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