Marzipan: The FlavorMy mother absolutely adored Marzipan. There is a special family recipe for it and every year my mother would wait anxiously at Christmas time for a special box to arrive from her cousin Pat, the official guardian of the family recipe. Aunt Pat ‘s Marzipan was beautiful and she must have slaved over it for hours, tinting each batch which the colors that she needed and hand shaping each piece into a lovely little pea pod , complete with curling tendrils or a potato, lovingly hand tinted with a brush dipped into food coloring and then dusted with a bit of cinnamon to look as if it had just been pulled from the earth.
My Aunt Pats Marzipan was delicious as well as beautiful, filled with ground almonds and sugar then flavored with just a touch of rosewater and natural almond flavoring. Because it was so fresh the smell was incredible and I would put my nose in the box to take a deep delicious breath. Every year I’d watch my mother guard the precious little package, eating one at a time, savoring the delightful flavor and the love that had gone into creating each piece. If I was lucky, she’d let me have one, but never the Strawberry because that was her favorite. Dipped in crystal sugar for a sparkling dewy effect it was indeed the most beautiful piece in the box so I never begrudged her that pleasure!
Marzipan recipes first began to appear on the huge groaning boards and feast tables during the Middle Ages. Fanciful Marzipan creations were truly the first “Illusion foods”, in other the paste was shaped to create beautiful replicas of traditional feast foods, causing much delight when the guests would sample one of the unusual sweetmeats . Marzipan was also used extensively in the 16th and 17th century to make incredibly fanciful and artistic sugar centerpieces that were found on the banquet tables of noblemen all over Europe and even in this country, Marzipan delicacies could be found wrapped in gold leaf and served at George Washington’s table. Many Medieval and early American cookbooks still have recipes for Marzipan and it’s fun to make it yourself, but truthfully you can save yourself the trouble and buy it premade and ready to use at any good gourmet food store.
Marzipan can be rolled thin into a sheet of frosting to cover a cake or it can be dipped in chocolate, my own personal favorite way of eating it! There are may wonderful recipes for marzipan to be found online for both cooked and uncooked variations, but I suggest the cooked, because it is generally smoother and much easier to work with. Go to this link http://candy.about.com/od/nougatmarzipancandy/r/Basicmarzipan.htm for a good basic recipe, but be sure to add a bit of rosewater and almond extract to the mixture to give it a very special flavor. It takes a while to get used to tinting and shaping the marzipan so be very patient and definitely expect to mess up the first batch or two that you make. I promise that you’ll get the hang of it though and once you do , you’ll have an easy and delicious Christmas gift that you can make in a relatively short amount of time. One of the easiest things to do with fresh marzipan is to take a hazelnut and form a healthy bit of the candy around it, shaping it into a ball. Chill the bonbons in the refrigerator and then melt and temper some dark chocolate and dip each piece of marzipan in it. I love to have bowls of crushed pistachios or decorative sugar crystals ready to sprinkle onto the candies for an even fancier effect. You can even get gold leaf powder to dust the chocolates with , a beautifully elegant effect. Several of these “truffles” interspersed with some pretty cookies and the fancy marzipan fruits and vegetables will be an amazing presentation for any occasion.
The last party that we ever gave for my mother before her death was a magnificent 85th birthday tea that we held at the Cleveland Ritz Carlton for her and about 50 of her friends. My sister and planned the menu with all of her favorites, little cucumber sandwiches, egg salad and roast beef, smoked salmon with capers and plenty of scones and sweets. We had a huge birthday cake that was covered in orchids and of course many pots of fancy tea including the special jasmine which was always her favorite!
When I called my Aunt Pat and my cousin Susan in Chicago to see if they could join us for the day, I was very saddened to discover that my Aunt wouldn’t be able to travel. My cousin asked if there was anything that our mother would like and thinking about it for a split second I asked them for enough marzipan to pass out as favor for everyone who was joining us. My cousin Susan , an extraordinary cook in her own right said that she would be delighted to have that be her contribution and about 2 days before the party the box arrived at my front door. I had gotten clear rectangular candy boxes from Sur La table and enough licorice Scottie Dogs (my mother’s other favorite candy!) to fill them and plenty of polka dotted ribbon! When I opened the box I gasped. Inside was one lovely gold box marked “For Barbara”, that was filled with beautifully made vegetables and fruits just as she had always loved. I was shocked to see several other boxes that were filled with enough marzipan strawberries for everyone to have at least three. I had so much fun making up those little boxes and tying them with the ribbons and even more fun when I saw the delighted expression that crossed my mothers face as she saw that all of her friends were to finally to get some of those treasured strawberries. It was a wonderful day, made even more special with the addition of such a delicious and fragrant treat. I've always wanted a fragrance that was reminiscent of my favorite marzipan candies and Roxana Villa's beautiful "Smell Me" perfume instantly reminded me of that special day with my mother. It smells absolutely wonderful just like my Aunt's special rosewater and almond marzipan and my mothers favorite teas.
When you're done here, hop over to her Illuminated Journal and read her thoughts on Marzipan: The Fragrance!
Now sit back and enjoy the Retta show!
Marzipan Picture courtesy of http://www.sugarcraft.com/
Grand Feast courtesy of http://www.pbm.com/