Every Christmastime in Western Europe, sugary treats incredibly fashioned into tiny realistic-looking fruits and animals are everywhere. They stand out against the gloomy weather outside, and they’re made out of marzipan.
Marzipan is a sweet and delicious paste of sugar or honey and ground almonds, which is usually augmented with almond oil or extract. Marzipan is used to make candies, frosted cakes, bite-sized dessert cups, and so many more confectioneries.
Its origin is a bit vague. Some claim it came from Persia while others think it’s from Italy, France, Germany, or Spain. Actually, marzipan is so popular in Spain that settlers brought it to America where its recipe calls for peanuts instead of almonds.
Marzipan is an essential ingredient for holiday baking, but it isn’t limited to just the yuletide season, mind you.
The application of marzipan in baking is vast. It is used in the UK on large fruitcakes; it is shaped into small animal figures to celebrate New Year; as Tortell in versions of king cakes during Carnival season; or even to cover the traditional Swedish princess cakes. It’s readily available all year round like chocolate.
A common misconception of marzipan is that it’s the same as almond paste. Both are made of almonds, but marzipan is dyed, smoother, sweeter, and molded into shapes while, almond paste is semi-bitter, coarser, and is used as an ingredient or filling for baked goods. Because they have completely different textures and the flavors, they can’t substitute each other.
As a former colony of Spain, we have marzipan in the Philippines, too. Here, it’s prepared with pili nuts in lieu of almonds.
Banner photo courtesy of Alice Wiegand.