Wholesome and comfortable Manus Christi

Hugh Plat has a number of Manus Christi recipes.  This one tends to be my go to recipe.  However, while looking for oil decoctions I found another of his recipes from an earlier manuscript.

Wholesome and comfortable Manus Christi
Dissolve some of the whitest Barbary suger you can get, with a little rosewater in a small shallowe pipkin,that cotaineth 3 or 4 ounces & glased within, and having a smal lip, boile the same upon a soft fire, unto a stifnesse, or consistency(as they terme it) till a drop thereof being powred out of the lip upon a cold stone, become hard, and nor clammy when it is cold. And when you have your sugar boiled to this heigth, then having a cleane Marble stone, first sprinkeled over with fine flower, poure the same out by peecemeale, making each of them of the bignes of a groat or tester, or thereabouts, and when they are thorow cold, having a few droppes of the oyle cynamon, Cloves, mace, nutmegs, &c. in a silver-sþoone, with a small feather, give each of the Manus Christi a tuch onely with a little oyle, on the tippe of the feather, and so you may prepare a great many together of them with such oyles as the physician shal give direction, and in the eating of them, you shall finde them to warme and comfort your stomach exceedingly. Some do put in their oyles in the boyling of the Sirrop, but I holde the first to be the better way, both because you may make of severall sorts at-once, as also for that these oyles being over heated do lose a great part of their grace in tast.[1]

1 part sugar
1/2 part rosewater

  1. Mix sugar and water together and set on medium high heat.
  2. When temperature reaches 245° F remove from heat
  3. Stir with a wooden spoon until candy starts to cloud and turn opaque.
  4. Drop cooling candy onto a marble stone in quarter to half dollar sized rounds. If you do not have marble, use parchment paper.
  5. Once cool, brush with cinnamon, mace or clove oil.
  6. Store in air-tight container at room temperature.

I would not recommend adding oil to the confection as it is boiling. This introduces another impurity to the sugar as it boils. The oils end up getting removed with the scum, giving the end product a lesser flavor.

I made three oils using the Oyle of Rose method from mace, clove and cinnamon. I used chicken feathers to apply the oils to the confections as visitors requested a flavor. The oils were delicate and added a nice flavor to the rose sugar.

[1] Plat, Hugh “Diuers Chimicall Conclusions Concerning the Art of Distillation: With Many Rare Practices and Uses Thereof, According to the Authors Own Experience” 1594


Syrup Experimente- Part 3

Remember these?  They are now almost 4 months old. Interesting things have happened in the time since I sat these on a shelf to see what would happen.

The herb syrup has grown mold and has started liquifying.  While this is what I would call an Experimente Failen, it is actually very interesting.

There are lots of questions around this one.
What would have happened if it hadn’t been allowed to boil so violently?
What about less agitation when it was bottled?
Was it strained enough?
Too many organic impurities?
What would happen with the 2x refined sugar?

The orange primrose has crystallized a bit more.  But has been relatively stable for 3 months.

The rose raspberry has fared the best of the three.  There is only a slight bit of crystallization.

I had the rose syrup tested. This stuff will be shelf stable for quite awhile

I made a 4th syrup with left over carnation. It was a month later than these 3. However of all of them, it is the clearest, showing no signs of crystallization. It was strained and put into a new jar. It was also the only syrup that was made with the artisan sugar. So it had a longer, slower processing time. It is still a beautiful royal purple.

The arte of comfetmaking- Part 3

Ragged comfits are made in a similar fashion as smooth comfits. The difference is the decoction* of the sugar. In the case of comfits the decoction comes in the saturation of sugar to water as the syrup is cooked to a higher temperature.

