Tag Archives: Hannah Glasse

Chocolate Puffs – ‘rough side upwards’

16 Sep


Hannah Glasse’s Chocolate Puffs recipe


It was more chocolate experimentation this week at Fort York.  This time we were working with Hannah Glasse’s 1800 Chocolate Puffs recipe from her book The Complete Confectioner. A puff brings to mind something light, airy, even ethereal.  Among Dr Johnson’s many definitions for the word puff he includes ‘any thing light and porous’.  It was difficult to see how the recipe’s call for a pound of sugar (even if it was double refined) and a half a pound of grated chocolate mixed together with the white of two eggs might ever achieve this status.


18th century recipe books contain  a number of different recipes for puffs.  You can find apricot puff, almond, puffs, lemon puffs, curd puffs and German puffs.  These latter were created from a mixture of milk, flour, egg yolks and sugar, flavoured with rose water, nutmeg and lemon and then fried in boiling lard, to be covered in Sack for a sauce.  I have never seen any before but the recipe’s planted in my mind a vision of a bite sized boozy doughnut.


Other volunteers at Fort York have made the most delicate and light lemon puffs, morsels of sugary heaven.  Our first attempts at chocolate puffs confirmed that we were dealing with a very different type of recipe.  First, The grated chocolate and sugar were mixed together and then the two egg whites were added.  But far from creating a paste which the recipe suggested would emerge we were left with a grainy mixture which resembled wet sand in texture.  How were we to create any sort of shape from this?  And it was clear from the recipe that the mixture was meant to be malleable; it says ‘you may form the paste into any shape’.  We were going to be lucky if we were able to get the mixture from the bowl to the baking tray, let alone have the luxury of choosing what form it would take.  For our first trial we simply heaped the ‘wet sand’ into little mounds (about 2cm across) and baked them at 300ºF for 15 minutes.  After leaving them to cool (not easy to do when you’re curious to try) we sampled the results.  The outside had a pleasingly crunchy and granular texture, a little bit like a chocolate sugar cube.  However, we weren’t convinced that this is what they were meant to be like.


the wet sand mixture of a pound of double refined sugar, half a pound of grated chocolate and two egg whites

The next experiment involved thinking about how we might possibly create a paste from the quantities mentioned in the recipe (no tampering with the proportions or adding extra ingredients!) Since the mixture was clearly very dry we decided to try melting the chocolate.  The sugar was then added to the melted chocolate and with the beaten egg white folded in at the end.  This created a very thick paste, but it was at least a paste and it was possible to use it to create shapes.  We opted for small, simple rounds.  Another part of the recipe which had been bothering us was the instruction to place the shapes ‘rough side upwards’ on the tins strewn with sugar.  This had led me to thinking about trying to create the shapes by using a mould (see the continuation of this thought below) but I suddenly had the idea that this instruction might mean that you were meant to place your puffs on the sugared baking tray and then turn them over ‘rough side upwards’ so both sides were covered with sugar.  This is what we tried and cooked these at 300ºF, leaving some in for 15 minutes and some in for 20 minutes. The results this time were no more light and airy.  They had a hard edge and a slightly chewy centre, with a hint of the granular still in the structure of the biscuit, as well as the sugar on the outside.


Making a paste by melting the chocolate


The rounds from the melted chocolate recipe

The final method we tried involved my thought about creating the puffs in moulds.  I think at this point the trial became a little less than historically accurate but I wanted to see what would happen if the ‘wet sand’ mixture was shaped using a mould.  Since there were no small mould shapes at the Fort I improvised with a measuring teaspoon which was a half sphere and about 3.5cm in diameter.  Since the mixture was like sand this felt a little bit like making very miniature rounded sand castles and my first attempts were far from perfect.  If I didn’t pack the mixture in tightly enough it simply fell apart.  But if I packed it in too tightly I then needed to knock it out too viciously and ran the risk of squashing it as I tried to prise it from the spoon.  Finally I had a whole tray of these dark little mounds to bake and again they went in at 300ºF for 20 minutes.  When they came out of the oven they reminded me of stylised hedgehogs; there were just enough of the granular on the surface to give them a roughened texture and the uniform shape gave them a particularly pleasing appearance.  This final experiment seemed to be the preferred one in terms of edibility too.  Melting the chocolate may have allowed us to create a paste but the resulting puff was not as successful as those made from the more unwieldy mixture.


