I was sitting on a flight on United Airlines the other day when the flight attendant passing out the snacks looked at me and asked, “salty or sweet?” I responded, “Sweet please!” and was handed a Daelmans Stroopwafel that was caramel flavored. As I took my first bite, I tasted the delicious caramel inside the two wafer cookies, and a smile formed across my face. Have you ever wondered where something so delicious may have come from?
These sweet wafers quickly traveled from churches, to spas, to being sold on a commercial level in the 19th century. As bakeries and factories grew, sweet wafers grew with them. They were given to spa guests because of being,“ perceived not only to be light but also the taste itself was thought to be revitalizing” making them the perfect snack for guests. The first large scale bakery opened in 1867 in the Czech Republic to satisfy the high demand for the treats. Kolonàda formerly known as the “Karl Bayer company” exported their wafers throughout Europe, then to Spain and Russia and became the official supplier for imperial courts in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Oplatky – Wafer Thin Spa Treats with a Rich History). With commercialization came new variations of the wafers. Originally filled with sugar, the wafers expanded in size, and contained new flavors like hazelnut, almonds, and eventually chocolate filled or chocolate flavored wafers appearing mainly in the 20th century. Karlovy was known for their wafers having a distinctive flavor because the dough was made with spring water and salt.
It is clear that sweet wafers recipes traveled down the continent of Europe. A 1809 Spanish to English dictionary lists a few words relating to the wafers that portray the continued commercialization of the light treats. For example, a “Suplicación” was defined as “… a sweet wafer rolled up, such as confectioners sell.” Next, “Suplicacionéro,” was defined as “one that makes or sells sweet wafers,” and lastly, “Barquíllos, large and sweet wafers to eat, rolled up” (Baretti, Giuseppe). Here, we also see that the wafers began to be rolled up, something that was not true of the circular wafers being produced in the czech Republic. While the literature about sweet wafers in Europe is rather extensive due to their importance in the culture, we know far less about when they became popular in America.
What we do know; However, is that sweet wafer recipes began appearing in American southern cookbooks around the 1850s. They usually gave multiple recipes displaying the variety of this common dessert. A cookbook called House and Home or the Carolina Housewife lists three variations of sweet wafers, the first stating:
Sweet Wafers No. 1. “A half pound of white sugar, (or brown) a half pound of wheat flour, a quarter of a pound of butter, eight eggs, four table-spoons of peach, or rose-water; beat the eggs very light, whites and yolks separately; rub the butter and sugar to a cream: add the eggs to it; then beat in the flour, essence, and a little powdered cinnamon and nutmeg. As soon as taken out of the iron, they must be rolled up.
These wafers do contrast the original wafers being produced in Karlovy Vary. For instance, the Karlovy Vary wafers were known for being made with spring water from the region while the wafers made in House and Home called for peach or rose-water to produce a sweeter taste. Both included flour and sugar, but Karlovy Vary wafers were usually imprinted with the words “Karlovarské Oplatky” on the outer ring and included designs that symbolized the city on the center such as a thermal spring or a deer. There other wafers recipes listed in House and Home continue to follow the more Americanized version of these wafers. Sweet Wafers, No. 2 lists,
“… a small tea-cup of cream, the same of sugar, a little citron minced very fine, a little rose-water, brandy, and cinnamon…” and Sweet Wafers No. 3 lists, “… half a pint of warm water, half a wine glass of rose-water, the same quantity of wine, and a little grated nutmeg…” (Russel). The first two recipes instruct you to roll the wafers immediately like a waffle cone while the last recipe which includes “half a pint of warm water” does not instruct you to roll the wafers up which resembles the style of the original wafers.
Similar to House and Home, Abby Fisher, a slave from the South Carolina, used her cooking skills to form a life for herself after being freed. Her cookbook, What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. published in 1881 includes a recipe for sweet wafers. Her recipe included, “One teacup each of butter and sugar creamed together, one grated orange, four eggs, one tablespoonful of cinnamon. Then roll out on a board and cut them out about the size of a biscuit, and roll again till thin as paper, and bake in a quick oven. Watch close while baking. You can roll them round on a fork handle while they’re warm if you like.” ( What Mrs. Fisher Knows). While Mrs. Fisher’s recipe followed more of this Americanized version of the treats, she also includes the importance of making the wafers thin continuing to follow the tradition of a lighter dessert.
Today, sweet wafers cookies have been commercialized into an abundance of different shapes, sizes, and flavors as companies try to keep up with demands of the modern consumer. There are about 502 Cookie and Wafer companies in the United States as of 2022 which shows that the popularity of the light treats has not faltered. The commercialization of these treats is part of the reason nostalgic consumers continue to purchase them, “According to research conducted on the global wafer biscuit market, the increasing focus on innovative packaging is one of the leading factors that have a positive impact on the growth of the market. Innovative and attractive packaging increases sales volume and attracts more customers” (BBM). The “positive growth” resulting from “innovative packaging” takes a modern twist on the Karlovy Vary wafers that included pictures of symbols of importance from their region on the wafers. This tradition of making wafers a comfort treat whenever it is through knowing they are made with local spring water, or remembering the elaborate packaging from your childhood as you pass the assortment of wafers in the grocery store, the treats continue to be a staple for countries throughout the world.
Ajansı, Newclick Dijital Reklam. “World Wafer Market.” Miller Magazine, BBM Magazine , 25
“Oplatky – Wafer Thin Spa Treats with a Rich History.” Radio Prague International, Czech
Radio, 8 Apr. 2021
Baretti, Giuseppe. A Dictionary, Spanish and English, and English and Spanish: Containing the
Signification of Words and Their Different Uses ; Together with the Terms of Arts, Sciences, and Trades …. United Kingdom: F. Wingrave, 1809. https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Dictionary_Spanish_and_English_and_Eng/2-AFAAAAQAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
House and Home: Or The Carolina Housewife. United States: J. Russell, 1855.
Fisher, Abby. What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves,
Etc. United States: Women’s Co-operative Printing Office, 1881. https://www.google.com/books/edition/What_Mrs_Fisher_Knows_about_Old_Southern/FwNBAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
Table Talk. United States: Arthur H. Crist Company, 1897.