Karlovarské oplatky (Karlovy Vary wafers) are a traditional Czech confection. The first written record that mentions them is a 1788 guide entitled Karlsbad, Beschrieben zur Bequemlichkeit der hohen Gäste (“Description of the city of Karlovy Vary for the use of vacationers”). The wafers are prepared exclusively in the spa town of Karlovy Vary (formerly Carlsbad), in western Bohemia. The town was founded by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor in 1370, as part of a strategy to pay back the debts he owed to the princes who had helped elect him. Legend has it that, while hunting in the Bohemian forests, Charles IV saw a deer trapped, as if by a spell, in a thermal pool. Having discovered this amazing treasure, he built the spa town of Carlsbad, inaugurating the spa season and partly repaying his debts.
The production of the “spa wafers” most likely began in the late 18th century: In 1770, an unknown housewife served them to her guests with coffee. However, some sources claim that the wafer was already known in the 15th century.
The recipe for Karlovy Vary wafers calls for two very thin wafers to be moistened with thermal water (a crucial step that makes the product distinctive), heated, and then attached with an inner layer of hazelnut flour, sugar, and minced hazelnuts. Today, various other fillings are available, including cocoa powder, vanilla, and cinnamon. The wafers are stamped with relief drawings: A branch with small leaves runs around the outer edge in a band about 3 centimeters wide. In a smaller band inside the outer ring, the words “Karlovarské Oplatky” are written. At the center of the design are the symbols of the city: a thermal spring on one side and a deer on the other, in memory of Charles IV.
The classic shape of these wafers is a circle with a diameter of 19 centimeters, though today it is not uncommon to find triangular or square ones. Bakers started to sell them only in the second half of the 19th century: Betweem 1888 and 1904, the number of stores dedicated to these wafers grew from 9 to 22. After the Second World War, production declined drastically, so much so that, in the postwar period, Karlovy Vary wafers were marketed only by Orion, a state enterprise.