles, so they need rising time, but it's a gentle rise, so it doesn't elevate quite like a loaf of white bread. The batter will be thick and not very sticky (because of the butter in it), and after you wait 45 minutes to an hour, it will be nice and puffy. At that point, you stir in the pearl sugar (which deflates the batter a bit; don't be alarmed) and then you make little billiard-ball-sized patties and put those into the waffle iron. As they cook, the sugar melts and then gets shiny and caramelized, making those little bursts of sweetness I remember so well from when I first had them (the batter itself is not otherwise sweetened). They are delicious warm, but they keep their crispness and are good all day, cold or reheated in the microwave for a few seconds. We've even put leftover batter into the fridge overnight and baked it, brought to room temperature, the next morning.
Here's the recipe (which is also on the back of the box of Pearl Sugar, if you get the Lars brand) with a few slight modifications. We scaled it up for our family, but even if you're cooking for fewer, you won't be sorry to have more. :) We make the pearl sugar go a little further by using 1 bag per 1 1/2 batches, rather than 1 bag per batch as suggested.
Belgian Sugar Waffles
Makes about 12-14 (smallish, but filling) waffles
12 oz. softened butter (3 sticks)
3/4 plus 3/8 cup lukewarm milk
1 T. instant yeast
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
5 1/4 cups flour
1 bag (about 8 oz.) Belgian Pearl Sugar
Put the butter and the milk in a plastic bowl and microwave on half-power for 2 or 3 minutes, until butter is softened and milk is lukewarm. Add yeast to milk. Add eggs, salt, vanilla, and flour, and mix until smooth and combined. Dough should start to pull away from sides of bowl and form a ball. Let dough rise until it is puffy and almost double in size. Add Belgian pearl sugar. Divide dough into small patties and bake in heated and greased waffle iron.
One last note: It's hard to beat these waffles with strawberries on them, but my latest favorite topping is lemon curd and a bit (must one use the word dollop?) of whipped cream. To me, the sweet waffles with the slightly tart lemon curd and barely-sweetened cream are perfect.