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Wafers are thin, flat and crispy biscuits which are sweet in taste. They usually come in multiple layers, with cream or other filling in between. They are also used to decorate ice cream. They often come in a waffle surface pattern, or any other pattern, like that of the manufacturer’s logo, or no pattern at all. Chocolate bars may also contain wafers in them, for example, the popular Kit Kat chocolate.

History of Wafers

Wafers were produced in ancient times by baking between wafer irons. ‘Wafer irons’ was the term used for an instrument with a wooden handle and two metal plates, between which the dough was placed. The wafer iron was heated on fire to bake the dough, which then took the form of unleavened cakes. Wafers were sold by street vendors in the 14th century.

Types of Wafers

Wafers can be of different kinds, made with different types of grains, fillings and designs.

  • Communion wafers are eaten during Communion Services in the church. They are small, round flatbreads which are often starchy. ‘Host’ is the word used for the large wafer that is used by the clergy, while ‘communion wafer’ is the term for the smaller pieces that are distributed to the people who come to pray. These contain an image of the cross on them. Communion wafers are made of wheat flour. Use of plain wheat and water makes them not very attractive in terms of taste. Traditionally, there used to be an entire ritual around their production, right from the selection and washing of the wheat. Once properly washed and ground, only a baker sanctioned by the church could produce them in a ceremonially shielded iron plated oven.

  • Christmas wafers are unleavened variants which are baked at home with pure wheat and water. They are rectangular in shape and very thin. They have a cross, or other religious sign like the image of Virgin Mary with baby Jesus, or the star of Bethlehem embossed on them. They do not require sanctification from the church like the ones used for communion. As per some traditions, small pieces of Christmas wafer are broken and offered to family and friends along with a blessing. They revolve around the theme of reminding each other of the importance of Christmas, God and family.

  • Spa wafers are traditional variants from Karlovy Vary of the Czech Republic. They come in several flavors, such as vanilla, nut or chocolate. One can either buy them fresh from street vendors, or from grocery stores.

  • Neapolitan wafers are produced by the company Josef Manner & Comp AG, an Austrian conglomerate. They are sold in blocks of ten 47 x 17 x 17 mm wafers filled with hazelnut-cream. The hazelnuts were originally sourced from the Naples in Italy, hence the name. The basic recipe is still the same as it was when they started. A picture of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna serves as the company logo.

  • Horalky is a variant from Slovakia. It has a filling of peanut between layers of wafer, and is coated with cocoa. It is very popular in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The word Horalky comes from the flower "Horec” and the image of these flowers is there on the wrapper of the biscuit. It is available in peanut, chocolate and milk flavor. Peanut flavor is most popular.

  • Oblea is a variant from Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico, which is usually eaten as a dessert. It consists of two layers of wafer filled in between with milk caramel, jam or condensed and sweetened milk. They may also contain cheese, cream or fruit pieces. Freska is a variant from Egypt, which is sold on the beaches during summer. It consists of two layers of round shaped wafers, filled in between with a layer of honey syrup.

  • Nilla wafers are round in shape, and produced by the company Nabisco. Nilla is the short form for vanilla, and they are named so because they usually come in vanilla flavor. They are flavored with synthetic vanillin. They are eaten as a snack along with milk. Nilla wafers are also used as an ingredient in various homemade recipes like banana cream pie and banana pudding. At some time, a banana flavored variant was also offered. It is also used in icebox cake, which consists of cream and pudding filling between layers of Nilla wafer. For recipes that use crushed Nilla wafers, Nabisco offers Nilla branded pie crusts (to save the time spent in crushing the biscuits.)