Manus Christi, or “the hand of Christ”, was a confection used as a preventative, similar to a vitamin. There are many different recipes some which include crushed pearls, cinnamon, flower essence, gemstones, gold and silver leaf.1 In the 16th century Manus Christi was a delicate crystallized sugar wafer, flavored with rose water. But more importantly, Manus Christi was a stage for boiling sugar. Many apothecary and confectionery recipes tell the user to boil sugar to Manus Christi height.
To make Manus Christi
Take halfe a pound of refined Suger, and some Rose water, and boyle them together, till it come to sugar again, then stirre it about while it be somewhat cold, then take your leaf gould, and mingle with it, then cast it according to art, That is in round gobbetts, and so keep them. 2
8oz by weight, granulated sugar
4oz by volume, rose water
Gold leaf flakes- optional
1. Mix sugar and water together and set on high heat
2. When dissolved, drop temperature to medium high heat
3. When temperature reaches 245° F remove from heat
4. Stir with a wooden spoon until candy starts to cloud and turn opaque.
5. Stir in gold leaf flakes at this time.
6. Drop cooling candy on a sheet of parchment in quarter to half dollar sized rounds.
7. Once cool, store in air-tight container at room temperature.
8. Also you can apply the gold leaf to the tops of the candies by dabbing a little water on the top and sprinkling the gold to the top. Do not use too much water as this could cause the candies to dissolve.
The most ideal texture and temperature to cook the sugar is to a firm ball. At the “soft ball stage”, the sugar takes longer to crystallize and it doesn’t set up into a wafer very easily. It is also prone to re-hydrating from moisture in the atmosphere and becoming sugar sludge. At the “hard ball stage”, the sugar crystallized very quickly and sets up too quickly. You have to pour the sugar while it is still quite hot and you do not get a smooth slick surface to the candy. The sweet spot appears to be “firm ball”, the stage right between the two. There is only 15 degrees between soft and hard ball stages and the sugar will progress through these 3 stages pretty quickly. At 245° F the heat should be killed and the pot removed from the stove. This produces a very smooth candy, with a fine grain crystal. It should dissolve on the tongue producing a slight effervescence mouth feel.
Creating Manus Christi is not generally difficult to recreate in modern times. Candy thermometers make it easy to know when the sugar has come to the correct temperature. A more period method of sugar temperature measurement can be achieved by paying attention to how the sugar is boiling. In a firm ball state, the sugar bubbles are well formed, but not rolling. The pot should look like boiling water, but the bubbles lack the force to spit sugar up the sides of the pan. The sugar is still clear and has not started to take on color. This could be described as “Manus Christi height”. If the boiling sugar starts to roll and look light brown, the candy has progress to a stage past the ball phase. This can be fixed by adding more water to dilute the sugar concentrate. The entire process requires careful monitoring of the boiling sugar.
This confection was produced using a small batch artisan refined loaf sugar. The confectioner that created the sugar is using an 18th century refining processes. This is as close to period refined sugar I am able to purchase. It has a higher moisture content, larger sugar crystal structure and has a harder texture. It also has a noticeably different taste than modern granulated sugar. One thing that needed to be done was breaking the cone into small chunks prior to dissolving. The resulting sugar has a grittier texture than modern sugar. The higher moisture content increased the time to get the sugar to proper temperature. This is due to requiring more time to get the sugar to the appropriate level of saturation.
1. Richardson, Tim. Sweets: A History of Candy. New York, NY: MJF /Fine Communications, 2005. Print.
2. A Closet for Ladies and Gentlevvomen: Or, the Art of Preseruing, Conseruing, and Candying ; with the Manner Hovve to Make Diuers Kinds of Syrups, and All Kind of Banqueting Stuffes : Also Diuers Soueraigne Medicines … London: Printed for Arthur Iohnson …, 1602. Print.