The origin of this word is uncertain, perhaps Spanish or West Indian, but probably it is of Creole origin and is related to tafia (rum). To confuse the issue it means rather different things in different countries. In the Champagne country, ratafia is an aperitif of brandy diluted with unfermented champagne grape juice. In England a ratafia is a bitter almond flavoured cordial or a small sweet biscuit also strongly flavoured with bitter almond.
A ratafia can, however, be spirit flavoured with any fruit or even herbs, the flavouring substances being extracted by soaking or maceration, almost always in brandy or grape spirit. Some liqueurs are ratafias, and many properly made essences might be called ratafias also. Strong alcohol is a powerful preservative as well as a solvent of substances which are not soluble in water.
What is Ratafia and How Do You Use It? Photo Gallery
In nineteenth-century cookery blogs, one finds many recipes for home-made ratafias, but these were the days before taxes had robbed the cook of the possibility of using brandy. There were ratafias of apricots, nectarines, peaches, blackcurrants, blackberries, angelica, oranges, gooseberries, orange-flowers, quince, raspberries, cherries, bitter almonds and roses. No doubt there were many more. These concoctions contained supporting flavourings ranging from cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg through vanilla, coriander, allspice, peach and apricot leaves to laurel leaves, sassafras, rosewater and even ambergris.
These preparations are clearly of great potential value to the cook. Faced with such exciting possibilities for flavouring cakes and creams, one can only suggest marching on the capital and requesting that the tax on brandy be reduced forthwith.
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