I’m getting in the Christmas cooking mood and yesterday I was looking at some old recipes for mincemeat; one was fairly conventional, mixed dried fruits, suet and rum, the other had chopped dates and figs as well as the usual trio of currants, sultanas and raisins. They both included ratafia essence which isn’t something you ever see these days – maybe I could start a new food trend, ratafia revival?!
You may know rafafia as a sort of liqueur but I think the flavouring in this ninety year-old recipe is different. There are several different things ratafia could be:
- a sweet alcoholic drink such as a fortified wine
- a fruit-based, spicy or herby liqueur or a cordial, which might have ingredients such as lemon zest, aromatic herbs or Christmassy spices
- as above but with the flavour of bitter almonds, either from actual almonds, or from the kernels of fruit such as cherries, plums, peaches, apricots (their kernels do contain a poison in minute quantities so I guess you have to be careful with home-made ratafia!) This is the flavour of crunchy ratafia biscuits.
- ratafia can also be brandy and grape juice which is the French style of making it
- in Italy in the wine growing areas of Abruzzo it’s just made with cherries – which sounds delicious!
Back to the mincemeat… In this same recipe book is a mincemeat cheesecake, which surprised me because I thought it was a modern invention, or at least a modern favourite, I didn’t realise it was over a hundred years old! I had never even heard of it until I went to Manchester as a student and a local delicatessen sold it.
The cheesecake in this recipe is not much like what we think of these days, it sounds tasty all the same!
- 2 oz butter
- 2 oz brown sugar
- 1 oz flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 oz ground rice
- 1 oz ground almonds
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- short or flaky pastry
- roll out pastry and cut out to line small cake or bun tins
- cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
- add the egg and continue to beat
- add the flour, ground rice and cinnamon and mix well
- finally add the almonds
- spoon mincemeat into each pastry case
- cover with the mixture
- bake for about twenty minutes, 180°C, 360°F, gas mark 4, or until soft and cooked (I would bake the pastry blind first)