Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Hi. My name’s Robin, and I’m working here in the Great Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace. It was open for 200 years and had its own confectionery. Today, I’m making comfits, which would’ve been quite a popular thing in the Elizabethan era. A comfit is any seed or particulate which is then covered in multiple layers of sugar. And you have to dry each layer as you go. But before you do that, you actually have to cover it with a small amount of gum Arabic, which makes the sugar stick in the first instance. After that, it’s a very laborious time-consuming thing. 50, 60, 80, 90, even 100 layers of sugar to make some lovely, smooth comfits.
Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds Comfits, which make up one of the things that you’d get at a meal called a banquet. It’s a party after a party for the very favoured few. And there, you would get to eat the most expensive things that the planet could provide, which would be sugar, nuts like almonds, citrus fruits, spices. They would be made into all sorts of different sweets and delicacies. Some of these sweets and models could be quite large, models of people, ships, houses, castles, all sorts of things. And some of the models are even covered in gold. So you can imagine a gold sweetie sort of a metre long and half a metre high.
Skip to 1 minute and 34 seconds You’ve got some idea of the table centre that you’d have called a subtlety. But they don’t have to be made of sugar. They can be made of almost anything. In Henry’s time, they had a model of the Great Harry, which is one of Henry’s battleships made. It’s about a metre long and about a metre tall. It’s floated into the banquet house on a river of mercury. And the little sugar cannons down the side shoot confetti across the table like little party poppers. So they can be quite elaborate things.
Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds So now I’ve got the seeds here. I’ve got aniseed with probably about ten layers of sugar on them already. And they’re just dry enough and warm enough now to put the next layer on. So we’ll do that. As you probably see, I’m using almost no sugar syrup at all. Because it is a very small amount to cover the surface area. And just toss them about until they’re all coated.
Skip to 2 minutes and 39 seconds And then spread them out so they dry. You don’t want to keep moving them because that then scrapes off the layer that you’ve just put on. So every now and then, as it’s drying, you just give them a gentle push just to break them up. But it is all part and parcel of showing off. And a monarch’s job, ultimately, is to show that they’re wealthy. Because if they look wealthy, the country looks wealthy.
Skip to 3 minutes and 11 seconds OK, well that’s that layer dry. As I say, it can take 80, 90 layers. So here’s some I’ve made earlier. So you’ve got an idea of what the finished product can look like. These are a different seed. Because you can use all sorts of particles and seeds, even nuts. Many people have had sugared almonds at weddings and things like that, which are again, comfits. You’d get liquorice torpedoes, aniseed balls, gobstoppers. Use any sort of spice or any sort of powder. It’s just something for the sugar to attach itself to. These ones here, grains of paradise, they have about 90 layers of sugar on them. The last five or six layers are a colour on the three of them.
Skip to 3 minutes and 54 seconds So we’ve got saffron, which gives us a yellow. Cochineal, which is a scaled insect, which gives us a red colour. And the green is parsley, parsley juice. Which is, again, added to the sugar to turn it into a syrup, which is then coated. The plain white ones are just plain white ones. But you’re looking at about 12 hours work just to make what I’ve got in my hand here. So it’s not a quick process, which is why comfits really are just for the very rich in the past.
In this video you can watch an Elizabethan delicacy, comfits, being made by Robin Mitchener from the Historic Kitchens Team at Historic Royal Palaces.
The process of making these sweets was so time consuming that only a king or queen would have been able to pay for the staff and time to dedicate to this process.
In the next Step you’ll be able to make your own Elizabethan food, but we’ve chosen recipes that don’t take 12 hours to produce!
You can see one of previous learners’ instructions for making comfits on this blog.
© University of Reading and Historic Royal Palaces.