Comfits Part 2: Cooking

So far I’ve made two attempts at making caraway comfits, one a total disaster, the other a partial success. I  think I have worked out what went wrong so I will make one more attempt, but I won’t be able to do that for a while, so I thought I’d post my progress so far now.

Here’s the recipe I’m using. It’s from The Queen-like closet by Hannah Woolley (1670):

Take to every two pounds of Sugar one quarter of a pound of Spices or Seeds, or such like.

If it be Aniseeds, two pounds of Sugar to half a pound of Aniseeds, will be enough.

Melt your Sugar in this manner; put in three Pounds of sugar into the Bason, and one Pint of water, stir it well till it be wet, then melt it very well and boil it very softly until it will stream from the Ladle like Turpentine, and not drop, then let it seeth no more, but keep it upon warm Embers, that it may run from the Ladle upon the seeds.

Move the seeds in the hanging Bason so fast as you can or may, and with one hand, east on half a Ladle full at a time of the hot sugar, and rub the seeds with your other hand a pretty while, for that will make them take the sugar the better; and dry them well after every Coat.

Do thus at every Coat, not only in moving the Bason, but also with stirring of the Comfits with the one hand, and drying the same, in evrey hour you may make three pounds of Comfits; as the Comfits do increase in bigness, so you may take more Sugar in your Ladle to cast on:

Not having a hanging basin at my disposal, I went for a frying pan over a low heat. I first melted the sugar and water, as instructed. One jar of caraway seeds is approximately 38g, and the 2 pounds of sugar to ever quarter pound of seeds means that we need to have 8 times 40g (unless my maths is even worse than I think it is) – so we’re looking at 304g, or just 300g really unless you have very specific scales.

Once the sugar was melted I took it off the heat. It needed to be returned there a few times during the cooking as it started to solidify somewhat. I heated the caraway seeds in a frying pan on the lowest heat possible. I took about a third of a ladle-full of the sugar syrup and added it to the seeds, stirring it with a fish-slice type spatula.

This seemed to work well, when they were fully coated they were cool enough to touch so I started rubbing the sugar syrup in a bit. If you do this you MUST make sure that it is not too hot, that you have the pan on the lowest possible setting and that the sugar syrup has coated the seeds. Your lowest setting might be different to mine and it might not be cool enough, so BE VERY CAREFUL! I don’t want anybody burning themselves with molten sugar.

Anyway, after the syrup has been absorbed I dried the seeds off a bit, then added some more and repeated the process.

Things were going well. Unfortunately, this was about to change. On the next round of sugar syrup, I accidentally put too much in. You’ll be able to tell if this has happened when it doesn’t get absorbed right away. The drying took a lot longer, I couldn’t do any rubbing in, and the sugar began to crystalize on its own without attaching itself to the seeds.

I ended up with this:

Not exactly what I had in mind. And after such a promising start too! The “comfits” were all stuck together and not very well coated. Having said that, they did taste rather nice.

It was still better than my first attempt, where I stupidly added loads of the sugar syrup and had the heat far too high, and consequently ended up with a big sticky brown mess that was very difficult to clean out of the pan.

I think I’m going to have to make another attempt at this soon, and I’ll be trying the custards again too since they didn’t work too well either. Oh well, if at first you don’t succeed…!

Ps. I know this post is a little late – I was on holiday last week and didn’t get a chance to post before I went.

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2 Comments

Filed under Cooking

2 responses to “Comfits Part 2: Cooking

  1. Sally Templeman

    I think you are very brave to keep giving comfits a go – Plat’s recipe goes on for months. I wonder how many early modern housewives actually made these things, rather than buying them from the comfit maker. An hour’s worth of comfits wouldn’t have lasted very long at the rate they were consumed. Sally

    • The comfits I made last week certainly haven’t lasted long! They’re very moreish, a similar kind of thing to aniseed balls. I would think (and this is pure speculation) that average housewives didn’t usually make them on account of the equipment involved – they would have needed a big comfit pan suspended above the fire (pictures at this website – a great resource: http://www.historicfood.com/Comfits.htm). I guess it would be mainly comfit makers, or they might have been made in the kitchens at court or at country houses.

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