Waffle Wars: Michi versus Mink
Regular readers of this blog know that I have the slightest obsession with waffles- namely those sweet, chewy and dense Liège waffles. These waffles were originally served as street food (another one of my obsessions) in Belgium and I love the fact that these portable little treats have climbed the menu ranks to be considered a high end dish. Not to be confused with the rectangular-shaped Belgian waffles of similar texture, Liège waffles are also leavened with yeast but are much richer in flavour and texture and feature the unmistakable, sweet grittiness of caramelized pearl sugar throughout the entire waffle as well as coated on the outside and waffle edges.
I’ve been all over Vancouver sampling and indulging in waffles covered with whipped cream and fruit and I’ve decided to compare the waffles from two famous downtown cafes: Michi, a quaint and cozy Japanese coffee shop at the end of Robson Street and the chic and upscale Mink chocolate cafe near the high-end shopping district of Hastings and Granville. Both cafes offer great ambiance and excellent service, but are their waffles up to snuff? Read on and find out.
Michi offers a wide variety of waffles, everything from green tea flavoured waffles to chocolate. They also sell glazed waffles in chocolate and fruit flavours. I opted to order one of their ultra rich desserts though: the blueberry sundae waffle with massive dollops of whipped cream, a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled to the nines in chocolate syrup. The waffle was served on a plate mounding with so many different toppings that I couldn’t even see the waffle until I put a serious dent in the ice cream, whipped cream and ice cold blueberries. The blueberries, unsurprisingly, were frozen, some of the berries were still crunchy as they hadn’t thawed properly. The ice cream was amazing, I am a sucker for real vanilla ice cream, the kind that sports dots of real vanilla bean seeds throughout the cream. But I wasn’t there to sample ice cream, I was there for the waffles. And boy, was I disappointed. I managed to scrape all the sweet stuff off a corner of the waffle to try a bite of it, unadorned, naked and in all its glory. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much glory. The waffle was very stiff, a little dry in the center, and despite being smothered in ice cream, juicy blueberries, chocolate sauce and whipped cream, it didn’t absorb any sweet flavours or moisture from these toppings. This was a very bready waffle, a little bit like eating bread crust. It was definitely light though, like a slice of sandwich bread. And I’m not sure if the melting ice cream washed away all the pearl sugar, but I definitely didn’t taste any crunchy bits of caramelized sugar anywhere on this waffle.
My next stop, Mink. I often go to Mink for their amazing designer chocolates and their decadent hot chocolate- which literally tastes like they melted a whole milk chocolate bar and poured it into a cup. If you ever need a quick chocolate fix or if you just want to spoil yourself for the afternoon, visit Mink and order their milk hot chocolate. It’s like drinking a dream. But again, I wasn’t at Mink to sample hot chocolate, I was there for one thing and one thing only: waffles! Mink, like Michi also sells glazed waffles, covered in white, dark and milk chocolate. I opted to order ‘The Belgian Monkey,’ a waffle covered in sliced banana, whipped cream and drizzled in chocolate sauce.
Served on a stylish square plate and silver platter, Mink’s dessert waffle was just as pretty as Michi’s in presentation but the taste and texture were worlds apart. Mink’s waffle was naturally sweet, I took a bite, scraped free of whipped cream and sauce, and yes, the trademark gritty crunch of pearl sugar was there. I also loved that the waffle was chewy and dense in the center, contrasting the soft and sweet bananas and that glorious, fluffy whipped cream. I was literally combing my nearly empty plate at the end just to finish every last sweet crumb of this waffle. It was definitely what I was looking for- rich, crumbly texture, a deep, egg-like flavour reminiscent of brioche, and that distinct crunch of pearl sugar.
Inspired by my own quest for the perfect waffle, I decided to try my hand at making the perfect Liège waffles. I knew there was one key ingredient that would make or break the Liège waffle: pearl sugar. Just from its unique name, it’s obvious that this is a specialty item. There are two places in Vancouver that sell pearl sugar: The Gourmet Warehouse and The Dirty Apron Cooking School. The first one was closed for holidays, and the second one was out of stock. So on Christmas Eve, I was stuck racking my mind and making the best use of my culinary creativity to find a pearl sugar substitute. I came up with sugar cubes- smashed to pearl sized chunks with the end of my rolling pin. Lo and behold, it actually worked. Here’s my very own Liège waffle recipe with semi-crushed sugar cubes served with a generous pour of real Maple syrup:
Makes 10 to 12
1 package of active dry yeast (0.25 ounce)
1.5 tablespoon white sugar
3/4 cup of lukewarm milk
1 cup melted unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups pearl sugar (Lars Own brand) OR semi-crushed sugar cubes
- Sprinkle the yeast and white sugar over warm milk in a small bowl. The milk should be no more than 100 degrees F (40 degrees C). Let stand for 15 minutes until the yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam.
- Whisk the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract into the yeast mixture until evenly blended; set aside. Stir together the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until a soft dough forms. Cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place (80 to 95 degrees F (27 to 35 degrees C)) until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Gently mix in the pearl sugar or semi-crushed sugar cubes.
- Preheat a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Place a baseball-size ball of dough on the preheated waffle iron. Cook waffles until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough. Allow waffles to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.
Please take the time to vote for which one you like better: Michi or Mink or feel free to suggest some other delicious waffle joints!