By Suzanne Parker
Ask just about anyone who visited the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park what they remember eating, and you’ll get the same answer—Belgian waffles. This gussied up breakfast food was, indeed, the iconic comestible of the fest. But contrary to the commonly held belief of Queens loyalists, they were not invented for that event.
Waffle irons, that is, paired metal plates with depressions or engravings, filled with batter or dough, and cooked over fire have been around since the Iron Age. Thomas Jefferson returned to the United States from his position as minister to France with a pasta machine and a long-handled waffle iron that encloses the batter and gives the waffle crispness and shape. This begins the trend of “waffle frolics,” or waffle parties, where guests can enjoy their waffles sweet (with maple syrup or molasses) or savory (topped with kidney stew).
So-called Belgian Waffles (there are many styles eaten in Belgium) made their World’s Fair debut at Expo 58, the Brussels 1958 World’s Fair. They were made and sold by a man named Walter Cleyman, who dusted them with powdered sugar, and topped them with whipped cream and fresh fruit. In 1962 he brought his waffle-making operation to the Seattle World’s Fair.
Maurice Vermesch, another Belgian who may or may not also have had a Belgian Waffle concession at the Seattle fair, was the man behind the Belgian waffle craze at the 1964 fair. He originally called his waffles “Brussels Waffles.” When the name didn’t play with Americans, he renamed his business “Bel-Gem.” His waffles were such a sensation, that soon knock offs could be found at many food stands throughout the fair. Even the Lebanese pavilion had them listed right next to their falafels.
According to Queens resident Betty Goodfriend, who worked at the fair as a teenager, “The waffles suffered as they became more and more popular. In order to keep up with the demand, they sometimes didn’t cook them long enough, and the waffles consequently became soggy and doughy instead of light and crisp.”
Of the many types of waffles actually served in Belgium, the ones enjoyed at the fair were a hybrid of two. One is Brussels Waffles (Gaufre de Bruxelles), made from batter leavened with beaten eggs. The other, Liège Waffles (Gaufre liegeoise) made from yeast-leavened dough. This is the type served by the Wafels and Dinges food trucks seen around town.
Bel-Gem waffles, served at the Fair, were taller in height than American waffles and combined both the beaten-egg and yeast-leavening for their rise.
Meet the Waffle Slingers
Several women who worked the waffle concession will be on hand at Queens Taste 2014, Tuesday, April 29, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel. For info and tickets: www.itsinqueens.com/queenstaste/about/
See recipe below to try your hand at making your own Belgian Waffles.
This classic yeasted waffle recipe produces waffles that are wonderfully crisp outside, and creamy-smooth and moist inside. You can choose to prepare the batter for these waffles and cook it after an hour, or let the batter rest overnight in the fridge, where it develops some real depth of flavor, yeasty and rich.
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting.
1 Quart of fresh strawberries
4 cups whipped cream
1) Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, leaving room for expansion; the mixture will bubble and grow.
2) Stir to combine; it’s OK if the mixture isn’t perfectly smooth.
3) Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour; the mixture will begin to bubble. You can cook the waffles at this point, or refrigerate the batter overnight to cook waffles the next day.
4) Preheat your waffle iron. Spray with non-stick vegetable oil spray, and pour 2/3 to 3/4 cup batter (or the amount recommended by the manufacturer) onto the center of the iron. Close the lid and bake for the recommended amount of time, until the waffle is golden brown. It takes us 5 to 6 minutes, using our 7” Belgian-style (deep-pocket) waffle iron.
5) Serve immediately, or keep warm in a 200°F oven. Serve with berries and whipped cream, and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
Yield: about 4 Belgian-style (deep-pocket) 7” round waffles.
Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour