Tag Archives: candying

Comfits and custards revisited – recipes

I’ve finally had a second attempt at the custards, and a third attempt at the comfits. Happily, this time both worked very well indeed.

I’ll start with the custard first. You can find the early modern recipe and my initial attempt here. For some background on custards, see this post.

Custard tart

400g plain flour

4 eggs, plus 2 more yolks

75g butter, room temperature

2 tbsp sugar

Few drops rosewater

300ml double cream

4tbsp sugar

Generous pinch each ground mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves

Small pinch salt

Caraway comfits

A few dates

Preheat the oven to 150c. Mix the flour with two beaten eggs until a dough is formed. If it’s too dry you can add a little water. Take some of the dough, about a fifth, and roll it out as thinly as you can. If you end up with holes, it’s not too much of a problem as you’ll be layering it up. Spread some of the butter on the pastry, then roll out another piece, put it on top and spread more butter. Continue until all of the pastry is layered up, don’t butter the last piece. Roll out the layered pastry again, then use to line the greased tin. Mix the sugar and rosewater with 1tbsp water, then sprinkle over the pastry case. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes.

While the pastry case is baking, whisk the remaining eggs and yolks with the cream, spices and 2 tbsp of sugar. Remove the pastry from the oven and scatter the remaining sugar and the currents over the base of the pastry case. Pour the egg and cream mixture into the case. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes, until the custard is set. When the custard is cool, scatter over caraway comfits (see recipe below) and stick in some dates.

Caraway comfits

For the background on comfits, see this post. You will find the recipe and first attempt here.

38g caraway seeds (this is the usual amount you get in a small jar)

300g caster sugar

Heat the sugar with 100ml water over a low heat until the sugar is melted and the syrup is bubbling. Let it bubble for a few minutes, stirring all the time, then turn the heat right down as low as you can get it. You need to keep the mixture warm so it stays liquid, but if it’s overheating ad starting to boil you can take it off the heat for a few minutes. Once you have your warm sugar syrup ready, warm a frying pan over a very low heat and add the caraway seeds. Add a very small amount of the syrup – DO NOT add too much the comfits won’t work – see the first attempt post for an example of it going wrong! You probably want only about a tablespoon of liquid, it’s important to make sure that you only add enough to dampen the seeds slightly.

Stir them round with a metal spatula until the liquid is absorbed and the seeds are dry. They look a little bit white, getting more so with each coating. When the seeds are dry, add another small amount of liquid. Repeat this process until all the liquid is done – you will need to apply many coats. Don’t be tempted to rush by adding too much liquid or by turning up the heat, or you’ll ruin them. Once they are done, cool, then store in an airtight jar.

I would recommend trying both of these recipes, they both came out rather tasty. The comfits were particularly nice, you can keep them in a cupboard for a while and use them in biscuits and the like, they would also be nice sprinkled on cereal. They are quite easy to make, as long as you are careful not to use too much heat or liquid.

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Candied Fruit Part 2: Cooking… but no recipe

I made two attempts at candied fruit and, truthfully speaking, neither one was what you would call a complete success. Consequently, I will not be posting a recipe this time, the fruits were edible, but not as candied as they should have been. I will try to revisit this in the future using different recipes and/or fruit. I think the problem is that the final stage in most candying recipes involves drying the fruit for a long time – sometimes days – in a warm, dry, “blood-warm” (lovely phrase!) oven. I tried leaving my oven on a low heat for as long as possible, but I wasn’t about to leave it on overnight. An Aga would probably do the job perfectly, but I don’t have one of those. There are other methods to try that involve long soaking in syrups, I’ll probably try that in the future. There are some other things I want to try first though.

Anyway, here’s what happened when I tried to make candied pears and plums….

I took both of the recipes from A true gentlewomans delight Wherein is contained all manner of cookery: together with preserving, conserving, drying and candying by Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent. Here they are in full:

To Candie Apricocks.

Take your Apricocks the fairest and scald them, and pill them, between two clothes crush the water softly out of them as dry as you can without too much flatting them then take of searced sugar almost as much as they weigh, and boil it altogether to a Candie height, then take it off the fire, and lay the Apricocks in it one by one, with a feather annoint them over, then set them on a chafing-dish of coales, and let them be through cooked but not boil, then take them off the fire, and set it in a stone or bloud-warm oven, and twice a day set them on a fire, and turn them once at every heating, annointing them with a feather, and the same syrup every time you take them off the fire, this doe untill you see the syrrup begin to sparkle, and full of eyes, then take them out of the syrup, and lay them on glasse plates, and dry them in a stove or oven· turning them a day or two till they be dry, white Pear plums may be done thus.  

To candie Peares, Plums, or Apricocks, that shall look as clear as Amber.

Take your Apricocks and Plums, and give every one a cut to the stone in the notch, and then cast Sugar on them, and bake them in an Oven as hot as for Manchet close stopped, bake them in an earthen psatter, let them stand half an hour· then take them out of the dish, and lay them one by one upon glasse plates, and so dry them, if you can get glasses made like Marmalet boxes to layover them they will be sooner candied, this is the manner to candie any such fruit.

Given the seasonal lack of apricots, I attempted the first recipe using plums. Things went fairly well at first. I blanched the plums, pealed off their skins and put them in a colander to drain some of their liquid away. I tried lightly crushing them but they were quite soft and I didn’t want them to turn to mush.

