Be it from Belgium or America, here’s why UAE loves its waffles

Do you know what makes the perfect waffle? “It has to be airy and light, when eaten. Crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside,” explained 50-year-old Dubai-based Belgian expatriate Bart Thoelen, who works as the Head Chef at Belgian Café at Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai.

Golden in color with a sweet taste, waffles are known for being a breakfast staple the world over, especially in the United States. Topped with maple syrup, a scoop of ice cream, fruits or even fried chicken, waffles have gone from being a classic breakfast dish to more of a go-to dish for those in the UAE, who are always running short of time.

An eventful past

waffles

Several culinary records from ancient Greece show that Greek chefs roasted flat cakes between metal plates attached to long wooden handles
Image Credit: Égoite/Wikimedia Commons

Waffles do have an interesting pastry as well. For one, it was never known as waffles, but obelios. It was never sweet, and was not indented or as thick as it is today. Several culinary records from ancient Greece show that Greek chefs roasted flat cakes between metal plates attached to long wooden handles. Made using a mixture of flour, water or milk, and eggs, obelies were wafer-like when eaten. Obelieswere eaten as part of a savory meal, and was served with cheese and herbs instead of sugar and syrups.

These ‘wafers’ grew popular over time across Europe, however, it was only in the 14th century, when the waffle gained more recognition. The first known waffle recipe was noted in Le Ménagier de Paris, a medieval guidebook from 1393, written by a husband as an instruction manual for his young wife.

It was also during this time, when the evolution of metal plates ushered in a new era of two-sided flat-cakes, with waffles finally gaining their signature grid pattern, along with the name we famously know of today.

waffles

Belgian waffles are known for their deep square pockets, which can accommodate large pools of syrup
Image Credit: Nabil Boukala/Unsplash.com

It is said that a blacksmith from France modified the medieval iron plates by hinging them together and putting it on a raised pattern that would increase the surface area of ​​cakes, allowing for even distribution while cooking the waffle. His invention of him had caught the eye of many especially because of the ‘design element’ that resembled a wafel or gaufre in French, which translated to a section of a honeybee’s honeycomb or woven webs. While the first modified iron plate was circular in shape, several blacksmiths used the same concept and devised a rectangular version, adding an edge to the waffle.

Even the recipe had transformed by then. The French experimented with whipped egg whites, lemon zest, cloves and even chocolate. Belgium came up with their own versions as well, which are popularly known as Liege and Brussels’ waffle – both of which use yeast for a softer and fluffier texture.

What is the difference between waffles and Belgian waffles?

Belgian waffles are known for their deep square pockets, which can accommodate large pools of syrup. These pockets can be easily filled with butter, jam, or maple syrup, or any topping of your choice. Regular waffles are thinner, and don’t often have the same yeasted batter as Belgian waffles.

A refined present

waffles

The modern-day waffle, was reintroduced during Expo 1958, but it only got popular across the world when the recipe was introduced in Expo 1962, which was held in Seattle, USA
Image Credit: Joseph Gonzalez/Unsplash.com

Waffles continued to be popular in the 19th century across Europe, however the British Atlantic naval blockade of 1806 had caused an inflation in sugar prices, so their demand died down eventually. Waffles were almost forgotten by the 20th century, so much so that there were only 29 professional waffle craftsmen who remained in Paris.

The Brussels waffle is lighter, but crispier. The easiest way to identify it from the Liege waffle is from the surface area of ​​the square pockets on the surface of the waffle.

– Chef Bart Thoelen

But before it was completely wiped out from memory and ancient recipe books, the Belgians decided to give it a new meaning at the World Expo of 1958, which was held at Brussels in Belgium. “The modern-day waffle that we all eat today, was actually reintroduced during Expo 1958, but it only got popular across the world when the recipe was introduced in Expo 1962, which was held in Seattle, USA,” explained Chef Bart Thoelen.

However, he adds, that every region in Belgium has a different version of waffle and it’s more of a street food snack than a restaurant meal. “The Brussels waffle is lighter, but crispier. The easiest way to identify it from the Liege waffle is from the surface area of ​​the square pockets on the surface of the waffle. In Belgium, some street vendors top the waffle with confectioner’s sugar, whipped cream and fruits.

“Liege waffles are richer, denser and chewier. So, we use pearl sugar, which is added on top of it. The sugar caramelises on top of the waffle and also uses ingredients like cinnamon and vanilla as well. But both these waffles, need to be eaten right after it is out of the waffle maker, and cannot be preserved for long.”

A flavorful future

waffles

Fried chicken on waffles? Why not!
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Today, waffles have grown in popularity the world over, especially in the UAE. While they do serve the traditional American and Belgian waffle in restaurants, some expatriates have taken the recipe up a notch by trying out different combinations with this beloved breakfast dish.

To be honest, while waffles with maple syrup is the classic combination, have you tried the same with chicken? UAE is known for great food always, so I was very happy to try this version out.

-Arsalan Hussain, 26

“To be honest, while waffles with maple syrup is the classic combination, have you tried the same with chicken? It’s quite tasty,” said 26-year-old Dubai-based Sri Lankan expatriate Arsalan Hussain, who works as a project coordinator for a marketing firm. “I actually really like it, it was introduced in the UAE while back but not everyone might like it. I used to add chutney on top of it also. It was amazing, nothing beats chutney. Plus, UAE is known for great food always, so I was very happy to try this version out.”

Fried chicken makes the meal extra crunchy, especially because waffles are quite soft inside with a crispy exterior. It’s a lazy brunch meal, and I make it quite often at home

– Nicole Pinto, 22

While this combination seems quite unusual for many, waffles with fried chicken is a combination that a few expats in the UAE have accepted. “I actually make waffles and pair it with chicken. I even have a recipe for it,” explained 22-year-old Dubai-based Indian expatriate Nicole Pinto, who works in a creative agency. “I like it because fried chicken makes the meal extra crunchy, especially because waffles are quite soft inside with a crispy exterior. It’s a lazy brunch meal, and I make it quite often at home.”

But while the combinations are endless for the waffle, Chef Bart Thoelen does have a few tips and tricks one must keep in mind while perfecting a waffle. “Your iron griddle is just as important as your recipe, so invest in a good quality iron griddle. Before pouring the batter, it is always better to grease the griddle with butter instead of oil – it adds more flavour.

waffles

Always work with good quality ingredients, and preferably with European pastry flour
Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels.com

“As for the ingredients, always follow the precisely recipe, do not stray away from it because it provides the right texture for your waffle; and always work with good quality ingredients, and preferably with European pastry flour.”

Now that you know your waffle a little better, it’s time to make them at home with these two recipes for classic Belgian waffles and fried chicken waffles.

Share your food stories and recipes with us on food@gulfnews.com

Leave a Comment