This time last year, I was frolicking (OK, well, no – I don’t actually frolic) around Brussels with a great group of girls. We took off for a weekend of rest, frivolity, food and shopping. I actually had the best time, even though I was pregnant, sick with a horrendous chest infection and couldn’t imbibe in Brussels’ famous beers. I swore I would go back, and I will – probably with my husband – sometime in the next few years.
Even though I couldn’t drink with the rest of my friends (save for one, who was as pregnant as I was at the time), bon vivant I am, I still over-indulged. Friends, being pregnant in Brussels isn’t so bad. Sure, you can’t drink the beer, but you’re surrounded ON ALL SIDES by waffles and chocolate. And, my personal favourite, speculoos!
I packed so much eating into those two days, I’m amazed they didn’t roll me off the plane when we got back to Dublin. Waffles three times a day were a must.
“Just plain, no toppings, please! I’ll take six to go.” Hot and fresh off the iron, biting into a doughy Liege waffle was like taking a bite into heaven. I never wanted to be far from those angelic delicacies.
Belgian frites were a must, at least twice a day. Triple fried in beef fat with a side of truffle mayo? Why not. I’M ON VACATION.
Moules-frites, fricadelle, chocolate (MOUNTAINS OF CHOCOLATE), nougat, pain au chocolat – I even over-indulged in some Turkish cheese pastries I found on our final morning. Everything was delicious. Drunk food and pregnant food are basically the same thing, and Belgians are really good at both drinking and creating drunk food.
Can I let you in on a secret? The absolute, VERY BEST THING I ate while in Brussels wasn’t Belgian; it was French – from Normandy, to be exact. It was a caramelized apple pancake at Chez Leon, an old-school restaurant best known for their moules-frites. I didn’t enjoy my moules-frites very much, but I would return to this restaurant just for the desserts.
It was perfect. Sweet, but not too sweet, cooked table-side by our very entertaining waiter, served hot with a dollop of vanilla ice cream melting over the top – it was just what I needed after a highly anticipated, then disappointing dinner. My friends ordered other desserts but nearly everyone ended up taking a bite (or two) of my pancake; it was just so scrummy.
Now, a year on, I’m just after turning 33. For my birthday I really wanted to replicate these flavours – my favourite flavours. I’m lucky to have an October birthday in Ireland – it’s peak apple season. Using tart cooking apples (like Bramleys) in this Gâteau Breton aux Pommes is a must, but equally important is the salted caramel sauce to drizzle over top.
This cake uses A LOT of butter and eggs, but no milk. The consistency post-bake is nearly custard-like, or that of a baked pudding. Your fork slides through the layers of sponge and apple with ease and the caramel adds the perfect amount of sweetness. I think this will be my birthday cake for years to come.
Recipe via Bon Appetit