Miniature sandcastles turn into ….



This got me to thinking about whether the word puff refers not to the texture of these sweetmeats, as in Johnson’s light and porous, but to the shape, or something that was simply a mouthful?  All three of our experiments had a very solid and dense structure, nothing light and airy at all.  The proportions of ingredients in other 18th century chocolate puff recipes suggest something lighter than Hannah Glasse’s version.  For example the version that appears in Elizabeth Raffald’s, 1769 Experienced English Housekeeper, and others:


To make Chocolate Puffs
Beat and sift half a pound of double-refined sugar, scrape into it one ounce of chocolate very fine; mix them together. Beat the white of an egg to a very high froth, then strew in your sugar and chocolate, keep beating it till it is as stiff as a paste. Sugar your papers, and drop them on about the size of a sixpence, and bake them in a very slow oven.

(the British Museum have a modern version of this recipe on their Young Explorers pages – what a great way to get children into cooking)


These would still be much more dense than the floating melt-in-the-mouth lemon puffs in Raffald’s book which use the juice of two lemons, 1 egg white and 3 eggs to a pound of sugar.


So, some success with the chocolate puffs but room for further investigation.  Of course how close our 21st century ingredients are to those used in the 18th century.  And we haven’t even got round to trying to ‘colour it with different colours’ as suggested at the end of the recipe.


Worth its weight….

17 Jan

This week at Fort York I was making a pound cake.


Some of the pound cake ingredients; the grated rind of a lemon, just under 1/4 cup of sherry and eight eggs, all combined with a pound of flour, sugar and butter

The OED defines a pound cake as   ‘A large rich cake, originally one in which one pound of each of the principal ingredients is used’ and uses Hannah Glasse’s 1747 Art of Cookery recipe as a demonstration of the principle; ‘Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way, till it is like a fine thick cream, then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat in it, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven. For change, you may put in a pound of currants, clean washed and picked.’  The pound cake was a staple of 18th and 19th century cookbook; the one I was making came from the 1753 Lady’s Companion.  An element which has really struck me with these historic recipes is the great flavour the cakes have, even without many of the flavourings, like vanilla, that we consider essential.  The finely pounded sugar gives the cake a lovely light texture and the sherry, just under 1/4 of a cup, gave it just the right level of flavour.



Beating up the eggs. Despite the fact that this cake has no other raising agent the eggs weren’t separated, just beaten together


 The pound cake in a Kugelhopf style tin, often known in the 19th century as a Turk’s cap, because of it’s turban like appearance (cf. the OED 1859 quote F. S. Cooper Ironmongers’ Catal. 178   Jelly and Cake Moulds… Turk’s Cap.)


The cake out of the oven; it was baked at 325  degrees F for almost two hours.


The end result; the cake was being used for an event at the Fort so we couldn’t try it fully but a little piece that fell off the base allowed us to get a glimpse of what it might be like.  

Mincemeat in the Officers’ Mess

3 Dec


peeling applies for the mincemeat; the mess kitchen was lit only by the fire and candles, and as soon as we entered the years seemed to roll away

It’s been a grey, gloomy day all day in Toronto (the top of the CN tower was shrouded in mist) but I’ve been happily employed in the Fort York Officers’ Mess kitchen learning about 18th century mince pies.  In fact it’s been pretty much the perfect day; what better way to get into the Christmas spirit than in a room lit only by the wood fire and candles, with a medley of mace, cloves and nutmeg filling the air and a reading of Hannah Glasse’s 1747 mince pie recipe, which brought the world of the 18th century Christmas kitchen to life?

