Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ratafias: What they are and Recipes of Popular Ratafias

Ratafias are liqueurs made by the infusion of ingredients in spirits (alcohol), filtered and sweetened. They were a very popular ingredient in confectionery and pastry work, and came in many different flavors, and thus, colors.

From Wikipedia:
"Ratafia is a liqueur or cordial flavored with peach or cherry kernels, bitter almonds, or other fruits; many different varieties are made. The same name is given to a flavoring essence resembling bitter almonds, and also to a light biscuit. It is also a cordial made from a mix of marc brandy and the unfermented juice of the grape.
The flavorings can potentially make this liqueur toxic, as peach and cherry kernels contain high levels of hydrogen cyanide (about 1.7 mg per gram of kernel), as do bitter almonds (2.5 mg/g)."
Although Wikipedia lists as the main flavorings for a ratafia are either a bitter almond or other seed base, there are many other recipes using other ingredients. A classic reference book, and an historical cookbook, describes and gives recipes for ratafias using different ingredients for unique pastry and cooking applications, such as angelica, and spice and citrus blends.

Classic recipes and descriptions are inside the historical book The Complete Confectioner, Pastry Cook and Baker by the Parkinson family, published in 1864. Included below are some of my favorite or unusual old-fashioned ratafia recipes that are from this classic book.

From the book:
"These are liqueurs made by the infusion of the ingredients in spirits, and are similarly composed to the spirituous wafers, but instead of being distilled they are simply filtered, and sugar is added to them."

"Ratafia d'Angelique. --Angelica seeds one ounce, angelica stalks four ounces, bitter almonds four ounces, one drachm each of cinnamon and cloves, proof spirit six quarts, loaf sugar four pounds. Blanch and pound the almonds sugar, or a little water; pound the other ingredients a little, and bruise the stalks. Infuse for a month, stirring it occasionally. Filter and bottle
with some of the sugar, or a little water; pound the other ingredients a little, and bruise the stalks. Infuse for a month, stirring it occasionally. Filter and bottle."

"Ratafia de Cacao. --Cacao of Caracca one pound, West India cocoa nuts eight ounces, proof spirit one gallon, roast the nuts and bruise them, add them to the spirit and infuse for fourteen days, stirring them occasionally, filter and add thirty drops of essence of vanilla and two pounds of sugar."

"Ratafia d'Œillets. --The petals of clove pinks, with the white parts pulled off, four pounds, cinnamon and clovesproof spirit one gallon, sugar three pounds. Infuse for a month, filter, and bottle."

"Vespetro. --Coriander seed one ounce, angelica seed two ounces, fennel and anise-seed of each two drachms, two lemons, two oranges, the zest of two citrons, two quarts of rectified spirit and two pounds of sugar, caraway seedsyellow rind of the lemons and oranges, and squeeze the juice.sugar in a pint of water. Infuse the whole together for fourteen days. Strain, filter, and bottle."

"Chrême de Barbade. --The yellow rind of three oranges and three lemons, cinnamon four ounces, mace two drachms, cloves one drachm, rum nine quarts, fresh balm leaves six ounces. Infuse and distil in the bain-marie, or strain; add an equal quantity of sugar with water.

"Ratafia de Brout des Noix. --Young walnuts, when the shells are not formed, number eighty, mace, cinnamon, and cloves, of each half a drachm, proof spirit one gallon. Pound the nuts in a mortar, add them and the spice to the spirit, with two pounds of sugar. Infuse for two months, stirring it occasionally; press out the liquor through a cloth. Filter and bottle."

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