Wafers: Evolving Flavors and Formats

Wafers remain one of the most popular varieties of sweet biscuit eaten across the world. Their heritage dates back a few centuries at least, with accounts of their being eaten in parts of medieval Europe, such as France. Their main applications within the food industry are twofold – either as a carrier for ice cream, or as part of a sweet biscuit (typically sandwiched in multiple layers and filled with cream) eaten as a snack. 

by Jonathan Thomas

In the past, it was commonplace to eat ice cream between two wafer-style biscuits, until their dominant position was usurped by the cone – this was largely for reasons of speed, convenience and hygiene.

The manufacturing process for wafers sold in biscuit form typically starts with flour and water dispersions, which form a simple batter. Additional substances in the batter can include sugar, salt and sodium bicarbonate or yeast. The baking process incorporates wafer sheets, which are prepared between pairs of hinged, heated metal plates – these are used to create an intricate, waffle-style surface pattern. In biscuit applications, the sheets are subsequently sandwiched with either cream or caramel. For sandwiched wafers, the filling typically accounts for 70% of the overall weight, a figure that compares with 30% or less in sandwich cream biscuits. 

The market now encompasses a far broader range of wafers used in the manufacture of sweet biscuits. Hollow rolled wafers have grown in popularity within the last couple of decades throughout much of the world – these are made from batter containing a high sugar content, typically between 40% and 70%. A more recent area of growth has been that of Spanish cones, i.e. folded sugar cones, which feature a folded top rim. These have grown in popularity due to their attractive shape (which represents a point of difference compared with some of the more ordinary wafers), as well as their more premium bite. Although Spanish cones have traditionally been most popular with Latin American consumers, demand is now rising in other parts of the world. 

As the market for wafer biscuits has developed, production technology needed to evolve to cater towards manufacturing and customer needs. One company active in this sector is the Swiss-based multinational Bühler Group, whose Franz Haas SWAKT ovens are designed to produce hollow and flat wafers. One of its more recent innovations has been the SWAKT-Eco wafer baking oven, which is designed to reduce gas consumption and production costs. Its innovative burners and isolation of the baking zone enable noxious emissions to be reduced by up to 90%. 

Further innovations in production technology are likely to emerge over the next few years, enabling manufacturers to supply higher quality and more novel types of wafer biscuits, as well as reducing manufacturing costs. One example is the German-based enzyme designer SternEnzym, which develops customized concepts for manufacturers of wafer biscuits. SternEnzym, which forms part of the Stern-Wywiol Group, has recently added a new wafer pilot plant to complement its existing enzymatic solutions for improving wafer flours. “Around the world, the demand for individualized applications consulting is rising,” said Dr. Lutz Popper, SternEnzym’s Research & Development director. “Our pilot plant gives us the ideal environment on the production side, where we can mesh our raw materials expertise even more closely with technical processing aspects.”

Looking to the future, SternEnzym expects to witness greater demand for highly specific enzyme systems catering more specifically towards individual application areas and operational conditions. According to the company, targeted enzyme treatment of the flour can assist in solving many of the challenges posed during the manufacture of wafers. Amongst the benefits offered by its enzyme-related technologies are a more homogenous batter, a crispier texture, reduced risk of breakage and lower energy costs.

Enzymes can be applied to reduce the viscosity of the batter (and therefore lower the amount of water used during the baking process), which in turn will shorten kneading and baking times. With a lower water content, the less energy is required for vaporization purposes – this method has been shown to reduce energy costs by up to 15%. Additionally, one of the enzymes frequently applied by SternEnzym to wafer manufacture is asparaginase, which has been shown to reduce the acrylamide content of starchy fine baked foods. 

You can read the rest of this article in the January/February Issue of European Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here.

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