The workshop was led by Mya Sangster, part of the indefatigable and dedicated Fort York historic cookery team, whose extensive knowledge and research of historic mince pie recipes includes some thirty or more recipes from the mid 16th century to the start of the 19th century.  Mya guided us through the changing content of the mince pie, as its original format of meat with some dried fruits altered so that the fruit and sugar element began to dominate in the 1790s.  She pointed out that many of the stories associated with mince pies (the three spices used in the mixture represented the three kings) may well have been wonderful Victorian inventions of tradition but what was clear is that these finely shredded minced meat pies have always been associated with Christmas.  A fabulous bill of fare for December from The Whole Duty of a Woman (1739 ed.) includes both ‘minc’d pyes’ and ‘a turkey larded’.  But Mya also explained that there were many versions of Lent mince pies, where the meat was replaced by eggs.


our mincemeat with some of Mya’s homemade preserved orange peel; this was cut into fine strips and added to the mincemeat for our small mince pies

Our Hannah Glasse recipe called for many ingredients that would have been familiar to all 18th century makers of mince pies.  The meat element was a ‘neat’s tongue’, boiled over the fire of the mess kitchen until it was ready for me to peel.  Mya had made her own preserved orange and citron peel.  The real beef suet (I didn’t realise that suet was specifically the fat around the kidneys) had been purchased specially from the slaughter house so we had to break it up by hand before finely chopping it.  Hannah’s recipe calls for half a hundred pippins but we were only making half quantities so we only had half this number of apples.  Then there were raisins, currants, sugar (but not a lot, only 4oz for all of this) and a fair quantity of alcohol to bind it all together.

Alex and tongue


peeling and chopping the neat’s tongue

In the dim light of mess kitchen Mya and her wonderful assistants Rosemary, Kathryn and Elizabeth set us to work peeling, chopping and pounding.  We made the mince pies in two formats.  One large mince pie, following Hannah’s instructions for what she described as a ‘little Dish, something bigger then a Soop-plate’ and then some small mince pies, made in what Hannah might have known as ‘little Patties’.  For the large mince pie which was baked in the kitchen’s wood fired bake oven, the contents were layered – meat, citron, mincemeat, orange peel and one layer of meat.  For the smaller patties which were baked in the prep kitchen’s larger ovens, all the filling was mixed together.

IMG_3351 layering the large pie in its dish a little larger than a ‘soop plate’




Kathryn puts the pie in the bake oven


the baked and finished pie

Our work was fuelled by delicious pound cake, made by the historic cookery team, and a fabulous lunch of Mya’s Skeet root vegetable soup (accompanied by Elizabeth’s freshly made rolls and a wonderful selection of cheeses.  Once the large mince pie was cooked we were able to try it with creamy ginger ice cream which Mya had made to a Nott recipe (author of The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion).   The rich, buttery pastry (also a Hannah recipe) was beautifully flaky and the spices and preserved peels really came through in the flavour of the filling.

There were so many elements of the day which really impressed me;

The team’s commitment to researching every element of historic cookery and using only authentic techniques, implements and ingredients.  Of course the 21st century world means there were elements that were more challenging than others but whether it was waiting for Whole Foods to get a fresh supply of citron or only using a three-pronged fork to prick the tops of the pies because 18th century forks were three-pronged, it gave us a real sense of the whole experience of 18th century cooking.  Nor would Mya make any alterations to the recipe, choosing one that it was possible to make with the ingredients available.


pastry for the small ‘patties’

The mess kitchen in which the workshop was held is part of the visitor’s tour at Fort York so and far from being shut off while we working visitors were encouraged to come in and learn more about what we were doing, while munching on a slice of pound cake.  It was a great way of animating the kitchen and providing a natural springboard for interaction and questions.


a chance to sample our work; the large mince pie with Mya’s Nott’s ginger ice cream

The small group size of eight people was perfect.  We could all contribute to the making of the mincemeat, with knives and pestle in hand, while there was more than enough room in the prep kitchen’s ovens for eight trays of mince pies.  It was great to meet a group of fellow historic food lovers who came from diverse backgrounds but were united by their fascination in the food and cooking of the past.


the mince pie filling; the layers of meat, mincemeat and candied fruit can’t easily be seen but could be easily tasted

I came home to our new, ultra modern apartment with the fruits of my 18th century labour for Mr Kim to sample.  While they were still on the sweet side for his savoury palate I think that he was impressed by the use of real tongue and beef suet.  With the tongue to boil up and the citron to locate it’s perhaps not a recipe I’d try regularly (although I’m very keen to make the pastry again) but as I look out over Toronto’s 21st century skyline I’m very pleased to have started off my advent season with the chance to come a little closer to the Christmas of the 18th century and to have been a part of such a great example of historic food interpretation.