Manus Christi, or “the hand of Christ”, was a confection used as a preventative, similar to a vitamin. There are many different recipes some which include crushed pearls, cinnamon, flower essence, gemstones, gold and silver leaf.1 In the 16th century Manus Christi was a delicate crystallized sugar wafer, flavored with rose water. But more importantly, Manus Christi was a stage for boiling sugar. Many apothecary and confectionery recipes tell the user to boil sugar to Manus Christi height.
To make Manus Christi
Take halfe a pound of refined Suger, and some Rose water, and boyle them together, till it come to sugar again, then stirre it about while it be somewhat cold, then take your leaf gould, and mingle with it, then cast it according to art, That is in round gobbetts, and so keep them.
-A Closet for Ladies and Gentlevvomen: Or, the Art of Preseruing, Conseruing, and Candying ; with the Manner Hovve to Make Diuers Kinds of Syrups, and All Kind of Banqueting Stuffes : Also Diuers Soueraigne Medicines … London: Printed for Arthur Iohnson …, 1602. Print.
Technical notes- for Manus Christi confection
The most ideal texture and temperature to cook the sugar is to a firm ball. At the “soft ball stage”, the sugar takes longer to crystallize and it doesn’t set up into a wafer very easily. It is also prone to re-hydrating from moisture in the atmosphere and becoming sugar sludge. At the “hard ball stage”, the sugar crystallized very quickly and sets up too quickly. You have to pour the sugar while it is still quite hot and you do not get a smooth slick surface to the candy. The sweet spot appears to be “firm ball”, the stage right between the two. There is only 15 degrees between soft and hard ball stages and the sugar will progress through these 3 stages pretty quickly. At 245° F the heat should be killed and the pot removed from the stove. This produces a very smooth candy, with a fine grain crystal. It should dissolve on the tongue producing a slight effervescence mouth feel. Sugar to rosewater is 1:1 ratio.
Manus Christi height- sugar stage
There are conflicting opinions of what the Manus Christi height actual is in modern temperatures. Some believe it is the blow/thread state of 225° F. If you bring the sugar only to this height for making the confection, you end up with several of the problems listed above. There are others that believe, if you heat the sugar 20 small degrees is enough to change the chemistry, into a more structured sugar. This is the temp that I use for my Manus Christi height. I find that I get a better, more consistent result in my confections with both modern refined and non-modern refined sugars.
Why is this distinction important? Well, in the case of comfits those 20 degrees is the difference between a smooth comfit and a rough comfit. That has everything to do with sugar concentration and crystallization than actual comfit making technique.