What Is Marzipan And How Do You Use It?

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Marzipan is a sweet and pliable almond mixture that can be molded into decorative shapes or used as a cake filling. If you love all things foodieblog and festive, you've probably come across this classic holiday treat.

Marzipan is one of the oldest desserts in Europe and has a fascinating history. Scholars believe that it was originally exported to Europe from the Middle East and was used in Renaissance Italy to sculpt elaborate edible displays. Marzipan also has long culinary traditions in Germany, Spain, Hungary, and Scandinavia.

In Britain, marzipan was used by the Victorians to create Battenburg cake — a staple of afternoon tea — and to decorate Christmas fruit sponges, contributing to its modern association with the holidays. And today, you'll most often find artisanal marzipan decorations in the shape of fruits, loaves of bread, or as holiday-themed accessories. Think marzipan holly leaves on a Christmas pudding or snowman cuts out on sugar cookies. 

So, if you want to liven up your Christmas cake, this ingredient guide has everything you need to know. We've scoured the internet to find the best food sources, baking blogs, and cooking experts to get the lowdown on marzipan. 

How is marzipan made?

A traditional marzipan recipe includes ground almonds, icing sugar, and eggto make a thick, structured paste. During the process, the almonds and sugar are usually mixed first, the eggs are added, and the paste is kneaded to give the marzipan its smooth texture. Some recipes call for only egg whites, while others include egg yolks too.

If you're making marzipan at home, you can use a food processor at every stage or knead the dough by hand to check for feel and consistency. For cooks who don't want to add eggs to their marzipan, alternative binding agents, such as corn syrup, honey, or golden syrup, can be used instead.

Many cooks add other flavors to their marzipan when they mix in their wet ingredients. Traditional options include rose water, almond extract, and vanilla extract. You can also add lemon juice or orange zest to give your marzipan an extra fruity kick. Once made, marzipan is usually rolled flat or kneaded into a sliceable loaf and chilled in the fridge. You can also coat your marzipan with an apricot jam glaze to give it a shine and some additional sweetness. 

Marzipan vs. almond paste

Although marzipan is often described as an almond paste, there are several important distinctions between these two baking ingredients. Marzipan and almond paste are often confused because they have the same core ingredients: sugar, ground almonds, and some kind of wet binding agent. However, marzipan is stiffer than almond paste because it contains more sugar. In contrast, almond paste is wetter and more oily than marzipan and has a coarse texture.

While this might sound like a small difference, the extra sugar in marzipan is what gives this ingredient its pliable structure and allows you to mold it and create new shapes. Almond paste can't be sculpted and is generally used as a filling — in desserts like almond croissants or chocolate candies — or is mixed through cake dough to give an almond flavor. It usually has a gritty, spreadable texture, like a dry paste, whereas marzipan is smooth, supple, and moist, like dough.

If you're buying marzipan from the grocery store, make sure you check the labels carefully so that you know you're getting the right thing. Almond paste can't be used as a substitute for marzipan as it won't hold its shape. Marzipan often comes in tubes or plastic tubs, while almond paste is generally sold in tins. In certain parts of the world, the distinction between marzipan and other almond pastes is even regulated, with a certain ratio of sugar and almonds required to earn the marzipan title.

What does marzipan taste like?

Marzipan has a very sugary, candy-like flavor so it is especially recommended for those with a naturally sweet tooth. The almonds in marzipan give it a slightly nutty taste and create a rich, vaguely creamy flavor. However, marzipan is not overly bitter, the way that almond milk or whole almond nuts can be. Instead, the sweetness gives marzipan a taste similar to almond liqueurs, like Amaretto or Amendoa, but without the alcohol burn.

Texture-wise, marzipan should be smooth and chewy but without too much stretch. If you buy higher quality marzipan from artisanal sweet shops or bakeries, you will often find that it is slightly less sugary making the nut flavor more pronounced. The taste can also differ between American and European marzipan, as high-quality European marzipan can be made with bitter almonds, which are not used in the U.S. Unlike artisanal types, marzipan bought from supermarkets may have artificial sweeteners or food colorings added that can give it a slightly synthetic taste, which some people find off-putting.

How to cook with marzipan

Marzipan is a flexible ingredient and can be used as cake decoration or for cake fillings and toppings. In German stollen cakes – a well-loved Christmas fruit loaf — marzipan is cut into pieces and mixed through the dough, along with fruit and nuts, to create a moist, chunky sponge. Thinly rolled marzipan is also draped over Christmas cakes and can be added as a middle layer between sponge sheets to help a chocolate cake stay moist.

If you want to decorate a cake with colorful icing, marzipan acts as a handy barrier to stop food coloring from the frosting leeching into the sponge. Marzipan is also a great candy filling and can be used inside chocolate cups or Christmas cookies. If you want a fun, festive activity to do with your kids, cut marzipan into shapes, paint them with food coloring, and stick them onto gingerbread biscuits.

Marzipan is also quick and easy to make at home, so you can adapt the recipe to suit your taste. This might mean slightly reducing the sugar content, switching out the binding agent, or changing up the flavors that you add. Of course, almond flour can be a bit on the pricey side, so you might find it cheaper to buy raw almonds and blend them yourself if you have a heavy-duty processor. Fortunately, a little goes a long way with marzipan, so you should be able to get several uses out of a single marzipan log.

