Have you ever seen those adorable edible fruits, vegetables, animals or other items sitting on top of a cake or candy? Did you wonder what they are made of? It’s marzipan, a combination of blanched and finely ground almonds, sugar, and something to bind those ingredients together. The confection is also used in lots of baked goods, especially Danish pastry, and those beautiful almond crescents I lust after in bakery cases.
Grocery stores sell marzipan (typically near chips and other baking supplies), but it’s frightfully expensive. Now that I know how to make this delight, I’ll never have to pay those high prices again. Plus, when I mentioned this adventure to several friends, their eyes lit up, so I’ll revisit this homemade goodie at holiday time. It would make an easy and delicious homemade gift, like candied ginger and chocolate bark.
Marzipan came on my radar when I made my friend Marguerite’s gluten-free berry cake. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of gluten-free marzipan. The only brand I found in local stores, Odense, claims to be gluten-free, but uses wheat starch. (The company website says that the amount of wheat contained in their marzipan is below the FDA standard so they can call their product gluten-free.) That fact, plus the price ($6 for a log – more than I needed) convinced me to make my own marzipan.
Down the rabbit hole I went.
Hours later I knew the following about marzipan:
- It can be made either without heating or it can be cooked.
- The ratio of ground almonds to sugar in marzipan can vary tremendously depending on the recipe. I found ratios of almonds to sugar from just over 1-to-4 (in the Odense brand) to a 3-to-2 ratio in one homemade recipe.
- A more intense version of almonds and sugar is called almond paste, but whether a particular recipe is marzipan or the more intensely flavored almond paste is a matter of semantics. For example, Odense marzipan is 28% almonds and Odense almond paste is 45% almonds. Another brand, Love ‘n Bake, uses 40% almonds in its marzipan, making it almost like the Odense almond paste. The Love ‘n Bake almond paste is made with 66% almonds.
- The binding agent can be egg white, lemon juice, corn syrup or other liquid sugar, water, liqueur (especially Kirsch, which is cherry-flavored) or some combination. For food safety reasons, it is not advisable to use an egg white if you are doing the uncooked version (unless the marzipan will be baked into a pastry.)
- Some recipes give the marzipan a flavor boost with almond extract, while others do not.
Here’s how I made my homemade version. Luckily, I promised a neighbor some or I might have eaten the whole log myself.
Servings – 1 log approximately 10 ounces (about 6 inches by 1½ inches) Cost – $2
- 1 cup blanched and ground almonds (approximately 3⅝ ounces) – almond flour is the easiest way to get this ingredient, but you could buy blanched almonds and grind them yourself
- 2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar (approximately 5⅖ ounces)
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- Food scale or measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Large bowl
- Sifter or mesh strainer
- Small bowls for the liquid ingredients
- Large spoon or spatula
- 1 gallon plastic bag
- Cutting board
- Small knife
- Pour the almond flour and confectioners sugar into the sifter or mesh strainer over the bowl. [It is preferable to weigh those dry ingredients rather than measure them because weighing is more accurate; how much you push them down in the measuring cup will affect how much fits in, whereas on a scale the weight doesn’t vary by how much you have compacted the ground almonds or sugar. In any event, as you could tell from the description above, the ratio varies so much in recipes I found that I doubt a small variation in the amount of either ingredient will dramatically affect the taste or texture of the marzipan.]
- Sift the ground almonds and sugar together. If you prefer to hand mix them, make sure they are completely combined.
- Mix the almond extract and corn syrup and pour them into the dry ingredients. Mix and then knead with your hand until the mixture is slightly wet, although it won’t fully bind together yet.
- Add ½ tablespoon of water at first, then the rest of the tablespoon only if necessary, working the mixture until it becomes dough-like. If necessary add a bit more water, but be conservative and add by 1/2 tablespoons, not more. Shape the now-pliable dough into an oblong, put in the freezer bag and gently roll it into a smooth log.
- Refrigerate the log for at least one hour. To serve, cut the chilled marzipan into pieces about ½ inch thick.
If you want to really go to town, cut each piece in half and dip it in melted chocolate.
Later in the week – Gluten-Free Berry Cake with marzipan as an ingredient.