From the 13th century until 1840, only bakers in the city of Zürich had the right to craft this honey sweet. Pressed into molds, then baked in thin flats at high heat, the Tirggel is a delicacy meant to be savoured. A treasure from old when the rhythm of life was slower, the connoisseur of today knows to break off a piece, keep it on the tongue and allow the delicate honey and spice flavor to unfold slowly.
Honey, flour and a secret blend of spices are the main ingredients of Tirggel. Sugar – the high end “fine spice” of Asia and the Middle East – only became a bulk commodity between the 17th and 19th century. Tirggel were a means of communication as much as food. Imprinting the surface with love notes, family-, trade- or business coat-of-arms, biblical scenes and guild trades were favorite subjects. If you had a heavy money purse during the middle ages, you could get your own designs baked. Special city and landscape designs were popular gifts to loved ones in far away lands. To the present day, molds are hand carved in pear wood which is cured no less than 25 years to guarantee that the carved patterns remain stable.
Today, confectioner master Heinrich Honegger is the only remaining baker of traditional, hand-crafted Tirggel in Switzerland. In the quaint town of Wald outside Zürich, in a building that produced Tirggel for more than two hundred years, he crafts the sweet.
As I walk toward the bakery at 8:30 am on a frosty November morning, a strong waft of honey stops me in total surprise ten steps before I reach the bakery. I breathe in deeply. What a delicious smell, and so strong! Esther Honegger opens the door and ushers me through the retail store right into the warm bakery in the back where her husband Heinrich and two helpers are hard at work. Dressed all in white down to the shoes, they are busy rolling, pressing, baking and cutting the first Tirggel batches of the day. Five tons of Tirggel are produced this way every year !
The dough is prepared three days in advance and allowed to rest. I watch as the elastic, smooth clump is rolled out very thinly, then pressed into oiled molds, from which it is immediately and carefully peeled off again, now imprinted with the positive relief of the mold pattern. In trays of two, the Tirggel are closely monitored for up to ninety seconds while baking at 400 degrees Celsius of upper heat only. The sweet emerges golden-brown, its design distinctly raised on the surface, while the bottom remains a delicate white. As the hallmark of a good Tirggel is supposed to be, so when a light is shown against its underbelly, the full splendor of the design on the surface is revealed. Small works of art and every step made by hand!