Georg Flegel Bread and Confections
Georg Flegel Bread and Confections

In Part 1 and 2, I illustrated smooth comfits. These were made with syrup that had been taken to thread state, 225° F. To make ragged comfits, I brought the temperature up to Manus Christi height (firm ball state 245° F). Since there was no modern care for the prevention of crystallization, the sugar did what was expected of it when agitated. It crystallized. It is the drying of this crystallized sugar that gives the comfit its ragged appearance. It takes less time and few coats to get a larger coating of sugar, than it does with the smooth comfits. The down side is you are working with a warm wok and sugar that is coming off the spoon somewhere in the 240 range. The risk of burning bare hands is great. I used a wooden spoon to make these as the temperature was too hot. When they cooled down enough, I worked at getting the cloves separated and dried with my hands.

Ragged Cloves- Sweet, with a bit of a bite. 1/2 of one is probably good for the modern palette. Or a whole one if you like clove.

* A decoction has one or more crude drug bases, either whole or suitably prepared that was boiled with water for a specified time. The object of a decoction was to produce an aqueous solution containing soluble active drug principles that were not degraded by heat. Pharmaceutical Compounding and Dispensing, by John F., Ph.D. Marriott, Keith A, Ph.D. Wilson, Christopher Andrew Langley and Dawn Belcher

Height of manus Chriſti

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.

The arte of comfetmaking- Part 2

Sir Hugh Plat: Delights For Ladies
54. The art of comfit making, teaching how to cover all kinds of seeds, fruits or spices with sugar.

“At the first coate put on but one halfe spoonfull with the ladle, and all to move the bason, move, stirre and rubbe the seeds with thy left hand a pretty while, for they will take sugar the better, & dry them well after every coate. Doe this at every coate, not only in moving the bason, but also with the stirring of the comfits with the left hand and drying the same: thus dooing you shall make great speed in the making: as, in everie three hours you may make three pounds of comfits. And as the comfits doe increase in greatness, so you may take more sugar in your ladle to cast on. But for plaine comfits let your Sugar be of light decoction last, and of a higher decoction first, and not too hote.”

Let your sugar cool slightly, like 2-3 minutes. It’s 225 degrees. Ladle 1 table spoon at a time. I like to drop mine into the wok from at least arm height up. This will cool the sugar slightly so it can be handled.
Ladling sugar 1 table spoon at a time

Stir. Remember the sugar is hot and your pan should be warm. If you cannot hold onto the pan with your bare hand as you stir, your pan is too hot. The sugar will make the seeds stick together. Keep stirring. I like stirring with the back of my hand.
sticky seeds

As you stir, the coating will dry and the seeds will separate.
nearly dried

“When your comfits bee made, set your dishes with your comfits upon papers in them before the heat of the fire, or in the hot sun, or in an Oven after the bread is drawne, by the space of an houre or two, and this will make them very white.”

When your seed have sufficient coating, put them on a sheet pan to dry. I put mine on the radiator. The sugar will turn whiter as it dries. You can see what just a little bit of sugar over many coats will do to a comfit.
Finished comfits

Part 3- smooth vs rough comfits, on the morrow.

The arte of comfetmaking- Part 1

Sir Hugh Plat: Delights For Ladies
54. The art of comfit making, teaching how to cover all kinds of seeds, fruits or spices with sugar.
“First of all you must have a deepe bottomed bason of fine cleane brasse or latton, with two eares of Iron to hand it with two severall cordes over a bason or earthen pan with hote coales. You must also have a broad pan to put ashes in, and hot coales upon them. You must also have a cleane latton bason to melt your sugar in, or a faire brazen skillet. You must have a fine brason ladle, to let run the Sugar upon the seedes. You must also have a brasen slice, to scrape away the sugar from the hanging bason if neede require. Having all these necessarie vessels and instruments, worke as followeth.”

A modern set of tools includes a wok, gas stove, and a gravy ladle.  The wok is shallow enough you can get your hand in to work, heats evenly and retains heat so you do not need to be working over live heat. A gas stove allows for better temperature control, though this can be done via electric, but you need to watch out for scorching. If you do not  have a gravy ladle, and deep bowl spoon, that can handle a tablespoon of melted sugar.

