Having looked at the history of marchpane in the last post, now comes the time to try making it. I’ve come across quite a few marchpane recipes in my search, but I’ve decided to try this one as it seems straightforward. Also, one rather popular one I found included both “rose water” and “damask water”, I have no idea what the latter is and I imagine you could just substitute more of the first for both (since damask is a kind of rose), but I’d rather have a recipe I can get all the ingredients for. Here is one from A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, first published in 1608:
To make a Marchpane, to yce* it, and garnish it after the Art of Comfit making.
Take two pound of small Almonds blanched, and beaten into perfect Past, with a pound of suger finely searsed, putting in now and then a spoonfull or two of Rose water, to keepe it from oyling, and when it is beaten to perfect Past, rowle it thin, and cut it round by a charger, then set an edge on it, as you doe on a tart, then drie it in an Ouen, or a backing pan, then yce it with Rose water and suger, made as thicke as batter for fritters, when it is iced garnish it with conceits, and sticke long comfits** in it, and so guild it, and serve it.
*In the original printed text, it looks like it says “to yee it”, in fact in the EEBO full text version it is written as “to yee”. On closer inspection, however, I’m fairly sure it is “to yce it” (as in “ice”). Which makes more sense.
** Comfits themselves will have to wait for another day, the recipe in A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen involves not only “gum-tragacant”, which I have found on the internet but hasn’t yet made its way to me, but also “graines of Muske”, and I haven’t managed to work out what that is yet.
Usually, Early Modern recipes are not particularly accurate with their quantities. But that works for me, as I don’t usually do quantities myself (unless “some” counts as a quantity). I am of the school of thought whereby you just chuck it in until it “looks right” (I do not understand people who weigh ingredients for Yorkshire pudding batter). However, for the purposes of this blog I will fight my instincts and measure what I’m using to give you a better idea of what I’m up to. This recipe, however, does have quantities, though it doesn’t have an oven temperature. I assume it will probably be a low oven, as this is usual for drying things out.
Starting from the recipe above, my plan is to follow it as closely as I can, though I halved the quantities.
Grinding the almonds. I decided to go for whole almonds and grind them myself, it seemed like it would be a fairly easy job. How wrong I was. I put some almonds in a jelly bag and proceeded to bash away at them with a rolling pin.
This was not as easy as I had anticipated, and 15 minutes later I still had only a little bit of what resembled finely ground almonds. After bashing them, I passed the almonds through a sieve to weed out any large lumps. There were a lot of large lumps.
Eventually, running out of time, I decided to use the food processor. “But they didn’t have food processors”, said my fiancé, inexplicably choosing this moment to start being concerned about historical accuracy. He needn’t have worried, the food processor was nearly as inept as I was in grinding the almonds, and still left them in fairly large lumps. What you are looking for is something resembling flour, not just very finely chopped nuts.
The almonds on the right are how the food processor almonds turned out, and how my hand crushed almonds looked before I sifted out the finely ground stuff. The almonds on left is how finely ground almonds should look. I managed to produce about a cupful or so of the finely ground sort, but ultimately the 500g was made up mainly of the coarser sort.
I returned to my bash and sieve method. Time-consuming as it was, I did find it rather satisfying. Eventually I ended up with a bowl that was at least in part almond “flour”, with some larger almond lumps that had avoided my rolling pin attack.
Mixing the marchpane. I put the almonds in a bowl with the sugar and about 1tbsp rose water, then set about making my “perfect past”. I quickly realised that the rose water would not be enough, but I was reluctant to add more as it smelled very strong, and the bottle advised adding “a few drops” to cakes rather than the tablespoon I had already used. I’d recommend only using about 1 tsp as my marchpane did end up quite strongly flavoured. I can only guess that Early Modern rose water was more diluted, so I added plain tap water to try and bring the dough together. This worked well, and soon I had a ball of dough that seemed firm enough to roll.
Rolling out. Rolling out was a little trickier than I had anticipated, the dough was crumbly, probably on account the not-quite-ground almonds that had made their way into the mix. They did give the finished product a nice texture though, different to normal marzipan. But I’m skipping ahead there. I turned the dough out onto a wooded board and kneaded it into a ball. I found the best way to roll the dough out was sprinkle more icing sugar on whenever I rotated the dough. Eventually, I had something that held together.
Baking. The recipe calls for the marchpane to be rolled thin, and then have “an edge” set on it “as you do a tarte”. I took this literally and pushed it into a tart dish, so it looked like a pastry case. I then baked it for about 20 minutes on 180, then left it to cool completely.
Icing. I iced the marchpane like you would ice a cake. I mixed icing sugar with rosewater (only a few drops this time) and hot water to make a pourable icing glaze, then I covered the marchpane with it.
This is not as sweet as any modern marzipan I have ever eaten, and obviously it did taste strongly of the rosewater. The texture was pleasantly different though, it was quite crumbly and not as stodgy as “normal” shop-brought marzipan. Overall, I’d call it a success, a fun start to what I hope will be an interesting ongoing project.
Want to try it out? Here’s my recommended recipe:
Things you’ll need:
500g almonds. Buy pre-ground for a smoother marchpane, or grind your own for a crumblier texture
375g icing sugar (plus more to dust)
1tsp rosewater, plus another couple of drops for the icing
If you’re grinding your own almonds, you’ll also need a muslin bag of some kind, and maybe a food processor in case you get fed up of bashing almonds.
1. Combine the almonds, 250g icing sugar and 1tsp rosewater.
2. Add cold water until the mixture clumps together as a dough.
3. Turn it out onto a board dusted with plenty of icing sugar and kneed.
4. Roll out the dough, turning often until you have a round flat slab.
5. Put onto an oiled baking sheet or shallow tart dish, then raise the edges slightly with your fingertips.
6. Bake at 180c for 20-25 minutes until it has turned golden. Leave to cool.
7. Put the remaining icing sugar in a bowl with a few drops of rose water, and add hot water until you have a pouring consistency.
8. Pour and spread the icing onto the marchpane. When it has set, cut into pieces and enjoy.
Well, that was the first adventure, uncovering the mysteries of marchpane.
Next time… I will be cooking “posset”.