The original Liers Vlaaike, which translates to "little pie from Lier," is a very small pie, measuring 5 to 6 cm in diameter, 3 cm in height and weighing 45 grams. Historically, water and flour would be mixed into a dough that was placed into round wooden molds to create a pie crust. This would be left to dry in the open air for a few days, depending on humidty and weather. Once dried, the crusts would be removed and filled with a syrup made from sugar along with milk, clove and rusks (sweetened biscuits). The pie would then be baked in an oven.
The use of the sugar syrup was directly linked to its production, which took place in Antwerp. Sugar cane used to be imported in the port of Antwerp, were sugar processing took place. The cheapest way to refine the imported (and often fermented) cane sugar was to dissolve it in boiling water. The obtained solution of sugar was purer, but had a shorter shelf life. In a further step, this sugar solution could be crystalized to last longer. However, this crystalized product was expensive and the poorer communities used the sugar syrup in many of their recipes as the sweetening element.
Today, the Lierse Vlaaikes are produced following a recipe that only differs slightly from the original one written above. The tiny measurements have stayed exactly the same, though butter is added to the basic dough of water and flour (to make it more workable) and metal tins are used instead of wooden molds. This piecrust is baked in the oven instead of letting it dry in open air, which makes it crispier. The filling still consists of milk, syrup, spices and breadcrumbs mixed with some flour (instead of rusks). In addition to cloves, cinnamon, coriander and nutmeg may also be used. The result is a combination of a crunchy crust with a sweet, soft and spicy filling. There are a variety of Belgian pies, but the Liers Vlaaike is truly unique since it doesn’t use any eggs or fruit (typical for the other pies) and because of its small size.
This pie is one of the oldest sweets from the province of Antwerp, dating back – according to some – to the early 18th century. The traditional recipe, on which the more modern version is based, was traced back to 1722 and written by Lodewijk Jozef van Kessel. An important writer and painter of Lier, Felix Timmermans, wrote in his book "Keersken in de lanteern" about this little sweet, mentioning that it could remain fresh for a very long time, but that it couldn’t be exposed to the sun – otherwise, the pie would dry out completely and become "as hard as reinforced concrete, not to be broken by the use of any hammer." The recipe used to differ amongst different bakers and producers, depending on the quantities and quality of the syrup of candy sugar, spices or milk. Now, the bakers that belong to the Order of the Liers Vlaaike have agreed upon the traditional recipe, which is kept behind closed doors in the town hall of Lier, and the pie can only be produced in this Flemish town.
By 2015, there were only six bakers still making this product commercially. Liers Vlaaike can be made at home, although it’s a labor-intensive and time-consuming recipe. Since 1999, bakers of the "Order of the Liers Vlaaike" have worked to promote and protect the original recipe. A decline in the number of artisanal bakers is due to the concurrence of supermarkets and industrial products, and is one of the main causes of the decrease in the number of producers making this traditional little Belgian sweet.