Our neighborhood farmer's market features a Belgian caterer (Les Caprices de Joelle) that sells Belgian sugar waffles, which are sometimes called Liege waffles after their city of origin. These waffles have a cult following around here, and people willingly shell out $4 for a smallish waffle. I was a skeptic until I actually tasted one of these waffles--it was not like any other waffle I've ever had. These waffles are made with a rich, yeasted dough and are studded with chunks of sugar that melt and caramelize while the waffle is in the iron. Because the sugar is baked into the waffles, no syrup is necessary and they are a fabulous handheld snack.
I went on a mission to try to recreate these waffles at home. The first step was acquiring a waffle iron; I picked up a Waring Belgian waffle iron at Costco (similar to this model) . Our neighbors grilled the chef at our farmer's market for details about the waffles, and he told them that these waffles must be made with imported Belgian pearl sugar. Don't be tempted by pearl sugar from other sources, as it will not be the right size! I ordered several boxes of Lars Belgian pearl sugar from Eurogrocer (it's also available from Amazon and other online retailers).
Now it was time to start trying out recipes. I started with the recipe on the back of the pearl sugar box, which was a little too sweet and did not come together all that well (I had difficulty combining softened butter with flour evenly). After trying a few other recipes online and experimenting some, I ended up coming up with a recipe that is pretty delicious. The dough is thick and a little sticky (I find a stand mixer to be a big help in mixing it). And in order to give the yeast time to work I generally make the batter the night before.
An ice cream scoop is the perfect tool to get the dough into the waffle iron. Because the dough is so rich, I find a single generous scoop to result in a waffle that's the right size for a single serving.
Because the Belgian pearl sugar is a little pricey, it's actually not that much cheaper to make these at home. And the fact that you need to make the dough the night before means that these are not a spur-of-the-moment food. But they are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!
Belgian Sugar Waffles
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
1 packet active dry yeast
3.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Belgian pearl sugar (about 3/4 of an 8 oz. box)
Begin making these the night before you plan to serve them. Pour the yeast into the lukewarm milk and give it a few minutes to dissolve. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool for a couple of minutes. Add the vanilla to the melted butter. Put the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment to mix them together and, with the mixer running, pour the butter and vanilla into the flour mixture. Add in the eggs one at a time and then pour in the milk. When you have a uniform mixture turn off the mixer. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.
The dough should have doubled in size by the next morning. Shortly before you are ready to begin making waffles, stir in the pearl sugar (the dough will decrease in volume, but that's okay). Preheat your waffle iron to close to the hottest setting (I use 5, with 6 being the hottest). Use an ice cream scoop to put a heaping scoop of batter into the iron once it's hot. We like ours a little to be a little on the chewy side, so I usually end up taking them out after about 3 minutes or so. If you like a crisper, more caramelized exterior you can cook them for longer. Makes about 8 rich waffles.