I weighed the plums and then measured out the same weight of sugar and added a little of the cooking liquid to it. I boiled it and used a sugar thermometer to heat it to a caramel (aka the hard crack stage). I poured this caramel over the plums and warmed them through in a saucepan. Then I heated them through in a low oven for a few hours, before heating them through on the stove again. This was about as far as I got however, after a day of cooking in this way they didn’t look very “full of eyes” or sparkly. They tasted quite nice, and would probably do as a pudding, but I couldn’t say they were near to being candied. Not having anywhere warm to keep them overnight, I decided to abandoned them and move onto the next experiment.

The pear candying was a little more successful, but still not spot on.

I pealed them and covered them with sugar, and then baked them for an hour in a medium-hot oven, about 200 c.

Again, I tried to dry them in a very low oven for a few hours. The pears reduced in size and gave up a lot of liquid, I then rolled them in some granulated sugar. They were not quite as “candied” as they should be, they were still a little juicy and not really dry enough.

So, a not entirely successful adventure in candying, but I will not give up! I will return to candied fruits, but next time I’ll be doing something special for Valentine’s Day.

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Candied Fruits: Part 1

I’m currently doing some work on the use of food on the early modern stage. My whole project is in fact about early modern consumption and performance, but this first chapter is specifically focussed on the actual presence of foodstuffs on the stage. I’ve been thinking about the practicalities of eating on stage – would real foods be used and eaten? Well, that remains to be seen, it’s early days in my research, but it did make me wonder if candied fruits might have been used on stage in place of fresh ones, as they would last longer. I’ve recently discovered that at least one study has touched on this – Banquets Set Forth by Chris Meads (2001, Manchester University Press) has a chapter on the stage presentation of foods, and Meads quotes entries from the Court of Revels accounts showing that some preserved foods were indeed purchased, presumably for use performance.

So, I thought that a nice little side project would be experimenting with candied fruit recipes. I’ll be using two recipes from A true gentlewomans delight Wherein is contained all manner of cookery: together with preserving, conserving, drying and candying by Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent. The first, slightly more complicated recipe is entitled “To Candy Apricocks”, although since I couldn’t get apricots in November I’ll be using plums (the recipe suggests these as an alternative). The second recipe is “To candie Peares, Plums, or Apricocks, that shall look as clear as Amber.” I love the simile there! Since I’ll be using plums for the other recipe, I’ll be using pears.

Anyway, it’s not really the fruit that’s important here, it’s the idea of candying. Let’s delve a little deeper into the literary background of candy and candying.

First to the OED, as usual, for a few fascinating facts:

Candy as a verb is defined as “To preserve (fruits, etc.) by boiling with sugar, which crystallizes and forms a crust; to coat or incrust with sugar”. The OED gives the etymology as a straightforward borrowing from the French candir and the Italian candire, both having the same meaning as the English word. It also lists the earliest appearance of “candy” as a verb as Thomas Elyot’s 1541 diet regimen Castel of Health. Elyot refers to “Gynger condite, the whiche we do call grene gynger, specyallye candyd with sugar” as a remedy for excess phlegm (“fleume”).

There are earlier appearances of candy as a noun, however, a quick rummage around on EEBO reveals a mention of “a dramme of suger-candy” in an anonymous 1526 medicine book  called Treasure of Pore Men, and the OED lists a reference as early as 1475.

As can be seen from Elyot and from the Treasure of Pore Men, candy is one of that vast number of foodstuffs that was often considered medicinal. These days, we still use some sweets for certain medicinal purposes – think of Fisherman’s Friends, or Strepsils (my personal favourite).

But what of candy in literature? A pair of turn-of-the-16th-century examples, both suggesting a link between food, speech and language, are Jonson’s “I would thou hadst some Sugar Candyed, to Sweeten thy Mouth” (The Fountain of Self-Love or Cynthia’s Revels, 1601) and Shakespeare’s “Let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp” (Hamlet). Both of these quotes raise some interesting points about the dual function mouth, drawing a parallel between the mouth/tongue as a literal consumer of food, and as a transmitter of speech. On another level it is interesting to consider whether either or both of these writers are asking us to consider that the function of candying is to create something artificial. The “candied tongue” is flattering the “absurd pomp”, a phrase which in itself suggests artifice. Indeed, to return to the name of the recipe in question, the plums, apricots and pears are to be candied so that they resemble something else (see the marchpane entry for more discussion of artifice in food).

The negative connotations are not present in Aphra Behn’s (much later) preface to The Dutch Lover (1673), which addresses the “Good, sweet, honey, sugar, candied Reader” –  ignoring the association with falseness and placing candy on a par with the more “natural” honey, and focussing purely on the positive aspects, the sweetness. And, to close the post, here are the opening lines from Thomas Carew’s The Spring (1640), blending kitchen confections with natural imagery:

Now that the winter’s gone, the earth hath lost
Her snow-white robes, and now no more the frost
Candies the grasse, or castes an ycie cream:
Vpon the silver Lake, or Chrystall streame:

And speaking of “ycie cream”, I’ve discovered a recipe for “snow” which I think is a must for December, more on that in a few weeks, no doubt.

I’ll be having a go at candying the fruits soon, then I’ll post the outcome.