Belgian Chocolate… Sigh

Just photos for you today, folks.  I’m not cooking up an original recipe, because frankly it would be impossible to improve upon this.  Let’s take a few minutes to marvel at the decadence of Belgian chocolate, shall we?  Enjoy!

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Almost too pretty to eat!

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Giant Chocolate Meringues

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Meringues and Macaroons

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White Chocolate Biscotti

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Chocolate Bark

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Making Meringues

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Bite-Size Chocolate Cakes

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Goodies Galore!

 

Trappist Breweries in Belgium

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Beer flight at the Chimay visitor center and restaurant

What is a trappist brewery, you ask?  Trappist breweries are breweries which are tucked away in monasteries and produce high quality craft beers brewed by Trappists, also known as Cistercian monks.  Sales of these beers support the monasteries and missions of the monks who reside within them.  There are fewer than a dozen trappist breweries in the entire world, most of which (and the oldest of which) are in Belgium.

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Westvleteren Abbey

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Westvleteren Abbey

During our stay in Belgium, we had the pleasure of visiting trappist breweries in Chimay and Westvleteren.  You may be familiar with the Chimay label, as Chimay beers are widely exported and can be found in many US markets.  If you’ve never heard of Westvleteren, there’s a very good reason… the monks of Westvleteren do not sell their beer anywhere except at the monastery gates… it is one of the most rare and collectible beers in the world.

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The monks of Westvleteren sell a few cases of beer every day. You need an appointment to make a purchase. Don’t bother arriving early – you will be asked to wait!

In addition to sampling delicious trappist beers, we were able to sample products made from beer.  The tasting menus at both Chimay and Westvleteren offered excellent cheeses for sampling and also for bulk purchase.  Both locations also offered beer-laced desserts including ice creams and pies.  As you can see from the photos below, we sampled many items.  Each was more delicious than the last!

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Even if you don’t fancy yourself much of a beer aficionado, visiting at least one trappist brewery during a visit to Belgium is a must-do.  Enjoy this uniquely Belgian experience!

Belgian Waffles in Brussels

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Waffles in Brussels… affordable and delicious!

On a narrow, cobbled street just off of Grand’Place in Brussels lives a crowded, casual diner called The Waffle Factory.  Touristy? Absolutely.  Worth a stop? Absolutely!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the fact that two out of every three people who arrive in Brussels by plane seem to make their way to this diner, The Waffle Factory is both affordable and delicious.  For just a few Euro, my travel companions and I indulged in waffles bedecked with Chantilly crème, Nutella, and strawberries.  Beat that, American fast food!

Belgian-style waffles are surprisingly easy to make.  They freeze remarkably well when allowed to cool completely before being wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer.  To reheat and enjoy, simply pop them in your toaster.  Delicious!  I try to keep a few frozen waffles on hand at all times, for quick breakfasts and late night snacks.

The trick to making fluffy Belgian waffles is very simple – separate your eggs and beat the egg whites really, really well.  A simple hand mixer can handle that task, and waffle irons are cheap… what are you waiting for?

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Waffle Display in Grand’Place, Brussels

Ingredients (Makes 12- 14 waffles)

3 1/2 cups flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 whole eggs

3 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup applesauce (not chunky)

4 egg whites

2 teaspoons almond extract

WIN_20141022_173723Directions

Step 1) Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Step 2) Combine whole eggs, milk, oil, applesauce, and almond extract in a medium bowl.  Mix well, then add to large bowl with dry ingredients.  Whisk together until most of the lumps are gone, and batter is fairly smooth.

Step 3) In a scrupulously clean bowl, beat the 4 egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form when you lift the beaters out of the bowl.  This could take up to 5 minutes – be WIN_20141022_174218patient.

Step 4) Gently fold egg whites, a little at a time, into the flour and milk mixture.  Do not over-stir!  The resulting batter will look very lumpy (as shown to the left).  Don’t worry, that’s normal.  The lumps are from air in the egg whites, which will make your waffles extra fluffy!

Step 5) Cook waffles as directed for your particular waffle iron.  Brush your waffle iron with oil (use a pastry brush or a napkin dipped in vegetable oil and held with tongs – not your fingers!) before cooking each waffle.  My waffle iron has a little circle that lights up when the temperature is hot enough to add 1/2 cup of batter, and then the light goes off when the waffle is cooked.  Easy peasy.

Step 6) I recommend serving your waffles with chocolate hazelnut spread or with softened butter and a sprinkle of Speculaas seasoning.  Delicious!

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Homemade Belgian Waffles with Butter and Speculaas Seasoning

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread in Belgium

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Chocolate Hazelnut Spread is delicious on crepes and waffles!

Switzerland was awesome (really, really awesome), but it’s time to move onward.  This week, we’re exploring delicious treats in Belgium.  You won’t be disappointed!

Venturing into Belgium, I expected to find excellent beers, delicious cheeses, waffles, frites, and mussels… and I did.  [Stay tuned!]  What surprised me was the apparent Belgian obsession with chocolate hazelnut spread, most commonly known by the brand name “Nutella.”  In the US, most markets will stock just a few jars of Nutella somewhere near the rows and rows of peanut butter jars.  In Belgium, this trend is reversed.  Here’s an example:

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Those are full liter jars on the bottom shelf, folks! Belgians are SERIOUS about their Nutella!

I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that my travel companions and I developed something of a chocolate hazelnut “habit” while in Belgium.  It’s delicious, and pairs wonderfully with the ubiquitous Belgian Waffle (next post!).  Unfortunately, it’s pretty expensive back in the US.  Don’t worry… chocolate hazelnut spread is easy to make at home.  Here’s a simple recipe for you to try!

WIN_20141022_160629Ingredients (makes about 2 cups)

1 cup raw, shelled hazelnuts

12 oz bag of milk chocolate chips

1 oz dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

WIN_20141022_1609152 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Step 1) Toast hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring or WIN_20141022_162218shaking the pan constantly.

Step 2) Remove brown skins from hazelnuts by placing toasted nuts on an old towel.  Fold the towel so that the towel is both above and below the nuts, and rub your hands vigorously on the top of the towel.  The brown skins will slip off easily.

WIN_20141022_162653Step 3) Grind hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until smooth, like peanut butter.  Add coconut oil, powdered sugar, almond extract, and salt.  Blend well.

Step 4) Melt milk chocolate and dark chocolate in the microwave.  Simply place chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir, and microwave an additional 30 seconds.  Repeat as needed until chocolate is just melted, but do not overheat.

Step 5) Combine nut mixture with melted chocolate, and Voila! You are ready to enjoy a popular European indulgence.  Store in a covered glass jar at room temperature for one week (as if it will be around that long!).  If chocolate hazelnut spread becomes too solid to spread, just microwave it for a few seconds and give it a stir.

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Restaurants near Grand’Place, a breathtakingly beautiful square in Brussels, Belgium