Obscure Flavoring

Joined Dec 4, 2001
I was going to make some Marzipan a while back. The recipe called for Ratafia essence. I couldn't find it here in San Francisco but on a trip home to England I found some in a grocery store in London. It tastes and smells like almond essence but I've no idea what ratafia is. Does anybody? Thanks

btw, never did make the Marzipan :) :D

Joined May 26, 2001
There is a recipe for Ratafia Biscuits in Lobscouse & Spotted Dog, a book of recipes for the foods mentioned in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels. The authors include quite a long discussion of the origin of the word and the foods. Basically, they say that the biscuits are much like macaroons, but flavored with bitter almonds. They say that originally, the liqueur was apricot- or almond-flavored, but: "Subsequently it was applied to several different confections and liqueurs made from members of the rose family: cherries, peaches, apricots, and especially almonds."

I've always assumed it was some sort of bitter-almond flavored cordial, and very British. Always saw it mentioned in Georgette Heyer Regency romances as a ladies' drink, offered at the same time as sherry.

The recipe I've got (never tried) is from an Elizabethan cookery book, published in 1986 as Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book.:

Take a Gallon of Brandy, put it into a wide-mouth'd Glass; then take 4 dozen of Apricocks, pare them and cut them into quarters and put them to your brandy. Then take the Kernels out of the stones and bruise them a little and put them to the Brandy; Blader down [weight them down in] your Glass and set it in the sum for 14 days or 3 weeks according to the heat of the weather. Then strain it off and put it into Bottles for use.

BTW: Mrs. Beeton also has a recipe for Ratafias which is very close to her recipe for Macaroons (almonds, sugar, egg whites), except that that Ratafias use part bitter almonds and part sweet.

So ... I think "Ratafia Essence" is bitter-almond extract.
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