Sweet treats from the Georgian kitchen

Today we take a look at two sugary treats.

The first is for ‘clear cakes’, little jellies with a sugar crust which were generally made of fruit juice finely powdered sugar. They could be cut into any number of decorative shapes – lozenges, rounds, squares – and incorporate any number of flavourings.

Our recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is a twist on these traditional clear cakes. Instead of fruit juice, pounded almonds provide the main substance of these sweets. Rosewater is added for flavour:

18th century recipe for almond clear cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for almond clear cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Almond Clear Caks

Boyle the sugar to a candy height as you do for Clear Caks. Blansh some Jordon almonds & pound them [with] rose water. Mix them in yr candy as you do jelly. Put it in pans or cards in yr stove to dry, or in a very cool oven.

Our second recipe is derived from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle and presents something a familiar to us today: caramel.

Without sugar thermometers, cooks needed to gauge the temperature of the sugar by sight . A quick way to check it was to drop a little of the melted sugar in cold water. It it went hard and solid, it was said to be at ‘the degree called crack’.

This caramel was intended for use as a kind of ‘spun sugar’. Cast in thin threads over an oiled mould to form a decorative sugar cage, it could be placed over ‘small pastry of any description’ to give it a stylish finish.

This caramel is used to form spun sugar decorations. The original recipe was published in Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

This caramel is used to form spun sugar decorations. The original recipe was published in Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

To Boil Sugar to Caramel

Break into a small copper or brass pan one pound of refined sugar. Put in a gill of spring water. Set it on a fire and when it boils skim it quite clear and let it boil quick till it comes to the degree called crack which may be known by dipping a teaspoon or skewer into the sugar and let it drop to the bottom of a pan of cold water. If it remains hard, it has attained that degree. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and let it remain one minute longer on the fire, then set the pan in another of cold water. Have ready moulds of any shape. Rub them over with sweet oil. Dip a spoon or fork into the sugar and throw it over the mould, in fine threads, till it is quite covered. Make a small handle of caramel or stick on two or three small gum paste rings by way of ornament and place it over small pastry of any description.

If you do have a go at either of today’s recipe, do be careful when you boil the sugar as it will become extremely hot. To avoid burns, make sure you follow the caramel recipe’s advice: cool the sugar for a few moments before you handle it by placing it another pan of cold water.

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Barley sugar

The perfect traditional sweet treat: barley sugar twists. These candies were originally prepared by boiling sugar in barley-infused water, but here a little lemon essence is the only flavouring.

The sugar is boiled ‘to a crack’, the temperature at which it starts to become brittle. Our unknown ladies record a rather perilous method for checking this point: “dipping your fingers into the sugar and then into cold water, and if you find the sugar to crack in moving your finger, it has boiled enough”. We say, don’t risk burning your fingers – use a sugar thermometer instead to bring the temperature of the boiling sugar between 132ºC and 142ºC. At this, the ‘soft-crack’ stage, the sugar will form stiff but malleable threads, making it perfect for forming your sugar twists.

A nineteenth-century recipe for barley sugar from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A nineteenth-century recipe for barley sugar from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Barley Sugar

Clarify three pounds of refined sugar. Boil it to a crack. Squeeze in a teaspoonful of the juice and four drops of the essence of lemon. Let it boil up once or twice. Set it by for a few minutes. Have ready a marble slab rubbed over with sweet oil. Pour over the sugar. Cut it into long stripes, twist it a little, and keep in a canister from the air.