Making Biber in Switzerland's Appenzell



We spent the first 2.5 days here in Switzerland exploring Appenzellerland close to the country's eastern border with Germany. The efficient and comfy train whisked us to Weissbad, a village surrounded by steep green pastures rising in every direction with majestic mountain ranges in the distance. Appenzell, the next town over, was filled with one-of-a-kind local craftspeople and artisan foods made uninterrupted for generations. Small shops, usually the sole province of fairy tales, are still alive and well here. And one of these shops we visited was a bakery that focuses on making only one sweet treat...the elaborately adorned Biber.

If I mention Biber, perhaps you can't immediately imagine what I'm talking about. But if I show you a picture of it, perhaps you have seen it before. It's an ornately decorated specialty dessert. Calling it a cookie simply doesn't do it justice because it's much more than that. Stamped and sometimes decorated with intricate designs, it's essentially two sheets of ginger bread containing a subtle blend of herbs that sandwich a layer of Marzipan, a type of almond paste. After spreading out the dough and Marzipan, poking it with holes to allow air to escape during the baking process, the newly formed Biber is then stamped with a wooden carving that usually has the imprint of a bear. After it is baked and wrapped, you can store it for up to 5 months. It actually tastes better if you can keep it for at least 1 month allowing ample time for the flavors to mix together and complement each other. This sweet treat is particularly popular at Christmas time.

Now you can get a sneak peak on how we prepared it. I did get to bring my creation home and yes I have been able to restrain myself from sampling it for the time being. My goal is to save it till December for my official taste test.
photo and video courtesy of Steve Mirsky