Marzipan is one of the most ancient candies we know. It started as a simple mix of almond meal and honey, and once sugar was introduced, it eventually became the refined sweet we know today.
France, Spain and Germany are all claiming to be the place where the cooked version, which is the supreme form of Marzipan, was created, but it most likely have happened simultaneously.
The version I bring here is the Sephardic one (see this post for information about Sephardim and Ladino), therefore with origins in Spain. For Sephardic families, Marzipan is the ultimate candy and is served in every family or social gathering for hundreds of years.
Commercial Marzipan is probably the reason why some people do not like Marzipan. It lacks the delicate flavor of the original and has all kinds of additions such as glucose and glycerin that prolong its shelf life, and harsh flavorings that mask the delicate natural almond flavor and aroma. If that is the only form of Marzipan you’ve tried, you should hold your judgment about Marzipan until you’ve tasted this homemade version.
There are quite a few recipes for homemade Marzipan that are not as time consuming as the one I have here. However, the ones that contain items such as eggs, or egg whites or corn syrup, would be looked upon with total condescension by Marzipan connoisseurs. For them, their favorite candy can contain nothing but almonds, sugar and a bit of lemon juice, as in the recipe here. The process is time consuming, but I’m sure that once you’ll taste the fresh marzipan, you will agree that it is worth the time and effort put into it.
So, if you’re into discovering the real thing, here are a few important points:
* Fresh, good quality almonds are crucial. Buy them in stores that sell a lot of them, to avoid stale ones.
* If you’re thinking about skipping the stages of soaking, peeling and drying the almonds, by using commercial blanched almonds, bear in mind that the result will lack in flavor and aroma.
* In Ladino, the stage when the syrup reaches the right consistency is called “Punto de Massapan”. It is also used to describe hot tempered, jumpy and unpredictable people. This means the moment is brief. If you’re not used to working with sugar, use an accurate candy thermometer instead of the ice water method shown here.
* The amount given here is indeed quite large, but bear in mind that these sweets tend to disappear quite quickly, and they also make a great gift. The paste can also be added to cakes and cookies, or rolled and cut into decorative shapes. However, if you still find the amount too big for your purposes, you can cut the amounts in half and follow the same process.
* Last but not least – please remember that the sugar syrup is extremely hot and can cause severe burns. Protect your hands!
Makes: about 170
Prep time for the almonds: 2 hours + 1-2 days to dry
The Marzipan: Cooking time: 10-15 minutes.
Shaping: 1 hour. Drying: 1-2 days
1.4 lbs (635 grams) fine almond meal (from 2 lbs/900 grams raw almonds)
1.4 lbs (635 grams) sugar
7.1 fl oz (210 ml) water
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
For dusting the tray: about ½ cup powdered sugar
1. The almonds: Place the raw almonds in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit until the water is warm. Take an almond and squeeze it gently between your fingers. The skin will come right off. Place the peeled almond on a large tray. Repeat with the rest of almonds. Let dry for 1-2 days before grinding.
2. Grind the peeled and dried almonds to a fine meal (preferably in small batches, in a spice grinder). Weigh the amount mentioned.
3. Cooking the Marzipan: combine the water, sugar and lemon juice in a large, flat pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook on medium heat, for 5 minutes.
4. Prepare a small bowl with ice water. Dust a large tray with powdered sugar.
5. Uncover the pot and boil for 2 minutes longer. Mix with a wooden spoon and carefully, drop a few drops of the syrup into the ice water. If the syrup forms a soft ball, and stretches slightly between your fingers, you have reached the famous “Punto de Massapan”. (235F/118C on candy thermometer).
6. Add the almond meal and mix, carefully, with the wooden spoon. Cook for 1-2 minutes on medium heat, mixing constantly, until the almond paste thickens and pulls away from the pot sides. Keep an eye while cooking and mixing, as the mixture can scorch easily at this point.
7. Carefully transfer the paste to the tray with the powdered sugar. Let cool to room temperature.
8. Take a handful of the paste and roll it into a 1”/2.5cm thick log. Cut on the bias, about 1.2”/3cm wide.
9. At this point the Marzipan is ready, but it will taste even better if you’ll let it dry for 1-2 days. Cover very loosely with parchment paper, to avoid dust.
The Marzipan will keep, in a loosely covered container, for a month. As it doesn’t contain any preservatives or additives, it will naturally harden a bit with time, but some prefer it even better at this stage.
* The brief moment of “Punto de Massapan” is beautifully described, among many others, in the wonderful novel “Esau”, by the Israeli author Meir Shalev. I highly recommend it.