Tag Archives: The queen-like closet

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.


Filed under Cooking

Shrove Tuesday special – Pancakes Part 2: Cooking and the recipe

Today’s pancake recipe, like last week’s Valentine’s Day asparagus and chicken, comes from Hannah Woolley. Perhaps I should start doing whole posts about some of the more prolific Early Modern food writers? Something to think about. Anyway, here’s the recipe:

To make good Pancakes

Take twenty Eggs with half the Whites, and beat them well and mix them with fine flower and beaten Spice, a little Salt, Sack, Ale, and a little Yeast, do not make your Batter too thin, then beat it well, and let it stand a little while to rise, then fry them with sweet lard or with Butter, and serve them in with the Iuice of Orange and Sugar.

From The queen-like closet; or, Rich cabinet stored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying & cookery, 1670

I didn’t think I’d need 20 eggs worth of pancakes, so I scaled the recipe down to 4 eggs. There were a couple of other pancake related recipes in the book, including one for making “Pancakes so crisp as you may set them upright”, which involves boiling them in lard (deep frying I suppose) until they “look as yellow as gold”. Don’t think I fancy that one myself! There is also a recipe for a “Sussex pancake” which caught my eye, which is just pastry made with “hot liquor” rolled thin and fried, served with spices and sugar.

So, I decided to go with the “good Pancakes”.

First, I put the yeast granules in some warm water with sugar, as instructed on the pack. If you are using dried yeast, you’ll need to reactivate it. Follow the instructions on the packet, although you will probably have to scale them down somewhat. My packet gave instructions for activating the yeast in 1/4 pint water, I didn’t want that much so had to use guesswork. I used about 1/4 teaspoon of yeast with the same amount of sugar dissolved in about 1/3 espresso cup full of warm water. Once this started to froth I mixed it with 5 heaped tbsp plain flour, 4 egg yolks, 2 egg whites, 1 tbsp sherry (this is the “sack” – see the posset post for more information on this), 2 tbsp ale (I used Old Peculiar), a tiny pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp mixed spice.

I then left it for about half an hour to “rise”, although it didn’t do much in the way of rising really. Lots of bubbles appeared on top though.

Then I melted some butter in a pan and added a ladle full of the batter. I cooked it for a minute or two on one side until mostly set on top.

Then I turned it over and fried on the other side.

It puffed and curled up quite a lot, when I took it out of the pan it stayed curled up at the edges, but the puffed up pancake sank as soon as it was on the plate. I sprinkled over orange juice, sugar and some orange zest as well.

The pancake was different to the milk, eggs and flour version I’m used to. It was thicker and tougher, although not in an unpleasant way. The spices and orange were a tasty addition too. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it out:

Good pancakes 

Makes about 4 small thick pancakes

5 heaped tablespoons plain flour

4 egg whites

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp sherry

2 tbsp ale

1/2 tsp mixed spice

A very small pinch of salt

Small amount of yeast, fresh or dried (prepared as directed on the packet – see above for what to do with dried yeast)


1 orange

Whisk the egg whites and yolks together, then add the flour, sherry, ale, spice, salt and yeast. Leave to stand for half an hour or so.

Heat a tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan and add a ladle full of batter when it is hot. Cook until the top has mostly solidified, checking the underneath to make sure it isn’t burning. Turn over when bubbles start to appear and pop on the surface of the pancake. It will start to curl up a lot once you have turned it over and will only need about 30 seconds more until it is cooked through. Slide onto a plate and add sugar and orange juice, and a little grated zest for colour if you like.

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Filed under Cooking, Recipe