Massialot, François. “New Instructions for Confectioners; Directing How to Preserve all sorts of Fruits, as well dry, as liquid; also how to make divers Sugar-works, and other fine Pieces of Curiosity belonging to the Confectionary Art” inThe Court and Country Cook : Giving New and Plain Directions How to Order All Manner of Entertainments, ... London, 1702.
This is the combined English translation of two earlier French cookery books, namely, Le Cuisinier royal et bourgeois which was published in Paris in 1691 and Nouvelle Instruction pour les Confitures published in Paris in 1692. The section for confectioners in the English edition begins with instructions on the boiling of sugar because “For as much as the Ground-work of the Confectioner’s Art, depends upon the different Ways of Boiling Sugar, it is requisite in the first place, to give a particular Account of them…. ”
This account includes complete and detailed instructions as to how hot sugar syrups were tested by early eighteenth and earlier seventeenth century confectioners using primarily their fingers and spatulas. For those of us who grew up using candy thermometers or ladling out tiny amounts of hot syrup into saucers to see if soft or hot ball stage had been achieved, touching hot syrups with our hands and fingers is a distinctly alien activity. These instructions provide an invaluable glimpse into how it was done in past times.
The first degree of the these sugar instructions begins with:
“The Boiling of Sugar call’d Smooth.
As soon as your Sugar is clarified, and set again on the Fire in orderto be boil’d, you may know when it has attain’d to its smooth Quality, by dipping the Tip of your Fore-Finger into it; afterwards applying it to your Thumb, and opening them a little, a small Thread or String sticks to both, which immediately breaks and remains in a Drop upon the Finger: When this String is almost imperceptible, the Sugar is only boil’d till it becomes a little smooth, and when it extends it self farther before it breaks, ‘tis a sign that the Sugar is very smooth. To avoid scalding your self, in making this Experiment; as it may happen, if your Finger were directly dipt into the Sugar, you need only take out the Skimmer, which ought always to be kept in the Copper-pan to stir the Sugar from time to time, and to cause it to boil equally: Then holding it a little while on the top, after having shaken it, touching the Pan, with the Handle of the Skimmer, receive the Sugar that still runs from it, and only pass the tip of your Finger upon the edge of the said Skimmer, which is sufficient to know, whether the Sugar is become smooth, or not, by observing the former Directions. [p 2]