Saturday, September 6, 2014

HFF: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread August 24 - September 6

I'm going to admit this was a near total fail.  The picture above is the second attempt at marzipan.  I will say it tastes absolutely delicious and I'm probably going to crush it up to use it as a topping on apple pie but it looks like...well.  Yeah.


The Challenge:
The Best thing Since Sliced Bread

The Date/Year and Region: 
The recipe I went with is later 16th/early 17th Century.  Marzipan was popular all over Europe.

How Did You Make It: 

I used a lot of almond meal, some homemade rose water, and powdered sugar. Really, that was about it. (more below)

Time to Complete:  20 mintues

Total Cost:  The almond meal was the same stuff I used in the last challenge so maybe $11?  The rosewater I made myself using rose oil I had on hand.  (more below)

How Successful Was It?: ...:-D  In terms of taste, it was great!  In terms of appearance, it looked sort of like cooked vomit and really there was no other way to describe it.  

How Accurate Is It?:  Pretty accurate except that it kept coming out looking like...that.  I know there must be something I'm missing and I think it's the amount of almond oil required based on the 16th Century recipe instructions.

The entire story:

So, I thought making marzipan with medieval gingerbread would be a great idea for an SCA event last weekend.   The medieval gingerbread (aka, medieval fireballs) came out great and everyone loved them.  The marzipan?  Wasn't fit for human consumption - although when my Mom came over, we both pecked at the bubbled over remains.  It was delicious.  

So the recipe:

This is an excerpt from Ouverture de Cuisine
(France, 1604 - Daniel Myers, trans.)
The original source can be found at

To make Marzipan. Take almonds appointed as above, & flatten the paste as for making a tart, then form the marzipan as fancy as you want, then take sifted sugar & mix with rose water, & beat it together that it is like a thick batter, cast there a little on the marzipan, & flatten with a well held knife until the marzipan is all covered, then put it into the oven on paper: when you see that it boils thereon & that it does like ice, tear apart from the oven, when it doesn't boil, & sprinkle on nutmeg: if you want it golden, make it so.

My redaction:
2 cups almond flour
enough rose water to make a dough
1/2 cup powdered sugar (the kind I use does not have corn in it but tapioca starch)

another cup or so of powdered sugar
enough rose water to just make the powdered sugar turn into an icing.

The first time, I went all out and made little leaves and used my cake decorating kit to stamp out shapes - it looks fabulous going into the oven.  However, I had the oven way too high (350F) and it bubbled and burnt.   This second attempt was at 245F and it still bubbled but not burnt this time!

I think the reason the marzipan is bubbling is because there isn't enough almond oil in the dough.  Rather than pounding almonds into dust, I cheated and used the almond flour I had left over.  I'm going to try it again with ground almonds (blenders are awesome!) and see if it works better later on.

However, why I chose marzipan for this challenge to begin with involved a lot of research.  In the 15th century and early 16th century recipes, marzipan is not a decoration but a food for sick people.  By the end of the 16th into the early 17th century, it's clearly a decoration. So the attitude and even the way it was made changed greatly over the course of really less than 100 years.

In the 15th Century Italian recipe, for example, it calls for "capon" - or rooster/chicken for us modern folk.

Marzipan Dish. For ten servings of Marzipan Dish get one pound of marzipan and grind it up thoroughly and put with it a capon wing that has been ground up as much as possible; get crustless bread in the amount of an egg and soak it in lean broth; then get a little verjuice, a little rosewater, a little capon broth, and distemper everything together, and cook it gently on the coals with a little ginger; let it come to a boil or a little more, then dish it up with sugar and cinnamon on top.

Basically, it's a biscuit or cracker with sugar, almonds, and chicken broth.  However, by the 1570's, you have an English recipe explaining how to make marzipan gold:

This is an excerpt from The Treasurie of commodious Conceits
(England, 1573 - J. Holloway, transcr.)
The original source can be found at
To gylde a Marchpane or any other kinds of Tarte. Cap. x. TAke and cut your leafe of Golde as it lyeth vpon the booke, into square peces like dise: & wt a Contes taylles ende moiste a litle, take the mold vp by the one corner, lay it on the place beyng first made moiste: & with another tayle of a Conte dry, presse the Golde downe close:
And if ye wil haue the forme of an Hert or the name of IESVS, or any other thing, whatsoeuer, cut ye same through a peece of Paper, & lay the Paper vpon your Marchpayne, or Tarte: then make the void place of the Paper (throw which, ye Marchpayne appeereth) moist with Rosewater, laye on your Golde, presse it downe, take of your Paper, & there remayneth behinde in Golde the Print cut in the said Paper.

The whole capon thing gets taken out. In modern marzipan, eggs are still used but they weren't in the 16th Century recipes. The 15th C ones still have an egg which shows another change in how it was prepared.

So, although my own creation was pretty much a failure, I'm sort of glad I went with this anyway.


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