The morning sun is reflected in the golden lettering of the long-established Confiserie Amrein. The famous Willisauer Ringli are produced in this pretty confectioner’s building in the middle of the old quarter of Willisau. That’s where this ever-popular biscuit was first produced commercially in 1850.
“We still use the same ingredients as back then: flour, sugar and honey,” explains Michael Renggli. Already a fourth-generation producer, he makes the biscuits according to the original recipe, which will soon be 170 years old. The typical lemony taste of the Ringlis is obtained from an essential oil extracted from lemon and orange peel. But the spices are a secret: “Only I know the blend,” says Renggli with a smile.
The wonderful smell of fresh baking hits you as soon as you enter the bakery. Michael Renggli puts the select ingredients into the kneading machine and turns it on. The humidity is high on this warm late summer’s day, which the experienced confectioner balances out with a little extra flour. The dough must always have the same consistency, explains Renggli: “If it’s too soft, the Ringlis don’t keep their shape; if it’s too hard, it’s impossible to work with.”
Meanwhile, Michael Renggli is back at work at the kneading machine. The dough flows out of a hopper through round apertures that lend the Ringlis their typical shape. A strand of wire cuts the dough tubes to the right size. The venerable machine rhythmically and reliably adds light-coloured dough rings to the baking trays – as it has for the past 90 years. Michael Renggli then sprays the Ringlis with water. “It’s to make sure the crystallisation of the sugar doesn’t get out of hand and to encourage the formation of the typical white dots and shine.” The trays used to be dipped in the town fountain, while later there was a fountain trough in the bakery itself. It’s not hard to sense the heart and soul with which his stories are imbued. The Ringlis spend 30 minutes in a convection oven heated to 180 degrees Celsius. A wonderfully spicy citrus fragrance slowly spreads throughout the bakery.
Willisauer Ringlis must be made in Willisau: that’s what a court of law determined in the 1940s. In the past, this traditional pastry was produced by numerous bakers, but now there are only a few who make it, Hug being the biggest. Renggli explains how he doesn’t see the well-known baked goods manufacturer as a competitor: “On the contrary, Hug is a stroke of luck for us.” Hug’s professional marketing helps spread the word about the Willisauer Ringli beyond the country’s borders. “That benefits us, too,” confirms Renggli: his business couldn’t survive from local trade alone. The Willisauer Ringli is a particular attraction for tourists from within Switzerland, with numerous coach tours stopping off at his shop. “I’ll never give it away,” declares Michael Renggli proudly, throwing me an impish sidelong glance.
Aside from the distinctive taste, the traditional biscuits have other characteristics: “They are a quick source of energy, can easily be carried around in your pocket and keep for a long time.” That’s why Confiserie Amrein has recently introduced the Ringli in a can reminiscent of an energy drink. Don’t try looking for flavour variations, though. “I’ll never change the Willisauer Ringli because then it would lose its uniqueness,” says the likeable confectioner firmly.
Renggli was always clear about what he would do when he grew up. “I virtually grew up in the bakery.” He still loves the creativity of his profession. But does he still like Ringlis? He nods and smiles broadly. The freshly baked biscuits cool slowly. I can’t hold out any longer. But before I can bite into one, Renggli shouts: “Wait! Do it like this!” He places a Ringli in the palm of his right hand and hits it exactly in the middle with his left elbow. The biscuit breaks into four pieces. “Now allow it to dissolve slowly on your tongue to let the flavour develop.” Not everyone knows this, he admits, which is why he gets the occasional complaint about the biscuit’s hardness. I try to do as he did. In vain: the Ringli stays in one piece. The melting-on-the-tongue part works well, though. These Ringlis are simply divine. So that’s why they’re so popular!