Ratafias are flavored liqueurs made of sweetened, infused spirits. They were used in confectionery and pastry, and came in different colors and flavors.
Ratafia is a term used for two types of sweet alcoholic beverage, either a fortified wine or a fruit-based beverage. The latter type is a liqueur or cordial flavored with lemon peel, herbs in various amounts (nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, mint, rosemary, anise, etc.) typically combined with sugar. It may also be prepared with peach or cherry kernels, bitter almonds, or other fruits, as many different varieties are made. The same name is given to a flavoring essence resembling bitter almonds, and also to a light biscuit. The former type is a type of mistelle, a mixture of marc brandy and the unfermented juice of the grape, and it is the type of Ratafia produced in France.
The flavorings can potentially make this liqueur toxic, as peach and cherry kernels contain high levels of a common cyanogenic glucoside, called amygdalin, (about 1.7 mg per gram of kernel), as do bitter almonds (2.5 mg/g).
Other less toxic flavorings can also be used, such as in-season fruit, vegetables, and fresh herbs. A basic recipe includes a bottle of red or white wine, 1/4 cup vodka (to prevent fermentation), 1 cup cut-up fruits, vegetables, or herbs, 1/4 cup sugar. Combine all ingredients in a large jar and refrigerate 3 to 4 weeks; strain into a clean wine bottle and cork or cap tightly. Keep refrigerated.
Some classic recipes for ratafias can be found in The Complete Confectioner, Pastry Cook and Baker, published in 1864 by the Parkinson family.
Recipes from the Book – from 1864
These are liqueurs made by the infusion of the ingredients in spirits, and are similarly composed to the spirituous wafers, but instead of being distilled they are simply filtered, and sugar is added to them.
Angelica seeds one ounce, angelica stalks four ounces, bitter almonds four ounces, one drachm each of cinnamon and cloves, proof spirit six quarts, loaf sugar four pounds. Blanch and pound the almonds sugar, or a little water; pound the other ingredients a little, and bruise the stalks. Infuse for a month, stirring it occasionally. Filter and bottle with some of the sugar, or a little water; pound the other ingredients a little, and bruise the stalks. Infuse for a month, stirring it occasionally. Filter and bottle.
Ratafia de Cacao
Cacao of Caracca one pound, West India cocoa nuts eight ounces, proof spirit one gallon, roast the nuts and bruise them, add them to the spirit and infuse for fourteen days, stirring them occasionally, filter and add thirty drops of essence of vanilla and two pounds of sugar.”
The petals of clove pinks, with the white parts pulled off, four pounds, cinnamon and clovesproof spirit one gallon, sugar three pounds. Infuse for a month, filter, and bottle.
Coriander seed one ounce, angelica seed two ounces, fennel and anise-seed of each two drachms, two lemons, two oranges, the zest of two citrons, two quarts of rectified spirit and two pounds of sugar, caraway seedsyellow rind of the lemons and oranges, and squeeze the juice.sugar in a pint of water. Infuse the whole together for fourteen days. Strain, filter, and bottle.
Chrême de Barbade
The yellow rind of three oranges and three lemons, cinnamon four ounces, mace two drachms, cloves one drachm, rum nine quarts, fresh balm leaves six ounces. Infuse and distil in the bain-marie, or strain; add an equal quantity of sugar with water.
Ratafia de Brout des Noix
Young walnuts, when the shells are not formed, number eighty, mace, cinnamon, and cloves, of each half a drachm, proof spirit one gallon. Pound the nuts in a mortar, add them and the spice to the spirit, with two pounds of sugar. Infuse for two months, stirring it occasionally; press out the liquor through a cloth. Filter and bottle.