Have you ever tried a biscuit from Switzerland known as Tirggel? These biscuits come from a very specific region of the country and have existed for generations. Here are 10 facts about this Swiss holiday biscuit:
1. A thin honey biscuit – Tirggel are popular during the winter months, and particularly at Christmas. You will also see them during Sechseläuten, Zürich’s spring festival where the Böögg (it looks like a giant snowman) is burned to drive out winter and predict the weather for the upcoming summer.
2. Ingredients – A Tirggel biscuit typically contains the following ingredients, according to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse (Culinary Heritage of Switzerland): honey, flour, ground ginger, ground anise seeds, ground coriander seeds and rosewater. These biscuits have a firm texture and are baked to last.
3. The shape of Tirggel – Rectangles are a very common shape for these biscuits, but I have also seen hearts and circular shapes. The motifs often have a frame to them or a fluted edge, for example.
4. One of the oldest Swiss Christmas biscuits? – A 2018 article in Bellevue NZZ states that the word “Tirggel” dates back over 500 years. It used to refer more generally to Swiss Christmas biscuits. This apparently included the embossed Tirggel, as well as other types of sweet biscuits during the holiday season.
5. A tradition from Zürich – Tirggel originated in the city of Zürich during the 15th century. In 1840, bakers outside the city limits finally gained permission to produce these biscuits.
5. Wooden molds – Bakers have historically used wooden molds to imprint motifs on the surface of these biscuits. These intricate designs have included family crests, biblical scenes and symbols representing professional guilds. Some have even been used to convey messages of love, with phrases like, “Who gives you this, loves you dearly.”
6. A Tirggel revival – A 2017 article in Bellevue NZZ indicated that Tirggel fell out of fashion for a period of time during the 19th century, when other sweet treats, like chocolate and marzipan, became more popular. At one point, you could not find a bakery in Zürich that made these biscuits. This article credits the Tirggel revival, in part, to the efforts by St Jakob Stiftung to recreate these biscuits using traditional methods.
7. Lightly browned on top, white on the bottom – When baking Tirggel, the heat is generally applied from above, to give the motif a golden brown appearance, while the underside of the biscuit remains light.
9. Where to purchase them – You can purchase Tirggel at various retail stores in Zurich. Outside of the city, Suter in Schönenberg has been making them since 1840. I first discovered Suter biscuits in the basement of the Jelmoli department store.
10. Make them yourself – If you want to try making Tirggel yourself at home, the Swiss tourism office has published a recipe from Betty Bossi in English. If you cannot find a wooden mold, modern cookie stamps also work well, such as the ones made by Nordic Ware.