Using 17th & 18th century original receipts can be difficult, as they were written in the narrative, like a story. They don’t always have measurements, unlike the modern cook books of today. Flours are made differently and other ingredients are not exactly the same. However, reading the receipt is fascinating; and rewarding, and the only way to truly understand them is to cook them. So a few friends decided to spend a day testing receipts for wafers and I baked bread in a kettle and buns a tin oven, instead of my bake oven. The following are the results.
The day started off with a definite chill in the air, great weather for heating up the hearth. With a stack of receipts for wafers and waffles, and armed with six irons, we were ready. I also made a bread dough the day before and let it rise all night long.
I conducted the bread experiment to see how a small loaf would bake in the cast iron kettle and a few rolls in the reflector oven. I am giving a workshop for the folks at Old Fort Western in Maine next month and they do not have a bake oven. They want to put together a group of receipts that can be demonstrated to the public when they are open. So bread is always a great showpiece, and the smell is glorious. I used a French bread receipt from, The English Art of Cookery, Richard Brigg, 1788. I wanted to make the texture more like that of a less milled flour, so I added some King Arthur Harvest blend of seeds and grains , whole and flaked to add a bit of rustic crunch to the finished bread.
In the morning, I heated up a 12-inch bake kettle and the reflector oven. I divided the dough, worked it a bit and put a round loaf on some parchment paper in the kettle and made a ring of coals around the outside of the top and bottom. I was careful not to put any in the center as I did not want to scorch the bread, just bake it. I placed a few rolls in the oven, set that on coals and faced it towards the heat. The loaf was done in 35 minutes and the rolls needed to be taken out and turned around, so they took about 45 minutes. Below you can see the finished bread and wonderful fresh eggs Nancy brought for our receipts.
Nancy brought four irons, and I had two, so we greased them all up and chose two to warm on the trivets.
Nancy began on a Dutch yeast wafer receipt by Mary Kettilby that she was eager to try. This batter needed to rest, so, after she mixed it she placed it on the high shelf of the cupboard to rise. While I was busy with the bread Barbara started on the Elizabeth Moxon’s 1764 receipt for making Goofer Wafers.
Now the word Goofer with wafer might mean several things and the more you read wafer receipts the more confusing it becomes; does Goofer mean the iron shape or does it mean a deeper pancake-like wafer. I have not found any good explanations for the word. It is a mystery for now. However, as we know, when you’re looking for something you often find something else; it might pop up yet.
With the irons hot, we started with Moxon’s and found that the coversion to a smaller amount needed adjustment. So, by adding a bit more milk and cream, we ended up with a consistency we thought was okay. The next issue was how much to put on the irons. We were very careful not to overfill at first and ended up with small wafers that did not fill the iron. Also one round iron kept making pancakes. This iron had a very deep lip round it so flat wafers were out of the question.
I mixed up a receipt translated by Peter Rose from, The Sensible Cook Dutch Foodways in the Old and New World. This called for wheat flour and chardonnay. We tried this batter in several irons and none of them came out to our satisfaction and they tasted awful to boot. So we dumped that one with haste.
We kept trying all six irons and found that my small one, two of Nancy’s round ones and her rectangle one made the best wafers while her deep surface iron made pancakes.
This was getting exhausting. The irons are heavy and the heat was starting to get to us, time for a break.
We took our lunch out onto the screened porch. There was a very chilly breeze blustering through and cooling us down while we chatted about old houses and restoration. Fortified, and ready to stand by the fire once again, we took the Dutch receipt off the shelf and found that it had not risen very much. Again we added to the amounts, more butter and sugar, and returned it to its warm place.
Hannah Glasse has a receipt To Make Whafles. Barbara mixed up the batter that was to be rolled in small balls the size of a nutmeg and baked. Dividing the batter into smaller portions didn’t work out very well and we ended up with a loose batter. So we thought why not give it a try. Well, they were not bad, however, we ran out of the irons too quickly. We then added lots of flour and made round balls and that worked wonderfully. Nancy’s rectangle iron made the most beautiful designs. With the small round irons we could roll them up in cones or sticks.
The Dutch yeast receipt had risen and had a weird sticky egg color glue like batter. We again started out cautious, putting just a bit in each of the irons and commenced to putting in more. We liked the results produced by several of the irons and stopped using others.
I ran off and made Lemon Cheese from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, to fill our cones and rolls. During the day a pot of chocolate with a teaspoon of cream melted by the fire ready to be dug into.
With each receipt we tried different irons and the most interesting iron which I thought was a waffle iron turned out to be a 1611 wafer iron. It was decorated with a family crest in the center surrounded by many rectangles of stars and on the other side a wonderful center with initials MC surrounded by flying birds with a small star over their heads, a most remarkable iron.
Now, from what I have learned, pizzelle are a traditional cookie from the Abruzzi region of Italy. They are thin wafer cookies that look almost like our 18th century wafers. And perhaps this 1611 iron is one made for a woman in Italy to make her cookies or thin wafers on; oh, if it could only talk. We all loved it and I must say I was sorry to see it go home with Nancy, the lucky gal.
To sum the day up I would say our two top favorite receipts were Hanna Glasse’s “To Make Wafers,” and “The Right Dutch-Wafers” from Mary Kettilby. And we all learned a lot about making wafers.
We still have other receipts we want to try. One has cheese in it and might be great with a glass of wine.
Some hints for making wafers, make sure the irons are hot, listen for the steam to whistle and don’t over-pour the batter. We are looking forward to doing more receipt trials.
“Today we will live in the moment unless it’s unpleasant in which case me will eat a cookie “ Cookie Monster