Where to buy marzipan

Marzipan can be found in the baking and pantry aisle of most supermarkets and grocery stores. You can find different varieties of marzipan and marzipan cake decorations for sale in stores like Walmart, Whole Foods, and Kroger, among others. Marzipan can also be purchased in high-end delicatessens, artisanal sweet shops, and some independent bakeries. Local Christmas markets, for example, are great places to visit if you're looking for unique marzipan delicacies.

You will also find a variety of online outlets selling high-quality marzipan, such as the famous German Niederegger brand or Bergen marzipan, which is manufactured in North America but uses a traditional European recipe. Online retail companies, such as World Wide Chocolate, European Deli, and even Amazon, sell a variety of marzipan items and marzipan candy sets that make great Christmas gifts. Meanwhile, if you're looking to buy marzipan purely for baking at home, a standard store-bought log from a local supermarket is an affordable option. In the U.S., marzipan is sometimes labeled as almond candy dough, so be sure to check package labels to make sure that you buy the right thing. 

Marzipan's nutritional information

Marzipan has a very high sugar content and a high fat content from the almond nuts, which means it's a calorie-dense food. Store-bought marzipans usually contain around 150-200 calories and around 6 grams of fat per a 40g serving. However, since marzipan is made using ground almonds, it does have quite a high nutritional value compared with many other sugary treats.

Almonds are a good source of magnesium and vitamin E and a 20g portion of marzipan contains a chunk of your recommended daily allowance for both these nutrients. Nuts are also a high-protein food, which makes marzipan more satiating than purely sugar-based snacks. You'll find just over one gram of protein in 20g of Bergen marzipan.

Vitamin B7 is also a prominent nutrient in almonds and can be found in small amounts in marzipan. Other trace minerals in marzipan include copper, phosphorus, and iron. However, despite these nutritional benefits, it is important to remember that marzipan is not a healthy snack and is extremely high in sugar. If you want to reduce the sugar content, the easiest way is to make marzipan at home so that you control the quantities or check the ingredient labels on different marzipan brands.

What are the different varieties of marzipan?

While most marzipan follows a similar recipe, there are various types that you can buy. Most variations depend on where the marzipan is produced, although you can also get different flavored marzipan. French marzipan known as massepain, is similar to traditional marzipan but uses a sugar syrup as a sweetener and binding agent. You can also buy mazapán, which comes from South America and uses ground peanuts instead of almonds.

Another marzipan variant known as mazapán de pili, hails from the Philippines and is made with pili nuts. Goa, in India, also produces a marzipan made with cashews which is traditionally called Goan. You are less likely to come across these types of marzipan unless you're shopping in a specifically regional store.

Most marzipan sold in the United States follows the traditional European almond recipe, swapping out bitter almonds for sweet almonds. Using bitter almonds is prohibited by U.S. law because bitter almonds contain trace amounts of hydrocyanic acid, a toxic compound also found in cyanide.

Pistachio marzipan  is another delicious European variant and is popular in Germany, where it is famously produced by the Niederegger confectionary company. This type of marzipan has a beautiful green tinge and is generally made using a mixture of almonds and pistachios. You can also find versions of marzipan made with hazelnuts or make this yourself at home. Chocolate marzipan, which adds cocoa to the traditional almond mix, is also a must-try for candy lovers.

How to store marzipan

The aim when storing marzipan is to keep the product fresh and moist so that it remains pliable. If marzipan is not stored correctly it will start to go hard and will crack or break when you try to shape it. To avoid this, you want to prevent air from getting to the product. The easiest way to do this is to store marzipan in an airtight Tupperware container or a sealed plastic bag.

Marzipan does not need to be kept in the fridge, although you can chill it after you make it to help it set. You can also put marzipan in the fridge for a couple of hours before you work with it. Chilling the marzipan can give it a slightly firmer consistency, making it easier to cut and mold. However, with a good, sturdy marzipan mix, this step isn't really necessary.

Once you've added marzipan to your cake, you can store the cake in the fridge or under a covering in a cool dry place. Marzipan will help prevent sponges from going dry by locking moisture inside, thereby acting as a preservative and increasing your cake's shelf-life.

What can you use instead of marzipan?

Of course, if you have a nut allergy or you're watching your sugar consumption, marzipan is not something you can enjoy. However, it is, notably, a gluten-free dessert if made purely with almonds, sugar, and eggs. But, there are a few substitutes you can use that will give you similar results to traditional marzipan.

If you have a nut allergy or you are vegan you can use fondant instead of marzipan for most of the same things. Fondant is similar to marzipan in that it is pliant and clay-like. It can also be dyed to create elegant and enticing designs. Fondant icing can be bought at supermarkets or shops selling baking supplies and is usually made from a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, and water.

Alternatively, you can opt for persipan which is a type of marzipan made without nuts. Instead of nuts, persipan is made using ground peach or apricot stones. This means that it has the same texture and consistency as traditional almond marzipan but is cheaper to make and is safe for those with nut allergies. Persipan generally has a higher sugar content than marzipan.

It is also possible to make a keto or low-sugar version of marzipan at home if you swap out the sugar for sweetener. You can also find low-sugar marzipan at certain stores.

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