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Five Belgian sweets everyone should know
When it comes to Belgium’s sweet side, there’s so much more to its culinary talents than pralines and waffles. In reality, nearly every Belgian region boasts its own local treat, each as full of flavour as it is rich in history.
So let’s indulge our sweet tooth and learn a little bit about Belgian history by having a look at the Bulletin's list of the best unique, timeless sugary treats.
Possibly the best-known non-chocolate Belgian sweet is this cone-shaped, purplish candy with a firm shell, which shoots a burst of syrup in your mouth when you bite into it. The flavour is referred to as raspberry, but in reality the cuberdon has a taste all its own.
Though the cuberdon is known as a traditional Ghent sweet, its origins are rather more muddled: In Flanders, the name is said to derive from kuper, meaning cone. It's also popularly referred to as a neuzeke (little nose) in Dutch-speaking Belgium.
On the French side, the candies are often called chapeau-de-curé or chapeau-de-prêtre (priest's hat), linking it to its supposed creation by a member of the Belgian clergy in the 19th century. Finally, it's sometimes referred to as cul de bourdon, or bumblebee’s bum, as it is likely to attract the insect if left unattended.
Cuberdons even made international headlines in 2014 when two competing vendors in the same Ghent square came to blows over who made the best cuberdons.
2. Liers vlaaike
Het Liers vlaaike, or “the tart from the city of Lier,” is a kind of cupcake made of candy syrup and four spices. The recipe is top secret, as is the baking method. The recipe, more than 300 years old, makes the vlaaike one of the oldest baked goods from Antwerp province.
As a story by 20th-century Lier-born writer Felix Timmermans goes, the vlaaike once served royal indulgences. About 120 years ago, a Lier baker by the name of Sooike van der Musschen was taking part in a trade exhibition visited by King Leopold II. While the exhibitors are usually forced to hang back as the king walks around the exhibition, the baker Sooike dared to press forward and present the king with a vlaaike.
The king tried it, liked it and asked what the ingredients were. Sooike replied, naturally: “It’s a secret.” The king is rumoured to have laughed and said, “Don’t worry, I shan’t go into competition with you.”
The King’s royal coat of arms would then appear weeks later above Sooike’s bakery, declaring him the "Fournisseur de la Cour" (Official supplier to the royal court).
3. Napoleon bonbon
From sweets fit for a king to those tasty enough to rule an empire, Napoleon bonbons are simple but delicious hard candies. The original flavour is lemon, with a sour lemon filling, but now there are a variety of flavours, including raspberry and liquorice.
Strangely enough, this imperial treat has no real ties to Mr Bonaparte: Its creator, Antwerp baker Louis Janssen, named the sweet Napoleon in 1912 simply to compete with a fellow baker’s chocolate truffles called “Caesars”.
The Napoleon sweets went on to outlive their Roman counterparts, becoming hugely popular among the citizens of Antwerp as well as throughout the Benelux.
4. Couques de Dinant
Don’t be put off by the hard crunchiness of these honey-based biscuits: Couques de Dinant (meaning pastry from Dinant), when savoured correctly, are seriously tasty and addictive.
According to legend, the small town of Dinant was under siege in 1466, and its starving people had only two ingredients to cook with: flour and honey. Making the best of what they had, they kneaded the two ingredients together and baked it.
Given its hard texture, legend has it that the residents even chucked their new culinary invention at the town’s enemies!
Whether this legend is true or not, Couques de Dinant are still made today using almost the same basic recipe and pressed into hand-carved wooden moulds with depictions of historic events.
If you want to give these honey biscuits a try, it's advisable to break them into pieces and allow them to melt in your mouth, or dunk them in hot tea or coffee.
The name of these toffee chews is said to derive from the Dutch words babbelen and uit, meaning 'chatting' and 'stop' - the idea being that once you stick one of these chewy sweets in your mouth, you'll be done talking for a bit.
The tube-shaped candies were first produced in 19th-century Heist by Rosalie Desmedt, who the French tourists dubbed Mother Babelutte.
Today babelutten are sold all along the Belgian coast in a chain of Moeder Babelutte shops. The shops and sweets are both instantly recognisable for their sailor blue-and-white packaging.