Frederick Nutt's Millefruit Biscuits on a small English bobbin stemmed salver from the 1760s. The raised edge around the top of the salver is perfect for stopping small sweetmeats from slipping, making it very easy to construct miniature pyramids.
From the seventeenth century onwards English cookery and confectionery texts abound with recipes for a family of biscuits which contain no flour. The ingredients are held together with a simple mixture of powdered sugar and egg white. Base ingredients include everything from dried jasmine flowers, slivered almonds to slices of candied peel. One variant, known as bane bread or bean bread, consists of little piles of flaked almonds held together with an orange or rosewater icing and baked with a generous scattering of caraway comfits. These biscuits were usually baked on wafer paper. They blister a little while cooking and sometimes spread out a little beyond their brittle bounds, but they crisp-up once cold and hold their crispness for weeks. They remind me very much of the Italian bruti et buoni to which I am sure they are closely related. The London confectioner Frederick Nutt, one time apprentice to the great Domenico Negri gives a number of recipes for this type of biscuit, which may have originated from the Italian peninsula. For instance, one, in his Complete Confectioner of 1789 called 'almond faggots' is very close to modern Umbrian bruti et buoni. These delicate crunchy biscuits have a feather-light texture and are redolent of orange flowers. They were probably eaten with sweet dessert wines.
However, Nutt's most interesting recipe in this genre is for a biscuit consisting of little morsels of citrus peel, which he calls millefruit biscuits. As well as the finely chopped preserved peel of oranges and lemons, they also contain angelica, slivered sweet almonds and bitter almonds, all held together with egg white and orange flower water icing. I have put Nutt's original recipe below. Try it. These unusual, delicate biscuits are easy and quick to make.
Nutt's book, first published in the year of the French Revolution was in its first few editions issued anonymously, the author being named at first as 'A Person'. Although Nutt's marvellous book is forgotten now, in its day it proved to be a best seller and went into a number of editions. Its easy to follow recipes have a professional ring about them. It certainly affords a remarkable glimpse into the sophistication of late Georgian dessert food. Nutt also gives us recipes for both Millefruit Ice Cream and Millefruit Water Ice. Just like his biscuits, these two frozen dessert dishes are spotted with little dots of cochineal at the end of the freezing process to create a kind of marbled effect. I have made both and they are excellent. I will devote a post to them at some time. But in the meantime, here is the process to make his delightful Millefruit Biscuits.
|Angelica is often used as a decoration, but here is an essential element in this biscuit. I use apricot kernels instead of bitter almonds.|
|The nuts, peels and angelica are mixed together with the icing|
|A teaspoon full is dropped onto paper - I use rice paper - and are spotted with cochineal with a small paint brush|
|They bake to a fine light brown and crisp up once they are cool|
|The finished biscuits. They are wonderfully crisp and have a perfumed, archaic citrus peel flavour|
If you live in Britain watch Ivan make Frederick Nutt's 1789 Spice Biscuits on a BBC video. Not available outside the UK. Sorry.