Monday, July 18, 2011

The waffle edition

After five years (almost) of living in the US, I still have not lost my 'charming' Belgian accent. This seems an invitation for people to ask me where I am from. From the people at McDonalds, the lady who hears me talking to my children in the doctor's office, in the grocery store... everyone finds an accent interesting. I don't mind. I realize it is something that makes me stand out and that it is a conversation maker. Plus it is a chance to speak a little bit more about my country. Aside from the people who have actually travelled to Europe, there are only two things people know about Belgium: we have chocolate. And we have waffles. Some men actually know a third fact and that is that we have beer. There is more to Belgium than chocolate, waffles and beer! (You should taste our asparagus!)

But seriously, while there is more to Belgium than food, food is definitely a part of our culture. You should get the average Belg talking about subject of fries for example. I like to cook. And to bake. It's therefor quite a shock, even to myself, that I have never actually made that worldrenowned staple of Belgian cuisine: Belgian waffles. Now let me start here with a snobbish qualification: there is no such things as Belgian waffles. What is described here in the US as Belgian waffles are actually mostly Brussels waffles. They are light and crunchy and go great with strawberries, wipped cream, chocolate, bananas and a host of other toppings, but are delicious just as is with a little dusting of powdered sugar.

But aside from those Brussels waffles, there are other Belgian favorites. "Luikse wafels" or "Liege waffles" are a lot more doughy and dense and sugary, and in their own way equally delicious. Sometimes they are called 'sugar waffles', though I believe true waffle connaisseurs might not take kindly to that description. They are much more filling and often have sugarcrystals on the ends. And then there are "galetten", a hard, crispy, cookie like waffle that keeps a bit better, and has a distinct vanilla flavor, last but not least something that I can only describe as a hard waffle, which is more of a cross between 'galetten' and the Liege waffle. They are more dense like the Liege waffle, but smaller, slightly.. lighter and with a more destinct vanilla flavor.

There. That should set the record straight. Like there is not just one "European style" (I don't know why fashion editors here keep using that term, when they are mainly refering to French or Italian styles), there is not just one Belgian waffle. There are many. And they are ALL delicious. But if you want to talk about what is called "the Belgian waffle", (the Brussels one), I have to make one more remark: in Belgium, these waffles are never round. Eggo's are round. Brussels waffles are rectangular. I doubt this makes a great difference in the flavor, but I just thought I'ld point it out.

How is that for a lot of grandstanding from somebody who has never actually MADE waffles herself, be they Brussels, Liege, or otherwise. That is about to end though. In preparation for the Belgian national holiday (July 21st), I bought a waffle iron. I did have to chose a round one. The square ones I found were cheap, quite often not deep enough and did not flip. Instead of relying on a mix, or a recipe that I found online, I went straight to the source: my mother. And she went straight to her source: "Ons Kookboek" .

7 waffle recipes in this one basic cookbook alone.

This cooking book, originally brought out by de "Boerinnenboned" (Farmerswives guild), is considered the mother of all Flemish cooking books. The very first version dates from 1927 and since then it has been sold two and a half million times in it's four updates. Not bad if you realize that the entire current Flemish population is less than 6 million people. It has been bought by generations of people and was one of the most traditional wedding gifts. My mother too got hers (the 1975 edition) as a wedding gift. And while she now mostly cooks without a recipe, for something rarely made she still consults it I believe.

So stay tuned for my first attempt at waffle making. And if they are succesfull I can tell everyone: Now these are REAL Belgian waffles. Except for the shape. But well... who cares about the shape, as long as they turn out delicious!

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