Early Modern “Almond Bisqets”

In the Dynamic Traditions in Food and Literature course at the University of Texas at Arlington, one of the most important (and fun) assignments we have to complete is that of recreating this recipe found on transcribe.folger.edu.

For the historical research, searches for “almond biscuits” and “almond cookies” led group one to Chinese almond cookies. Because a Chinese recipe wasn’t used for this project, the closest relative to almond biscuits is believed to be macaroons.   

Located on  the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online, Cookbook Wa87, the following recipe is for Almond Bisquets. We first transcribed the recipe, which reads as follows:

     To Make Almond Bisquets

     Take a pound of almonds blanched and beat them in

     a mortar putting a little Rose water that they torn not

     to Oile, put to them half a pound of sugar beaten

     very fine, the whites of 4 eggs well beaten, a little Rose

     water mash and ambergrese, beat them all together

     a quart of em home and & put them on papers of what fashion

     you please, be careful in baking them that they be not

     to much calloured

After the recipe was deciphered, the real work began:

The first step was to boil rose petals and stems in water for 15 minutes, steep them for 3 days and then strain out the petals and stems, leaving only the rose water.

The second step was to use a mortar and pestle to grind down the almonds, one of the main ingredients. We also used a mortar and pestles  to grind down plants and herbs for medicine during the early modern period – hard work!

The third step called for 4 egg whites. We used the eggs shells  to separate out the egg whites from the yolk, and then we whisked into a froth. In the early modern period, Italian Jews adopted the cookie because it has no flour or leavening (bisquets were leavened by egg whites) and can be eaten during the eight-day observation of Passover. It was introduced to other European Jews and became popular as a year-round sweet.

Finally, we mixed all of the ingredients  together. The wet ingredients were first – the frothy egg whites and double refined sugar. Because the group did not possess ambergris, and because exact quantities in the recipe weren’t specified, we used vanilla for flavor. Then, the ground almonds were added to the mix, and finally, rose water. We then stirred for ¼ of an hour, or 15 minutes.

The next step was to line a pan with parchment paper, and place globs of the dough on the paper “as you please”. The dough was cooked at 300 degrees, but because an exact cooking time wasn’t specified, the almond cookies had to be watched closely to ensure they didn’t burn. Once the cookies browned evenly, we took them out of the oven.

Finally, the almond cookies were done. Now, the last step is the least difficult – eat the cookies and enjoy!


This presentation was brought to you by:

Mark Butler– Writing and preparing the blog post

Kaitlyn Mae– Transcribing the recipe and editing the blog post

Joan Robinson– Cooking the almond cookies

Breona Gardner– Filming the cookie’s preparation and assisting Joan with the ingredients.

Joshua Luebke– Historical research.



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