Most people have a love-hate relationship with Marzipan – it’s one of those foods that incite either passion or can be wholeheartedly despised. When I think of Marzipan, Sicily comes to mind and the trays of miniature fruit in hues of reds and yellows made out of the precious almond paste. Wonderful to look at but a touch sickening once in your mouth.
I recently made a flourless chocolate cake with butter and almond paste – one of my guests commented he loved it because of the marzipan. I restrained myself from pointing out that marzipan and almond paste are two slightly different things. For the punctilious among us almond paste is made with blanched almonds, sugar and water cooked until smooth – sometimes rosewater is added for flavor. Marzipan is almond paste to which more sugar has been added to make it more pliable and easy to use. We can then enter the distinction between French, German and British marzipan – the British being always different (they live on an island after all) make their own with almonds, sugar and egg whites and none of it is cooked.
The finest counterpoint to marzipan is chocolate as I found out early in life thanks to the “Mozart balls” – they are not actually called Mozart balls and I cannot remember who makes them but they are individually sold small balls of chocolate filled with marzipan and wrapped in paper that bears the effigy of Wolfgang Amadeus. They are absolutely delightful and if anyone has ever seen them in this country, you have to let me know.
Because I am proudly Italian, I will accept the theory that marzipan originated in my home country (although Persia and Hungary are close contenders). The name “marzapane” is documented in the Italian language earlier than in any other and it probably comes from the Latin “Martius Panis” or March Bread. Why it would be associated with the approaching month of March, no one has been able to figure it out. Marzipan is a bit of an outdated food – the cake I recently made was extremely decadent (a synonym for fattening) but keep reading and I will try to come up with something lighter to welcome March with.