Sweet delicacies from Flanders

waffle ©Filip Van Belleghem
Name a typical Belgian dish. Fries? Correct! And now think ‘sweet’… A Belgian or Brussels waffle, served hot and sprinkled with icing sugar. Or try the traditional baked speculaas. This is a thin and very crunchy Flemish biscuit. In any case, anyone with a sweet tooth will be in heaven in Flanders.

Belgian waffles

A Belgian waffle, also known as a Brussels waffle, is a feathery-light yeast waffle that is wonderfully airy and crispy when freshly baked. It needs nothing more than icing sugar, but is also delicious with peaks of whipped cream.

Whereas in the Middle Ages, thin, crispy waffles were often baked, references to ‘Flemish waffles’ were found in cookbooks from the 18th century onwards. Typical of these waffles was the use of yeast (so that the waffles became light and airy) and the shape: rectangular, thick and with deep holes. Over time, the name Flemish waffles disappeared and the waffles were called ‘batter waffles’. That’s until a baker from Ghent started selling these waffles under the name ‘Brussels waffles’. The name took off, and in the cookbook of the Ghent chef Cauderlier a short while later we find the very first recipe for Brussels waffles.

The people of Flanders have been enthusiastically baking waffles since the Middle Ages. Paintings by Flemish Masters, including Pieter Bruegel the Elder, depict waffle irons held in the open fire to bake golden brown waffles during popular festivities such as carnival, Shrove Tuesday or fairs. Even the wealthy enjoyed a waffle. For example, the oldest known waffle irons of the Low Countries are decorated with the coat of arms of Burgundian dukes. On one of these waffle irons you will even find a drawing of the Mystic Lamb: baking waffles was also a typical activity to celebrate Easter at the time. When the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the 16th century, the beginning of the new year shifted from Easter to 1 January. The custom of baking waffles also moved with it: that’s why New Year is still a typical time for festive waffles!

Abroad, especially in America, the Brussels waffle became popular due to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. In the Belgian pavilion, restaurateur Maurice Vermersch sold light and airy Brussels waffles under the name ‘Bel-Gem Waffles’. They were served with whipped cream and strawberries, a combination that is still considered in America to be the typical topping for a Brussels waffle.




Speculaas (or is it speculoos, as the Larousse Gastronmique said in 1934?) is one of the most popular Flemish biscuits. There’s always a reason to dunk a speculaas in your coffee. The Lotus brand is one of the most popular. You will also find them coated in chocolate… a real Belgian treat! And then there’s La Maison Dandoy. This bakery sells the biscuit freshly baked with an earthy homemade flavour.

Speculaas is a biscuit full of herbs and spices. The spicy taste comes from pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, anise, coriander, allspice and clove, but there are also variations with mace and fenugreek. It is likely that for a long time here in these parts we baked speculaas with much fewer herbs than we are now used to; spices were exclusive and pricey, after all. It wasn’t until exotic herbs became affordable to everyday folk that our speculaas became as spicy as it is today. Some bakers now bake ‘blonde speculaas’ without speculaas spices: this lightly coloured biscuit gets its caramelised flavour from the candy sugar and is more popular with some than its spicy counterpart.

Speculaas is baked a little differently everywhere: the people of Limburg, for example, pride themselves on their Hasselt speculaas. This fluffy speculaas is baked in ‘chunks’ and is more subtly seasoned than the crispy speculaas found in the rest of Flanders. The inhabitants of Hasselt like to drink a glass of chilled jenever with their speculaas, enjoying two regional products at the same time.

The speculaas biscuit has a history that goes back centuries. In the early Middle Ages, sweet biscuits were baked in our part of the world that were seasoned with anise, to offer up to the gods. This pagan custom was usually practised around the winter solstice. The biscuits for this ancient ritual were adorned with animal scenes. When Christianity became widespread, the speculaas remained popular, but images of saints ended up on the biscuits. Later on, pictures of carnival or crafts were also used. The drawings were carved into wooden planks, often in hard fruitwood such as pear wood.

Did you know that ...
speculaas also had a romantic function in the Middle Ages?

A large speculaas figure served as an engagement ring! A young man would give a speculaas man (popularly called ‘a suitor’) to the girl who had taken his fancy. If she accepted the sweet gift, they would then marry.
If she was not interested in his speculaas, then he had no other option than to eat the biscuit himself to help him get over his heartbreak. 


Culinary treats and Belgian Beer

Love of food and flavour is in a Fleming’s blood, and good taste is rooted in our DNA. In Flanders, food lovers taste flavors and dishes they can't find anywhere else, thanks to the variety in local products. We are living the good life.

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