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Wafer Making

At Historic Food, we have a large collection of usable wafer irons dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. We use both irons designed for making flat wafers as well as yeast risen 'Flemish Wafers'.

The unusual wafers above are unique in the history of English food. Flavoured with bergamot (left) and barberry (right) they were made from recipes written by the Georgian confectioner Frederick Nutt (1789). Click them to see his original manuscript recipe. These delicious wafers were made by anointing wafer paper (similar to modern rice paper) with a mixture of egg white and citrus juice and then allowing the heat of a cool oven to curl them round a stick. A special utensil was used to achieve this. The finished result is the lightest and most delicious wafer ever eaten.

Charles Elmé Francatelli's Iced Pudding à la Chesterfield.. The little cones around the base of the pudding are filled with pineapple ice cream. In his various books, Francatelli gives other examples of similar ice puddings garnished with cones in this manner. They are the earliest examples of the ice cream cornet in the English culinary tradition.

Charles Elmé Francatelli, chef de cuisine to Queen Victoria and first cookery author to publish a recipe which featured ice cream cornets.

This elaborate sweet entremet is made up of cone wafers filled with Chantilly cream. The open ends of the cornets have been garnished with chopped cherries. The illustration is from Theodore Garrett's Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery (1890s).

By the closing decades of the nineteenth century, wafer cornets were being commonly used for ice cream. The two illustrations above are from Agnes Marshall's Fancy Ices (1880s).

Robin Weir has recently made an interesting discovery showing that ice cream was being eaten from wafer cornets as early as 1807. His evidence is the fascinating image reproduced below, showing a young Parissiene enthusiastically devouring a cornet in a thoroughly modern manner.

Click to go to Robin Weir's essay An 1807 Ice Cream Cone

Robin has given us permission to reproduce his essay on this new twist in the history of the wafer on this site. To read it in full, click on the picture of the young woman above. Some might say that she could be eating the ice from a glass, but it looks to us much more like a cornet. The wafer cornucopia had been know in France since at least the middle of the eighteenth century. The earliest mention seems to be in Les Soupers de la cour 1755).

A nineteenth century stove for making waffles.

Seventeenth Century Wafers

Wafers made by Ivan with a set of early seventeenth century English wafering irons.

To make Wafers

Take Rose-water or other water, the whites of two eggs and beat them and your water, then put in flower, and make them thick as you would do butter for fritters, then season them with salt, and put in so much sugar as will make them sweet, and so cast them upon your irons being hot, and roule them up upon a little pin of wood; if they cleave to your irons, put in more sugar to your butter, for that will make them turn.

From Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus; Or, Excellent & Approved Receipts and Experiments in Cookery (London: 1658)

During the late medieval period and into the early renaissance, wafers were an important constituent of the void, or issue de table , the court ceremony at the end of a state meal. Wafers, comfits and hippocras were consumed by the sovereign in this semi-religious ritual linked with the final grace and the washing of hands. The hippocras and wafers may originally have had a quasi-eucharistic significance in that they echoed the Holy Communion. The spicy comfits were intended as ‘stomach settlers' to calm the royal digestion, though like both hippocras and wafers they later became luxurious treats consumed at all manner of celebratory occasions by those who could afford them.

Wafers continued to be an important element of the dessert course in later centuries. The 1766 French dessert above has both curled and flat wafers and cannelons (a type of wafer tube) filled with chocolate and fruit pastes. The cannelons are tied together with ribbon.

These rolled coffee wafers, made from a recipe in Claremont's The Professed Cook (London: 1769), are presented to table in an eighteenth century English glass tazza. The small sweetmeat glasses on either side contain diablotins, Europe's earliest true chocolates. Made from 100% chocolate ground on a matate, they tend to melt very easily in the fingers. This is probably why they were coated with nonpareil comfits, which acted as a kind of thermal barrier, keeping the fingers clean. Note also the little glass knops on the sweetmeat glasses, whose role was not purely decorative, as these small buttress-like structures allowed the construction of miniature pyramids of sweetmeats.

 

Although in modern times we associate wafer cornets with ice cream, they were probably originally served with the other sweetmeats during the dessert course. Since cannelons were filled with all sorts of fruit pastes and creams, it is probable that the very similar wafers were used in the same way. In the late eighteenth century English setting above, these 'funnels' or 'cornucopias' are served with diablotins (an early chocolate sweet covered in comfits), apricot knots and spice biscuits. Wafer cones are first mentioned in Bernard Claremont's The Professed Cook (London: 1769) and in Mary Smith's The Complete Housekeeper & Cook (Newcastle: 1770). Robin Weir has recently found some evidence to suggest that wafer cones were used for serving ice cream in France in the early nineteenth century. The earliest English record of this usage is in Charles Elmé Francatelli's The Modern Cook (London: 1846), in which he recommends cornets filled with ice cream as garnishes for a number of ice cream puddings, including the Iced Pudding à la Chesterfield illustrated on the left. The popular theories that the ice cream cone was invented by Italo Marchiony in New York in 1896, or at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair are entirely erroneous.

 

Flemish and Dutch wafers, leavened with yeast, what we would call waffles nowadays, were also popular in England in the early modern period. Those illustrated above were made from the following 1724 recipe.'Right', means true or authentic.

The Right Dutch-Wafer

Take four Eggs, and beat them very well, then take a good Spoonful of a Pint of fine Sugar, one nutmeg grated, Cream, and a Pound of Flower, a Pound of butter melted, two or three Spoonfuls of Rose-water, and two good Spoonfuls of Yeast; mix all, well together, and bake them in your Wafer-tongs on the Fire. For the Sauce, take grated Cinnamon, Sack, and melted Butter, sweeten’d to your Taste.

From Mary Kettilby, A Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts (London: 1724).

Baking Dutch Wafers over hot charcoal. Cooks and confectioners from Mary Kettilby's era would have used a charcoal stewing stove or chaffing dish to make wafers.

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