Waffles are an old dish. As a a leavened batter or dough cooked between two plates, and patterned to give a characteristic size, shape and surface impression, it has existed in Europe at least since the 14th century. The first known waffle recipe written by an anonymous appeared in the manuscript Le Ménagier de Paris. The second known published recipe, Om ghode waffellen te backen appears in the Dutch KANTL 15 manuscript (ca. 1500–1560). For the first time, partial measurements are given, sugar is used, and spices are added directly to the batter. The recipe called Groote Wafelen was published in the Belgian Een Antwerps kookboek sometime in the 16 or 17th century. This is the first recipe to use leavening (beer yeast). King Francois I and his successor, King Charles IX, were examples of the popularity waffles have attained in France by the mid-16th century.
In the 17th century, unsweetened or honey-sweetened waffles were the type generally accessible to the average citizen. Sugar was prohibitively expensive and unaffordable for all but the nobility and the bourgeoisie. Even for the Dutch, who controlled much of the mid-century sugar trade, a kilogram of sugar (2.2 lbs) was worth half an ounce of silver, while, elsewhere in Europe, sugar fetched twice the price of opium. However, by the beginning of the 18th century, expansion of Caribbean plantations cut sugar prices in half, and Waffle recipes abounded and were becoming decadent in their use of sugar and other rare ingredients. For instance, Menon’s Nouveau Traité de la Cusine included a pound of sugar for a half a pound of flour.
Germany became a leader in the development and publication of waffle recipes during the 18th century, having introduced coffee waffles, the specific use of Hefeweizen beer yeast, cardamom, nutmeg, and a number of sugar waffles. At the same time, the French introduced whipped egg whites to waffles, along with lemon zests, Spanish wine, and cloves. Joseph Gillier even publishes the first chocolate waffle recipe, featuring three ounces of chocolate grated and mixed into the batter. A number of the 18th century waffle recipes took on names to designate their country or region/city of origin – Schwedische Waffeln, Gauffres à l’Allemande and Gauffres à la Flamande. The Gauffres à la Flamande (Flemish waffles) and Gaufres de Lille were the first French recipe to use beer yeast, but unlike the Dutch and German yeasted recipes that precede them, use only egg whites and over a pound of butter in each batch. They are also the oldest named recipe that survives in popular use to the present day. The 18th century is also the time the word “waffle” first appeared in the English language, in the 1725 printing of "Court Cookery" by Robert Smith. Recipes had begun to spread throughout England and America, though essentially all are patterned after established Dutch, Belgian, German, and French versions.
Waffle recipes became rare in recipe books by the early 20th century. Waffles were shifting from a predominately street-vendor-based product to an increasingly homemade product, aided by the introduction of the General Electric first electric commercial waffle maker in 1918. In North America by the mid 1930s, dry waffle mix had been marketed by a number of companies. In 1958, a Belgian restauranteur, Maurice Vermersch, showcased his version of the Brussels waffle at Expo 58 in Brussels. Following his success, he made plans to introduce them to America, but was beat to the U.S. by another salesman who sold his own Gaufres de Bruxelles with modest success at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. It was in 1964, however, when Maurice Vermersch finally debuted his “Bel-Gem” waffles at the 1964 New York World’s Fair that they took hold in the States. Originally intended as a marketing device, to work around Americans’ poor recognition of Brussels geographically, the “Bel-Gem” name stuck and quickly morphed into the distinctly American concept of the “Belgian waffle”. In practice, contemporary American “Belgian waffles” are actually a hybrid of pre-existing American waffle types and ingredients, together with some physical attributes of both Vermersch’s and true Brussels waffles.
In the 21st century, waffles continue to evolve. What began as flour and water heated between two iron plates are now popular the world over, produced in sweet and savory varieties, in myriad shapes and sizes. Even as most of the original recipes have faded from use, a number of the 18th and 19th century varieties can still be easily found throughout Northern Europe, where they were first developed.
Brussels Waffle (Gauffre de Bruxelles)
Liège Waffle (Gaufre de Liège)
See also this page and this page for regional waffle varieties such as Gaufre à l'ancienne, Gaufre de Herve, Gaufre légère à fourrer, Gaufrette Wallonne, etc.
Last updated: August 13, 2014