Saturday, 8 December 2012

Have yourself a sweet Christmas

Lightly baked Spanish marzipan shapes
Christmas isn´t christmas without something Moorish,in this case marzipan. Some people claims it “tastes like medicine,” and fail to see marzipan’s charms but I am certainly not one of these misguided souls.My mother loved marzipan, and not those little food dye brushed animals and fruits; she did not wish to eat miniature sculptures,just boxes of marzipan swaddled in bittersweet chocolate.I´m with you all the way mother. Marzipan sweets descend from a centuries' old tradition, the combination of almonds and sugar. The resulting 'dough' is quite pliable, and confectioners use this attribute to create whimsical figures and fruit.Every nation lays claim to the invention of marzipan,but there is a reason to believe that there is a clear Arabic influence. There are references in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights of an almond paste eaten during Ramadan and as an aphrodisiac.It is almost certain that the recipe came via the Middle East and then to Europe through Al-Andalus. ( modern day Andalucia).Whether it is true or not, my favourite marzipan story is this one from Spain.At the battle of Navas de Tolosa in the year 1212 it is said that the nuns of the San Clemente convent took care of the wounded soldiers. According to tradition, they ground up their stores of almonds in mortars and pestles, and then kneaded them together with sugar to create emergency rations. This type of bread (pan) produced with a pestle (maza) is supposed to have given rise to the name mazapán in Spanish - marzipan in English.Kneady grinding nuns armed with pestles and mortars.I love it.

Home made marzipan is so easy......
175g ground almonds
175g icing sugar plus extra for dusting
1 egg
Sift the ground almond and icing sugar into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir until the egg is incorporated into the almond mix.
Sprinkle a little icing sugar on to a clean work surface, turn the mixture out and then knead gently until it comes together in a smooth-ish dough. If the dough is sticky, add a bit more icing sugar.
Store in the fridge in an air-tight container or freeze until needed.

But how long does homemade marzipan keep? Although homemade marzipan contains raw eggs, the amount of sugar and lack of moisture prevents bacteria growing when left at room temperature. If you want to make marzipan before you are ready to cover your cake or make marzipan figures, then wrap it well in cling film and keep in a fridge for up to a week - as wrapped in a ball it will still contain a little moisture. As it contains raw eggs it shouldn't be given to anyone in an at-risk group, including pregnant women, the elderly, the unwell and the very young. You can make a cooked marzipan, which carries no risks. It is a little softer, and harder to work with, but a good substitute if you are at all worried. 
Doces Finos. Photo courtesy of Salt of Portugal
In Portugal, where the confection has been made by nuns since olden times,traditional marzipan (maçapão) fruit-shaped sweets made in (EL al-gharb) the Algarve are called Morgadinhos,Dom Rodrigos and doces finos.


Christmas isn´t christmas without brightly foiled wrapped Dom Rodrigos




2 comments:

  1. I love a bit of history with my food. But you've got me wondering why on earth I have never made marzipan before. This sounds ludicrously simple!

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    Replies
    1. Its almost easier than getting rugged up and stepping out to the shops.

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