Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Comfits - Candied Anice, Fennel and Caraway Seeds

Please note, that this post has been edited to correct a mistake.  I had originally stated that Gum Arabic and Gum Tragacanth were the same things.  This is untrue as they are two different substances.  Mea culpa! My apologies to anyone who was misled by my mistake. Thank you to the individual who advised me on this. 
Comfits were often served at the end of the feast to freshen the breath, act as a digestive, as decoration and sometimes used in the treatment of specific illness. Aromatic seeds such as anise (pictured in foreground), fennel or caraway were coated with sugar and colored using beet, spinach or saffron. They can also be made using almonds or ginger. Comfits can still be purchased today, for example Jordan almonds or pastilles. They are a bit time consuming to make but ohhhh sooo much tastier then the ones you purchase!

The easier comfits to make are the ones with seeds such as caraway, fennel or anise. Making cinnamon comfits is a bit of a process. To start I will walk you through the process of candying seeds such as anise, caraway or fennel. Many of the cookbooks that were published 1700's and after call for coating the seeds with a solution of gum arabic. This is a necessity if you are going to be making cinnamon comfits. To create your solution use 1 tsp. of gum arabic (if you can't get gum arabic you can also use tragacanth powder), to 3 tsp. rosewater. I let mine sit overnight and it becomes a thick, honey colored gel.

For more information on making these historic treats, please visit Historic Comfits Using Modern Equipment by Dame Alys Katharine (Elise Fleming)


1 tbsp. seed of choice (anise, fennel, caraway)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water

Heat the sugar and the water until it reaches 225 degrees. Heat the seeds in a large flat pan, similar to a wok or frying pan. I use a setting of 3 on my stove. If you can't comfortably reach into the pan and stir the seeds with your hand, then the pan is too hot.

Once the syrup has reached 225 degrees (for a smoother comfit, you need only heat the syrup to about 170 degrees), take a teaspoon of it and pour it over the seeds in the pan. Using the back of a wooden spoon, stir the seeds until the sugar dries. If the seeds stick together, you have used too much syrup. If the sugar forms pellets in the bottom of the pan then you have used too much syrup. The first few charges (coats) of the syrup the seed will look grayish, and then they will gradually begin to turn white. After about 12 charges, you are done for the day. I prefer my comfits smaller, so I usually do not do this process a second day. However, you can, if you wish, make another solution of syrup and coat your seeds again after they have had time to dry out overnight. The larger the comfits get, the more you will need to divide your batch. You need to be able to work with the pan.

If you choose to coat your seeds with gum arabic you will need to do that in the first few charges of syrup. The ratio that most of the later confectionary books used was 6:1 - 6 parts sugar syrup to 1 part gum arabic solution. It has an odd smell when you "cook" it, but that does not affect the taste.

To Make Cinnamon Comfits

Cinnamon comfits require an extra step. First you need to make sure that you are using "true" cinnamon, that is Ceylon Cinnamon, which is soft, crumbly and brittle. When you look at it, it is "compact" and consists of many layers. Cassia cinnamon is what you normally find in the store, and it is thick, and darker in color then ceylon cinnamon which is a light rusty brown in color. Once you have obtained ceylon cinnamon you will need to soak it overnight in water. This is so that you can shave it down into the needle like strips that are needed to make the comfit. Then you will need to let your cinnamon dry thoroughly.

Once the cinnamon has dried completely, proceed as above, being careful to coat the cinnamon with the gum arabic/syrup solution in the first three charges (coats). You will need to stop coating your comfits after about eight charges of syrup and let them dry overnight. Then you can make another solution of syrup and continue the next day.

Beet juice, spinach juice and saffron can be used to color your comfits in the last several charges of syrup, or, you can add a few drops of food coloring if you wish.


Update: Regarding cinnamon comfits,  I have been able to make these successfully without soaking ahead of time.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sekanjabin - Persian Mint Drink

Sekanjabin is another popular drink that can be found at events. It is simple and easy to make. This is another recipe from "An Anonymous Andalusian cookbook of the 13th Century" as translated by David Friedman.

Syrup of Simple Sikanjabîn (Oxymel)
Take a ratl of strong vinegar and mix it with two ratls of sugar, and cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup. Drink an ûqiya of this with three of hot water when fasting: it is beneficial for fevers of jaundice, and calms jaundice and cuts the thirst, since sikanjabîn syrup is beneficial in phlegmatic fevers: make it with six ûqiyas of sour vinegar for a ratl of honey and it is admirable.

...[gap: top third of this page has been cut off]...

... and a ratl of sugar; cook all this until it takes the consistency of syrup. Its benefit is to relax the bowels and cut the thirst and vomiting, and it is beneficial in bilious fevers (Friedman, 2000).

