#HilaryRowland

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

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World-Class Dessert Artisans

Belgium is famous for its desserts. We go to know three of the most prominent purveyors of gourmet Belgian sweets:

Haute Chocolate

Belgium is most famous, above all, for their chocolate. The saying goes, “a balanced diet is chocolate in both hands”.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

Pierre Marcolini jewel box chocolates behind the counter

Pierre Marcolini, the first chocolatier who thought to mix unusual spices and flavors with chocolate, is one of only two true chocolatiers left in Belgium. What is a “true chocolatier”? I was wondering the same thing. A chocolatier, under the French definition, is an artisan small batch producer who creates chocolate confections using the chocolate which they made themselves. A company who is using couverture (high end cooking chocolate) to create confections, should, in the French language, be called a “confiseur”.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

We fell in love with Pierre Marcolini’s romantic and gourmet chocolate creations

Why does this matter? Well think of chocolate how you would think of wine. Wine is made from grapes, and the weather conditions, location of the vines, harvest time, soil and grape type all make a difference in how the wine tastes. Well, chocolate is basically the same, but with cocoa (/cacao) beans. So instead of buying pre-made chocolate, melting it and adding things to it, Pierre Marcolini is involved in the creation of the actual chocolate, from planting the seeds to harvesting the beans to actually making chocolate from them. And when you taste the dark chocolate he produces from various parts of the world, you’ll notice the difference.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

There are three golden keys to great chocolate:

  1. The type of cacao bean. 1% of the world’s production is crello, which is used to make Pierre Marcolini chocolates. They pay 8 times the price of market for their cocoa beans.
  2. The conditions the bean is grown in. The soil and growing conditions affect the taste greatly.
  3. The roasting process. Like roasting coffee, there is a science to roasting cacao beans.

Like wines, he produces limited edition chocolates (“Grand Cru de Propriété”), and on each box it specifies the farm, the area, the country, the bean type, and the percentage of cacao. Taste them for yourself.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

Gourmet Pastries

As the saying goes, to be a gourmet pastry chef, you must be an architect, and artist and a chemist in one. Pastries are considered to be the jewels of the gastronomic world. While in Brussels, we had the delicious opportunity to have Jean-Louis Barré show us around his gourmet patisserie. This is him:

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

He’s one of three owners (two Frenchmen and one Belgian) at hands-down the best and most famous bakery in Belgium, called Le Saint-Aulaye. And when I say this, I mean it. Whenever we mentioned that we were at a famous bakery, people would say “Oh! Was it Le Saint-Aulaye? You’re so lucky!!” Yeah, we were. We got to try some of their incredibly tasty organic desserts and breads, and talked to Jean-Louis about the bakery, and why it stands out from the crowd.

Urbanette Magazine: What makes the pastries at Le Saint Aulaye stand out as memorable?

Jean-Louis Barré: We really love our cakes, and we eat them every day, so we only make the highest quality. In Brussels you have two big companies that supply bread, and it’s very low quality. This is why, now, there are small bakeries popping up that keep the quality high and, consequently, are becoming quite successful. Also, my partners spent age 16 to 24 traveling the world and learning about gourmet baking. We have all been baking our whole lives, and feel as though we were born for this.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

Pastries at Le Saint-Aulaye

Urbanette: How does your process make your pastries unique?

Jean-Louis: If a recipe is too simple, we don’t want to do it! For every kilo or wheat, we put in a kilo of butter. It’s expensive, but that’s what gives our pastries that softness. If you buy pastries that are 10% less expensive, you’ll find they’ll be 80% less quality, and three days later that croissant will be so hard that you could kill someone by beating them with it! (laughing)  The expression we use is “C’est une tuerie”, it means “it’ll kill you”.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

Urbanette: How can a customer tell if a pastry is quality or not?

Jean-Louis: You can tell if a pastry is made with pure butter if it’s browned on the outside. If a pastry is made with margarine instead of butter, it will be yellow.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

Waffles and Speculoos

If you’re looking for grab-and-go sweets, Maison Dandoy is the place to get them. The most famous cookie-maker and waffle-maker in Belgium since 1829, Dandoy boutiques are sprinkled around the country.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

The interior of a Dandoy boutique

Although you can also find them in Galleries Lafayette in Paris, Harvey Nichols in London, and Bergdorf Goodman in NYC, 80% of their sales are in Belgium. Nothing in their 3.5-million-euro factory (with an incredible 100% employee retention rate) is automated — everything is still done traditionally, by hand, even the packing.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

Checking out their hand-carved moulds in the factory

They’re a 6th generation Belgian-family-run business whose famous “Speculoos” cookies are made of cloves, cinnamon, and 86% fatty butter (the highest quality of butter available). The ingredients are simple (nothing artificial) and come from local organic farms. If I had to compare a speculoos cookie to something, I’d say they are vaguely reminiscent of gingerbread cookies, but with a unique flavor all their own. The batter is hand-poured into hand-carved wooden moulds so that the cookies (which come in very large sizes up to 4 or so feet tall) take on the shape of an old mad or a windmill, or whatever the mould is of. Dandoy is planning on opening a museum to showcase these valuable moulds, as they have the largest collection in the world.

