If there is one thing everyone loves about the holidays, it is the goodies. From stollen to gingerbread, sweets are as much a part of the season as family gatherings and gift exchanges. Despite the popularity of "traditional" baked goods and sweets, many people forget about one European Christmas dessert more than others, even though it is among the oldest and most treasured. Marzipan is a multicultural holiday candy with a mysterious history and distinctive taste.
A Nutty, Sweet Holiday Confection
Marzipan is a sweet paste made with almonds, sugar and egg whites. The recipes can vary, with some using almond oil or extract, vanilla extract, honey, rose water or orange blossom. Additional ingredients can help boost the flavor profile of the treat and make it more aromatic.
Recipes for the candy are not for beginners. While there are few ingredients, the labor process is precise and measured. The primary rule for every recipe is that you follow the proper order. First, you grind the almonds. Then, mix it with sugar or sugar syrup to form a smooth, chewy, slightly crumbly paste. The resulting sweet is suitable for eating by itself or making decorations to add to other pastries or treats.
Marzipan's Holiday Roots
Marzipan has a mysterious history. No one knows where the confection originated, but there are stories dating the candy sometime between 900 and 1150.
As for how the candy became associated with the holiday or Christmas season, the reason seems to be financial. Almonds at the time were expensive, and people could not afford to indulge in the nuts throughout the year, so they became something of a luxury for holiday celebrations and spending.
Marzipan Versus Almond Paste
While similar, marzipan and almond paste are not the same thing. Both call for almonds, sugar and eggs, but the proportions of each ingredient vary. For example, marzipan requires more egg whites and sugar, while almond paste uses more cooking oil. Also, people often flavor marzipan with vanilla, rose water or honey. Almond paste usually avoids these additions and relies on corn syrup or heavy cream as a binding agent.
Marzipan's Long, Stable Shelf Life
Another reason marzipan is a holiday staple is its long, stable shelf life. Because the candy contains a lot of sugar, it can last for months, meaning you can make it early in the season and have it on hand. However, as with most fresh candies and baked goods, the sooner you enjoy marzipan, the better. After an extended period, the marzipan will lose its signature texture and flavor.
Storing the Candy Confection
If stored correctly, marzipan candy will last. You want to prevent air from degrading the texture and taste of the candy. The best way to protect the freshness of your marzipan is by wrapping it in plastic wrap and sealing it in an airtight container. While you do not have to refrigerate the candy, you need to keep it at an average room temperature, preferably nothing hotter than 75 degrees.
Marzipan is an often forgotten holiday treat, but it is worth the time investment for experienced home cooks looking to broaden their tastebuds. If you are up for a classic European candy, give marzipan a try this holiday season.