“Choose the whitest, finest and hardest Sugar, and then you need not to clarifie it, but beate it onlie into fine powder that it may dissolve the sooner. But first make all your seeds very cleane, and dry them in your hanging bason.”

I use a small batch artisan refined loaf sugar. The Grocer that created the sugar is using an 18th century refining processes. This is as close to period refined sugar I am able to purchase. It has a larger sugar crystal structure and has a harder texture. It also has a noticeably different taste than modern granulated sugar. One thing that needed to be done was breaking the cone into small chunks prior to dissolving. The resulting sugar has a grittier texture than modern sugar. This loaf was shaved into pieced and then ground to a finer powder for better dissolving. I did not need to refine the sugar as it is already double refined. But I did have to skim the scum off of the boiling syrup. I ended up loosing .25 lbs from my end product, due to impurities.

“Take for every two pounds of sugar, a quarter pound of annis seeds, or coriander seeds, and your comfits wil be great enough, and if you will make them greater, take half a pound more of sugar, or one pound more, and then they will be faire and large. And halfe a pound of Annis seeds, with two pounds of sugar will make fine small comfits. You may also take a quarter and a halfe of annis seeds, and three ponds of sugar, or halfe a pound of annis seeds and foure pounds of sugar. Do the like in Coriander seeds.”

I am only doing a small batch of 1 cup of coriander seeds.

“Melt your sugar in this manner. Put three pounds of your powder sugar into the bason, and one pinte of cleane running water thereunto, stirre it well with a brasen slice, untill all be moist and well wet, then set it over the fire, without smoke or flame, and melt it well, that there bee no whole gristie sugar in the bottome, and let it seeth mildely, untill it will streame from the ladle like Turpentine, with long streame and not drop, then it is come to his decoction, let it seeth no more, but keep it upon hote imbers that it may run from the ladle upon the seeds.”

I am doing a small batch of sugar syrup, 1 lb of sugar loaf to 1 cup of water.

“To make them speedily. Let your water be seething hot, or seething, and put powder of Sugar unto them, cast on your Sugar boiling hote: have a good warme fire under the hanging bason. Take as much water to your sugar, as will dissolve the same. Never skim your sugar if it bee cleane and fine. Put no kinde of starch or Amylum to your sugar. Seeth not your Sugar too long, for that will make it black, yellow or tawnie. Moove the seeds in the hanging bason as fast as you can or may, when the sugar is in casting.”

Tip 1: Set on a really low boil. This is IMPORTANT. Low. Boil. The impurities in the sugar loaf make it boil over on anything other than low.

Tip 2: Skim the scum. I know the paragraph above says don’t do this if the sugar is fine. My loaf has impurities. I do not want any to be in your final product. With a modern sugar, you skip this step.
initial boil   Impurities

Tip 3: Use a candy thermometer until you are comfortable with what sugar looks like, sounds like and behaves at various stages. Sugar undergoes chemical and structural changes at the various stage points. It will often keep boiling at a specific temperature until the chemistry changes and then it will move up to the next state.

Water boils at 212. Your sugar pot should look like this: tightly controlled bubbles, violent boil. It will stay here for a while.
212 degrees

Thread state is 225. You sugar pot should look like this: bigger bubbles, less violent boil. The sugar bubbles should start having “form.
225 Thread

Tip 4: Make yourself comfortable. The rule of thumb is it will take 3x longer than you think it will. It will either boil over or go past the stage you are looking for if you are not watching. 1 lb of loaf sugar takes me about 50-60 minutes to get to thread stage.

Tip 5: Do not rush. No one likes scorched, burnt sugar. The smell will linger for days. And you do not want to make friends with your local FD.

Tip 6: People in period did not care about crystallization. It is not important to water down the sides of the pot during cooking, as you find in modern candy recipes.

The final syrup will look like this.
Part 2- making the comfits, on the morrow.