Historic Recipe: Wafers (1776)

Source: The Professed Cook; or, The Modern Art of Cookery, Pastry, and Confectionary, made Plain and Easy by B. Clermont (1776)

Another work-related recipe…

Wafers were eaten as far back at the late Medieval period at the end of a meal and were thought to settle the stomach. Into the eighteenth century, they became part of the dessert course, eaten with sweetmeats, fruit pastes and creams. Although there are references to making them into a cone shape from the late-eighteenth century, they don’t seem to have been served with ice cream until the early to mid-nineteenth century.

Wafers were made in a wafering iron, the design of which changed little over the lengthy period discussed above. These irons were basically two hinged metal plates, about the radius of a large mug, on the end of a long pole. The plates had decorative designs etched on them and when batter was poured onto the plates, it filled up these indentations. The wafering iron was then closed, placed in the fire and turned several times, resulting in thin crispy, patterned goodness. For clarity, I do not have a wafering iron, a fact that becomes important later in this post.

To a common table-spoonful of ground coffee, put a quarter of a pound of sugar-powder, and a quarter of a pound of fine flour; mix them well with good thick cream as the preceding.
As soon as you take them out of the iron, twist them to what shape you please, and they will remain so in cooling.

Instructions from the preceding recipe (also for wafers):
Pour some good cream to it by little and little, stirring it very well with a spoon to hinder it from forming into lumps, and add as much cream as will make the paste or batter pour out pretty thick from the spoon…warm the wafer-iron on both sides and rub it over with some butter tied in a linen bag, or a bit of virgin wax; pour on a spoonful of the batter, and bake over a smart fire, turning the iron once or twice, until the wafer is done on both sides of a fine brown colour.

I’d seen pictures of some nice rolled Georgian wafers, so decided that was what I was going to make

What could be easier, right?

Making the batter was fairly self-explanatory and this lulled me into a false sense of security, I made two batches, one with coffee and one without, because I don’t like coffee. I decided ‘pour out pretty thick from the spoon’, meant the consistency of a thick pancake batter (the British kind), but who really knows?

I rather naively had it in my head that I could just cook this batter like a pancake in a frying pan and it would mimic the wafering iron. Turns out that’s a no, as it’s impossible to get it thin enough in the pan to make it crispy. I then tried compressing the batter between the pan and various metal objects including a cake tin and several cans. This also didn’t work.

Two hours later, with batter all over my kitchen, my jeans and probably in my hair, I slightly hysterically turned to the oven. I spread the batter out very thinly with a spatula on greased baking paper on a baking tray and put it in a medium oven. This sort of worked but you got a big chunk of wafer that was crispy at the edges and not in the middle. I rallied, had a cup of tea and then tried spreading smaller rectangles of batter on the sheet and baking these. This finally worked. Mostly. It was, however, incredibly time-consuming and whilst you could roll the resulting wafers when they were straight out of the oven, if you left them more than a few seconds they would start to set and crumble when you manipulated them. I did manage to make enough for work, but they weren’t very beautiful and it took me another couple of hours to do so.

Once fully set, they were incredibly crispy and did taste pretty good – rich, creamy and crunchy all at once (you could definitely taste that they were made with cream), but I’m not sure they were worth the afternoon of frustration that they cost me.

Suggested alterations: Please, for your own sanity, don’t try this one without a wafering iron.

Final verdict: Turns out you can buy wafering irons on Amazon. AMAZON. Maybe I’ll revisit this recipe at a later date, with an actual wafering iron.



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