Brusselse Wafels & Gaufres à la Flamande
As I await the arrival of my new Brussels iron, I’ve been doing a ton of research into the history of that particular variety. What I’m finding is not just intriguing, but seems to be upending the history of the Brusselse Wafel. Let me explain…
The popular story is that Max Consael claimed to have invented them in 1839, yet didn’t sell them until 1856 — while Florian Dacher is said to have invented them by 1843 and began selling them immediately. Given that I’ve essentially proven Liège waffle history is a lie, I’ve long been suspicious of this Brussels waffle narrative. For anyone to have invented the waffle, they had to do 1 of 2 things: develop radically new ratios for the ingredients or create a new technical approach. Neither could have happened.
1. There’s noting particularly special about the ratios of ingredients; the Brussels waffle ratios of 1 part butter to 2 parts flour to 4 parts milk/water has precedent or near-precedent in numerous recipes, across Europe, prior to 1839.
2. Ale yeast was a long established ingredient for waffles, since at least the 16th century.
3. Whipped egg whites were a known technique for at least a century.
Even if I weren’t well aware of the above, I found a 1751 description of Gaufre à la Flamande (Flemish/Belgian waffles) that explicitly describes the Belgian penchant for beer yeast and whipped egg whites in their waffles — not just as a technique for a recipe but as the distinguishing element of the Belgian technique. The recipe cautions the baker to cook them slowly, as they are extremely thick (in size) and will only fully cook if given time; in fact, an ealier 1740 version of the recipe makes a point of calling out that these waffles can only be cooked in an iron designed expressly for these waffles. The 1751 recipe even goes so far as to suggest serving the waffles topped with fruit, as is customary today. For all intents and purposes, they are describing a Brussels waffle.
Perhaps Consael and Dacher developed a new iron for cooking a slight variant of extant recipes? No. Jan Brughuel the Elder’s 1693 painting of a waffle feast day clearly depicts a 5×4 grid waffle of a length and width commensurate with contemporary Brussels waffles; the waffle shown is marginally thinner, yet is significantly thicker than 16th century depictions. If Consael, Dacher or others crafted new iron for the Brussels waffle, it was only one that was slightly thicker. And I’ve found an 1827 reference to Flemish waffles that notes them as being particularly thick. So it’s clear Consael and Dacher weren’t serious innovators.
Now where does that leave us? Well, we can be sure of a few things…
1. Brussels waffles weren’t invented either by Consael or Dacher.
2. Irons capable of cooking the waffle to a near-correct size have existed since at least the late 17th century.
3. The underlying recipe for Brussels waffles dates from at least the mid-18th century.
Brussels waffles — both in terms of recipe used and general size of the final product — are likely an 18th century innovation. They’re almost certainly Flemish, given the numerous references to them historically as Flemish waffles — with no similar recipes existing in any country until the 19th century — and given that both supposed inventors popularized them in Brussels (despite one man being from Ghent and the other from Switzerland).
As I work on a final recipe or selection of recipes for the Brusselse Wafel, I’m going to be turning my attention to the mid-to-late 18th century, when I believe these waffles would have been refined to their near-current form. That means the waffles will have to be partially whole wheat, to approximate flour refinement capabilities of the day, and it may impact my use of milk, water and other liquids — whose use is very period-dependent. Using ale yeast and whipped egg whites is a given. All else will become clear, in time.