There’s no waffling about Belgium’s baking heritage: waffles have a special place in the country’s heart. In fact, the words “Belgium” and “waffle” are as synonymous as “France” and “baguette”.
But there is no one single Belgian waffle, according to Regula Ysewijn, author of Dark Rye and Honey Cake: Festival Baking from the Heart of the Low Countries, published in 2023. The cookbook highlights her homeland of Belgium, featuring 13 different waffle recipes because just like Belgian beers, which are each served in a unique glass, every Belgian waffle is distinct. They differ in ingredients, shape, texture and even when and how they’re eaten.
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“Belgium has more waffle recipes than any other country,” said Ysewijn, who does not have a favourite. “They all have their importance. Just naming one to represent Belgium would be simplifying my food culture.”
In her cookbook, Ysewijn includes the round, caramelised Liège waffle from the 18th Century – named after the Belgian city in which it was invented – which is now one of the most common in Belgium and the only one justified as street food. She also shares a recipe for the rectangular, crispy Flemish waffle from the 19th Century, known today as the Brussels waffle. (This popular waffle is dusted with icing sugar and topped with optional items such as whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate syrup, though Ysewijn finds anything but cream on top to be “an abomination” regarding Belgian culinary tradition.)
Over the centuries, several specialty waffles were invented as well, including brittle, thin and buttery lukken, which were common among nobility. Lukken contain more sugar than other types of waffles and since sugar was once costly, lukken were associated with celebrations and the holidays, especially New Year’s Day. “Sugar makes these waffles crisp, caramelised and long-lasting,” said Ysewijn.
No one knows exactly when the first waffle was invented, but Ysewijn notes the earliest known waffle iron in the Low Countries (this includes Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany) is displayed in the Gruuthusemuseum in Bruges, Belgium, and dates from between 1430 and 1450.
The first waffle recipes were recorded in books in the early 16th Century in the region of Belgium that is now Flanders. Chef Philippe Édouard Cauderlier, known as the “father of Belgian cuisine”, wrote the first cookbook with regional Belgian recipes, Het Spaarzame Keukenboek in 1861, which included Flemish and Brussels waffles. By this time, there were tearooms serving waffles in every Belgian town and it was a custom around New Year’s Day for families to go out for waffles, according to Ysewijn. Fancy waffle “palaces” (pop-up tearooms) also moved from town to town with fairs to serve waffles throughout the year.