Marzipan Modeling, are you nuts?

Marzipan fruits

Good morning and thanks for dropping by. Today, I’m returning to another section on sugar craft. Marzipan is a confection consisting primarily of sugar or honey and almond meal, sometimes augmented with almond oil or extract. It is often made into sweets; common uses are chocolate-covered marzipan and small marzipan imitations of fruits and vegetables. Almost any kind of character can be created with marzipan, more often than not they are usually cartoon like. The tools required for not have to be complicated. Small tools similar to potter’s tools are often used. Beyond this, toothpicks, popsicle sticks and a small utility knife will suffice. The only other considerations are colours, use high quality pastry colours. Also a clean, non porous work surface like stainless steel or marble is preferred. To begin, I’ve included a little history, followed by a link to a video featuring Anna Olson, one of Canada’s premium pastry chefs. Enjoy!

There are two proposed lines of origin for marzipan; they are not necessarily contradictory and may be complementary, as there have always been Mediterranean trade and cooking influences. Other sources establish the origin of marzipan in China, from where the recipe moved on to the Middle East and then to Europe through Al-Andalus.

Northeast Mediterranean

Although it is believed to have been introduced to Eastern Europe through the Turks (badem ezmesi in Turkish, and most notably produced in Edirne), there is some dispute between Hungary and Italy over its origin. Marzipan became a specialty of the Hanseatic League port towns. In particular, the cities of Lübeck and Tallinn have a proud tradition of marzipan manufacture. Examples include Lübecker Marzipan. The city’s manufacturers like Niederegger still guarantee their marzipan to contain two-thirds almonds by weight, which results in a product of highest quality. Historically, the city of Königsberg in East Prussia was also renowned for its distinctive marzipan production. Königsberg marzipan remains a special type of marzipan in Germany that is golden brown on its surface and sometimes embedded with marmalade at its centre.

Iberian Peninsula

Fruit-shaped marzipan in baskets at a shop in Barcelona
Another possible geographic origin is the parts of Spain that were known as Al-Andalus. In Toledo (850-900, though more probably 1150 during the reign of Alfonso VII) this specialty was known as Postre Regio (instead of Mazapán). There are also mentions in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights of an almond paste eaten during Ramadan and as an aphrodisiac. Mazapán is Toledo’s most famous dessert, often created for Christmas, and has PGI status. For this, almonds have to be at least 50% of the total weight, following the directives of Mazapán de Toledo regulator counseil.

Follow this link for an introduction to marzipan modeling.

Again this is another specialized skill that many chefs will spend years mastering. It has many applications, and can be eaten as a confection, or used for decorating cakes, and for small buffet centerpieces. Many of these topics will be covered in more detail in my second year Advanced culinary & pastry arts program. Contact me for details. Cheers, and happy cooking!