A Foodie’s Tour of Belgium

The famous speculoos cookies, which I now legitimately crave

In Belgium, the tradition is that if you were a good kid, St. Nicolas (Santa) would bring you speculoos. It wasn’t Christmas, but it felt like it when we got to try them right out of the oven. Dandoy sent us home with several boxes and they were all eaten by the time our plane landed. Bon appétit!

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A writer, artist and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary spends most of her time in France, but still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC and has traveled extensively around the world, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

21 Comments

  1. Cody Pierce

    Nice photos! Makes me wish I was there right now…

  2. Naomi Linsei

    Wow!! That hotel is super luxurious. I just can’t wait till I get there as well. Thanks Hilary for sharing it.

  3. Hannah S

    OMG OMG OMG that hotel looks aaaamaaazingggg! I’m totally going to visit Namur with by boyfriend this summer. It looks sooooo super cute and romantic! I’m so excited. 🙂 I always find the best tips here!

  4. Meghan Cole

    GORGEOUS photos, Hilary! NEST looks super luxurious. I wish I could make my apartment look like that. Stunning. I’m going to book a trip there ASAP. Too pretty (and the food looks too good) not to.

  5. Absolutely breathtaking! I love the photos you took! I’m going to book this hotel with the guy I’m seeing — looks so super romantic… I also love all the detail you gave about not only Belgium, but the places you went. Like many others, I’m sure, I had no idea that Belgium was so gorgeous and interesting…

  6. Delit L'Angelier

    I had no idea Belgium was so incredible. I’ll add it to my bucket list!

  7. Henry Williams

    Wow!! What an amazing places!!!! I am going crazy to be there 😉

  8. Francis Woods

    Amazing trip, Hilary!!! 😀 And as always, I learn so many things just from reading your articles.

  9. Linda

    Hilary, an amazing informative and enticing article with very professional photos.
    If the reader hadn’t planned on visiting Belgium after reading your experience they certainly would put it on their list. All the Best to You in Your World Traveling!

  10. Chloe Miller

    This is exactly what I’m looking for in a travel article! I really felt like I just had an exciting and fascinating trip to Belgium! Keep them coming 🙂

    • Francis Woods

      I like how Hilary shares her experiences as they are, no sugarcoating! And also, I like how she always gives us additional information. Amazing, as always.

  11. Trish Potter

    Absolutely FABULOUS travel article on Belgium! I had no idea that Smurfs and “french fries” or the world’s first shopping mall originated in Belgium! I love that Hilary includes so many photos, it really gives the reader a sense of what it’s like there, especially all the photos of the NE5T Hotel where she stayed, it looks beyond cool and luxurious, I’d love to stay there. And to have a Michelin-starred chef at a tiny luxe hotel, wow!

    • Francis Woods

      That hotel is FAAAAAB. I just can’t wait til I get there as well!!!

  12. Ansley Barrington

    Hilarious photos! Belgium is and will always be “chocoholics” dream destination 🙂

  13. Wow, I had no idea Belgium was so dynamic. Would have never thought to travel there. Might have to check it out next summer : )

  14. Sarah Woodstock

    I definitely will try NE5T Hotel and Spa on my next visit to Belgium! I just got excited on trying out “warm” spa water while drinking champagne…

  15. Hilary — those photos are absolutely gorgeous. I love that you included yourself in them too. Really spectacular trip. I had no idea Belgium was so interesting and luxurious. I’m going to book a trip there ASAP. I can’t wait to experience Nest in person. That spa – wow!

  16. OMG that looks like an INSANELY AMAZING trip! Holy jealous!!! Wow. I just added NE5T to my hotel Bucket List.

  17. Courtney Watson

    Thanks for the history lessons 🙂 This article is really informative and I love it! I really didn’t know “french fries” was invented in Belgium! LOL

    • Francis Woods

      I’ve always thought french fries was an American invention. Thanks really for this informative article, Hilary 😀

  18. Sandra Brown

    Wonderful photos! I have a feeling that you enjoyed yourself 🙂 I would love to try homegrown Belgian artisanal beers!

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