Sekanjabin Recipe (Courtesy of David Friedman)

Dissolve 4 cups sugar in 2 1/2 cups of water; when it comes to a boil add 1 cup wine vinegar. Simmer 1/2 hour. Add a handful of mint, remove from fire, let cool. Dilute the resulting syrup to taste with ice water (5 to 10 parts water to 1 part syrup). The syrup stores without refrigeration.

Sekanjabin refers to the "family" of drinks made with vinegar, sugar and water (Meade, 2002).  I prefer to use red wine vinegar as the base of my drink.  I have also used flavored vinegars and omitted the mint.  I prefer a stronger drink, so I usually dilute 5:1 ratio of water to syrup.  

Works Cited 

Friedman, D. (2000, September 4). Chapter One: On Drinks. Retrieved 14 2015, September, from An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian10.htm#Heading506

Meade, R. H. (2002, October 25). Non-Alcoholic Beverages of the Middle Ages. Retrieved September 14, 2015, from Medieval Brewers Homepage: http://mbhp.forgottensea.org/noalcohol.html#_ftnref5

Spiced Pomegranite Drink - Spiced Pomegranate Syrup

Ale, beer, mead and wine were very popular beverages in the middle ages, but most sites are dry or semi dry, or for personal reasons, folks will choose not to drink alcoholic beverages. There are several different drinks that I turn to that are documentable to within period in the SCA. These have gone over very well at banquets I have served in the past.

I will start with one of the more popular beverages, spiced pomegranate drink. This drink is easy to make and very refreshing. This is very similar to Grenadine syrup, but please don't buy the commercial product when this drink is so easy to make.

Syrup of Pomegranates 

Take a ratl of sour pomegranates and another of sweet pomegranates, and add their juice to two ratles of sugar, cook all this until it takes the consistency of syrup, and keep until needed. Its benefits: it is useful for fevers, and cuts the thirst, it benefits bilious fevers and lightens the body gently (Friedman, 2000).


1 quart pomegranate juice
4 cups of sugar
1-2 cinnamon sticks*
Up to a tablespoon of cloves*

**One of the recipes I located while researching (Non Alcoholic Beverages of the Middle Ages by HL Ronan Meade) suggested the addition of cinnamon and or clove as well as other "warmed spices". 

As the recipe from Al-Andulus suggests, equal parts of juice to sugar, heated until it boils and then lower the heat and cook until it becomes thick syrup. I dilute my syrup with a 4:1 ratio of water to syrup.

 This syrup can be kept nonrefridgerated and prepared in advanced. 

Works Cited

Friedman, D. (2000, September 4). Chapter One: On Drinks. Retrieved 14 2015, September, from An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian10.htm#Heading506

Meade, R. H. (2002, October 25). Non-Alcoholic Beverages of the Middle Ages. Retrieved September 14, 2015, from Medieval Brewers Homepage: http://mbhp.forgottensea.org/noalcohol.html#_ftnref5

Monday, September 7, 2015

To Make Callishones - Marzipan flavored with Coriander

Callishones drying on stovetop. 
I am working on putting together an Elizabethan Banqueting Course this week. I have candied fruits, roots and flowers, made comfits of anise seed, fennel, caraway and cinnamon and fruit paste of peaches, quince and berries. Today I started working on other items that you might have found laid out for the banqueting course.

What is the banqueting course? It is the culmination of a feast, and it usually consisted of an assortment of sweetmeats and other delicacies served with a spiced wine known as hypocras. Sugar and spices were very expensive to purchase. Sugar was thought to be medicinal. To close a meal with a banqueting course served a three-fold purpose. First, it was an indication of the host's wealth, secondly, it also was a display of status and lastly, it showed off the artistic skills of the lady of the house.
Now you know, I'm not artistic. I'm very good with molds and cutters!

To Make Callishones

Take halfe a pound of Marchpane paste, a thimble-full of coriander seeds beaten to a powder, with a graine of Muske, beat all to a perfect paste, print it and drie it.

John Murrell, A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen, 1621


10 ounces almond paste
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
up to 1/2 cup confectioner sugar
1 tsp. rosewater

This works best if the almond paste is cold, so I put mine in the refrigerator overnight. I grated it into a bowl and added 1/2 tsp. ground coriander to the grated paste. I then added the remainder of the coriander to the sugar, and put a small handful of it onto a piece of wax paper. I took 1/3 of my almond paste and pressed it on both sides into the sugar/coriander mixture. I rolled it out to approximately 1/4" thick and cut it out with cookie cutters. I got about 80 pieces of candy from this.

To finish, I mixed gold luster dust with ground coriander and painted the edges of the callishones with rosewater before running the edges through the coriander/luster dust mix, before setting it out to dry.

To make the almond paste I used a mix of equal parts almond flour to confectioner sugar and then add 1-2 tsp. almond extract, a tsp. of orange flower or rose-water plus an egg white. I know, I should be worried about salmonella, but these were super fresh eggs purchased at the market that morning.