Believed to be originated in Persia, this yellow, moldable product has inspired artists and chefs alike for a long time. Over the years the wielders of Marzipan have discovered techniques to shape it into three dimensional shapes to decorate a plain cake. A look into the contents, origins, uses, and capabilities of the edible playdoh will help reveal the otherwise unknown wonders of this product and its impact on the arts of cooking and sculpting.
Marzipan is basically a mixture of almond paste, powdered sugar, and a moistening agent such as water, syrup, glucose, fondant, or egg whites. The marzipan can be colored with food dye or air brushed (Foster). In the U.S., marzipan is not officially defined, but it is generally made with a higher ratio of sugar to almonds than almond paste. While in other areas under EU law, created by the Budapest Marzipan Museum, marzipan must have a minimum almond oil content of 14 percent and a maximum moisture content of 8.5 percent. However, in Sweden and Finland “almond paste” refers to a marzipan that contains 50% ground almonds, which is considered much higher quality than regular marzipan (MarzipanLove.com). Author Thomas Mann wrote about it this way: “A third of this, two thirds of that, peeled, ground, blended, roasted, shaped – and the confection of the harem was finished.”
You can also make your own marzipan by mixing equal parts almond paste and powdered sugar, and then slowly working in a small amount of corn syrup until the mixture has a soft, slightly dry, dough-like consistency. With your own marzipan, some food coloring, a clean work surface, and some spare powdered sugar in case the marzipan gets too sticky to work with, you can make your own marzipan candy in whatever shapes you can imagine. Although it is known to be more complicated to make than what it seems. You can now purchase it in many local grocery stores.
Marzipan was not always easy to come by; it long remained an indulgence to only royals, and those with rather large pocketbooks. To get an idea of how preciously this food was valued, know that Charles IV received marzipan breads covered with gold leaf upon victoriously entering Siena.
Medicinal properties were attributed to this sought-after treat. In many places, even today, recipe books mention marzipan as an aphrodisiac, bread that provided strength or a heart stimulant. By adding crushed gemstones and pearls, as well as thyme or other medicinal herbs, it was said that its restorative effect could be improved. There are even mentions in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights of an almond paste eaten during Ramadan and as an aphrodisiac.
In 1557, the apothecaries held the privilege of making marzipan, making it one of the most profitable sources of income in those times. That’s because of the unbelievable prices being paid for sugar. Until the discovery of America, prices weren’t able to be lowered. The discovery of new land opened up new areas for cultivating sugarcane there by lowering the prices of sugar. Eventually, the progressively increasing demand for marzipan gave birth to a new vocation in France, the pastry cook. Several of these hard-working pastry cooks migrated throughout the world to spread their art of marzipan making at the courts of the nobility (leffingwell.com).
It wasn’t until the early 19th century that sugar could also be produced from beets. The common people could now finally afford this superb delicacy because expensive imported cane sugar could be replaced by domestically produced beet sugar. The first marzipan factory, equipped with steam-driven beet presses, almond mills and kneaders, went into production in1806.
Although believed to have originated in Persia (present-day Iran) and to have been introduced to Europe through the Turks, there is some disagreement between Hungary and Italy over marzipan’s origin. Other possible geographic origins are of Toledo, Spain and Sicily, Italy. In both cases, there is a reason to believe that there is a clear Arabic influence for historical reasons primary because both regions were under Muslim control. Other sources establish the origin of marzipan in China, from where the recipe moved on to the Middle East and then to Europe through Al-Andalus. Alas, it is not possible to clearly identify its origin.
After its ingredients are mixed, marzipan reaches a consistency of dough or soft rubber and can be rolled, shaped, cut, or molded. It is often sculpted into a variety of shapes. Its soft, pliable texture allows a skilled decorator such as flowers, fruits, people, or animals. With the right techniques, a skilled artist can make very realistic shapes.In some countries marzipan is shaped into small figures of animals, used as a traditional treat forNew Year's Day.
Because marzipan is both delicious to eat on its own and simple to make, it is often used both as the icing for cakes and as decoration. Traditionally, marzipan is used in wedding cakes,Christmas cakes, andstollen. When used to ice a cake, marzipan is rolled into a thin sheet and draped over the cake. Usually a fruit glaze applied with between the cake and marzipan so that the icing sticks more securely. Once the marzipan is draped over the cake, the sides are carefully smoothed down so that the icing is uniform and free of bubbles or wrinkles.
Marzipan is also used to decorate cakes in many ways as well. Its soft, malleable consistency allows the decorator to shape the marzipan into three dimensional shapes. Using cookie cutters or a sharp knife, marzipan can be cut into shapes, letters and numbers, which are then attached to the sides or top of a cake. These decorations add color, flavor, and texture to what might then be a normal cake.
Today, marzipan is used as an art form. With the rising number of marzipan museums and the ability to access the internet it is now possible to see the potentials of working with marzipan. Realistic depictions of fruit, animals, body parts, and everyday items are all what you might find in this type of museum. This is not merely just a baking activity, it’s a historically significant type of art, and has influenced many aspects of life.