Better than Belgian

For me, a hot crispy Belgian waffle topped with fresh strawberries and dollops of whipped cream takes me back to happy memories of walking through the streets of Brussels with a sweet treat in my hands.

For me, a hot crispy Belgian waffle topped with fresh strawberries and dollops of whipped cream takes me back to happy memories of walking through the streets of Brussels with a sweet treat in my hands.

However after a recent to trip to Las Vegas, I discovered this crispy cake can take on a whole new form.

A 10-minute drive away from the busy strip, I found Las Vegas’ hidden gem …The Waffles Café. Owned by Joosup Kim, Waffles Café features a menu totally devoted to waffles. Besides the traditional toppings of fruit, whipped cream, and ice cream, waffles come disguised as pizzas and sandwiches!

Ever had a BLT waffle sandwich? Or how about a Hawaiian waffle pizza? No joking! In this hidden corner of Vegas, waffles are topped with pizza toppings or wrapped as lunch fares like turkey or tuna salad sandwich!

Kim was looking for his own niche in the Vegas dining scene. “I noticed that in 2008 in Las Vegas, the lunch and the dinner dining scene was down, but people were still going out for breakfast,” explains Kim. So he and his girlfriend decided to take the family waffle recipe and the Waffles Café was born.

It began with customers building their own waffle by choosing toppings with breakfast sides like bacon, sausage and eggs .

“Waffles topped with fruit and whipped cream was still the number one customer choice, “ says Kim. But offering the waffle bowl with savoury potatoes, bacon and eggs began to appeal to his whimsical customers.

People liked this because, “ not only did it appeased their savoury craving but it satisfied the sweet tooth. “ Once you eat your bacon, eggs and potatoes, you simply break up the waffle bowl and dip the pieces into the sweet secret sauce provided on the side.

However, a business cannot survive on breakfast alone. How could a waffle, a traditional breakfast offering, infiltrate other meal times like lunch or dinner? Watching how “yogurtieras” began to emerge because people’s desire to add different toppings to their yogurt, Kim wondered, “why not the waffle?”

Thinking outside the “indented circle,” Kim started including, turkey, tuna, pepperoni and ham as toppings.

Before you wonder at Kim’s topping selections, know that the beginning of the waffle was savoury in nature. The ancient Greeks ate their flat cakes, called obleios or wafers, that were cooked between two hot metal plates flavoured with cheeses and herbs. In that sense, perhaps Kim has reconnected the waffle back with its savoury roots.

The sandwich is a large waffle folded in half that is stuffed with a choice of meat, fresh greens, and a clear and a delicious secret sauce. The sandwich is wrapped in paper and served with a side of ridged potato chips.

The waffle pizza offers a selection of meat and vegetable toppings covered in mozzarella and cheddar cheese. For my kids who are used to the sweet variety oozing with syrup and piled high with fresh fruit, they rated these waffles a definite four thumbs up!

If opening up his second Waffle Café in less than two years in any indication, Waffle-mania in Las Vegas is starting to spread.

Kim is continuing to look for more ways to enjoy this versatile food and after my visit, I’m envisioning waffle tacos, Chicken à la King waffle, and some thick creamy chicken soup poured over waffle. Yum!

Check out Kim’s menu at http://www.wafflescafe.com.

Some facts to waffle over

• The ancestor of the waffle emerges as the rustic hotcake made of cereal pulps, cooked on heated stones. There was no syrup, no whipped cream and no chocolate sauce. In my opinion, these were real harsh times.

• In medieval Europe, vendors were permitted to sell their waffles outside of churches on saints’ days and during other special religious celebrations. Competition at the churches eventually became very heated, and at times so violent, that King Charles IX of France imposed a regulation on waffle sales, requiring vendors to maintain a distance of at least 12 feet from one another.

• Belgian Waffles debut at the New York World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens. Maurice Vermersch sells his wife’s recipe for Brussels waffles — fluffy yeast waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. Realizing when the Fair opened that most Americans did not know where Brussels was, he changed the name to Belgian waffles.

• The big breakthrough for the characteristic indent occurred by accident, in a small restaurant in London. A cook was making “pan cakes” for one customer, and steak and eggs for another. As the “pan cake” cooked on the grill, the cook was pounding on the steak with a meat tenderizer.

His wife called out to him, and he looked away briefly, continuing to pound on the grill. When he looked back, he found his aim had shifted, and he had been pounding on the “pan cake”, which now had many small indentations in it. At first, the cook was angry, thinking he had ruined the “pan cake”; but as he looked closer, he realized that the indentations could hold syrup or melted butter far better.

Such is the path of progress.

Belgian Waffles

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm milk

3 egg yolks

2 3/4 cups warm milk

3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

3 egg whites

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm milk. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the warm milk and the melted butter. Stir in the yeast mixture, sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in the remaining 2 1/2 cups milk alternately with the flour, ending with the flour. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks; fold into the batter. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. (Or you can let rise in the fridge if you want to enjoy your waffles in the morning.)

Preheat the waffle iron. Brush with oil and spoon about 1/2 cup (or as recommended by manufacturer) onto center of iron. Close the lid and bake until it stops steaming and the waffle is golden brown. Serve immediately or keep warm in 200 degree oven.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.

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