52 Foods Week Twenty Two: Almonds

About a year ago, when I made orgeat for the first time, I found myself left with a significant quantity of ground almonds. In the interest of conservation and recycling, I attempted a batch of marzipan. This involved the purchase of a very useful candy thermometer and a tasteless, gritty mass of slightly sugary almonds that stuck in the molds with which I attempted to shape the confection. I realized that my almonds were not ground finely enough—the needs of orgeat and marzipan being different&mdashand that I had likely extracted most of the delicious oils into the orgeat, leaving nothing to flavor the marzipan.

I shed few tears for that marzipan, being that the almonds were the mass-market bagged variety, and not the elegant, fresh ones grown by Sam Cabral & Family Orchard in Orland, CA. I recently purchased far more of the Cabral Family almonds than I know what to do with, specifically Nonpareil almonds.

Almonds

As I learned, Nonpareils are fancy, more flavorful and oily almonds, generally preferred by almond eaters. The drawback to Nonpareils is that they do not self-polinate, so other almond varieties (such as the Prince, also sold by Sam Cabral) are needed in the orchards. According to Wikipedia, California’s almond pollination is the world’s largest managed pollination, with nearly a million beehives deployed in its service.

With this wealth of almonds, I felt ready to conquer the marzipan beast, delving into marzipan theory in order to succeed where I had failed previously. A few themes I noted:

  • Marzipan can be cooked or made without heat. The cold method appeared to have many more adherents.
  • Many, if not most, Marzipan recipes call for almond paste rather than whole almonds. Almond paste can be treated as step 1 in from-scratch marzipan, and one should not aim to go from whole almond to marzipan in one process.
  • There is a slim minority who freak out about the minimal raw egg white involved in proper marzipan making. These people should be ignored, because they want to ruin your food.

A side note on raw eggs: Ever since childhood, I have been allergic to egg whites, specifically the albumen. This is a common allergy, and while mine has fortunately mellowed from violent illness to extreme discomfort, as I’ve aged, it remains a limiting factor in my consumption of egg-based meals. I realized while considering marzipan recipes that, other than baked goods, virtually the only eggs I consume are raw or barely cooked—caesar salad dressing, fresh mayo and aioli, pasta carbonara, and now fresh marzipan. I have never gotten ill from any of these. Some foods need to be raw to be awesome, and, preachy menu warnings aside, we should embrace our immune systems and nature’s shocking ability to be delicious far more often than it is dangerous.

Back to the marzipan, or more correctly, the almond paste. The extremely simple recipe I used called for three things: almonds, powdered sugar and egg whites. Almond extract was optional, and I opted to exclude it. The first thing I had to do was blanch and skin the almonds.

Unlike many other things I’ve blanched and skinned, the almonds were ridiculously easy. 1 minute in boiling water then 30 seconds under cold water and the skins were puckered and completely pulled away from the almonds. A pinch was all that was needed to pop the white almond free. I quickly had 1 1/2 cups of skinned almonds. I saved to skins to attempt a liqueur.

Skinned

I tossed the almonds in a food processor along with 1/2 cup powdered sugar and pulsed them until they were a finely ground powder. My research indicated it was important to make sure that the almonds did not turn into almond butter, at this stage. My experience suggested that the powdered sugar manages to keep things dry enough that this is not a serious danger.

A Fine Almond Meal

Once the almonds were completely ground, another 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar is mixed in. This results in a very dry, powdery mix, which is nothing like paste.

Add the Rest of the Sugar

The magic in this process is the addition of the egg white. I poured it in and fired up the processor and within seconds the dry mix began to come together into a thick, solid paste.

Add the Egg White and it Comes Together

Once this was nicely formed, I removed it and rolled it into a small log. Almond paste complete!

Almond Paste

To make the marzipan, I switched the food processor to the dough blade.

Switch to the Dough Blade

I sliced the almond paste into 1/2″ pieces and dumped them into the food processor. Then measured out more powdered sugar (3 cups) and separated and beat 2 more egg whites.

Sliced Almond Paste

I dumped the sugar on top of the almond paste slices and fired up the food processor, scraping the sides frequently so that they mixed together evenly. The almond paste combined with the sugar to form many fairly dry clumps.

Mixed Together Sugary Almond Clumps

Once these were fairly uniform, and the sugar was largely mixed in, I began adding the egg whites while running the food processor. I added the whites slowly, maybe 1/2 an egg at a time, and the marzipan quickly came together into a large band. It probably took 1 1/2 egg whites, but I didn’t really have a way to measure my exact egg white usage.

A Little Egg White and it Comes Together Again

I removed the marzipan from the food processor and placed it on a powdered sugar covered cutting board. I dusted my hands with sugar, then worked the marzipan for a couple minutes into a smooth ball. I placed it in a bowl sealed with plastic wrap and refrigerated it. I also took a small taste, and was very pleased.

Kneaded Marzipan

Endowed with a couple pounds of almond and egg bound sugar, I needed to come up with a presentation and consumption method that would be both elegant, and small enough that it would not kill anyone. I settled on making some marzipan truffles* by shaping the marzipan into small pieces and covering them in chocolate.

Pounded Down

As luck would have it, I was able to consult a new acquaintance who happened to be trained as a pastry chef on the proper way to make chocolate shell coating. Her instructions were pretty easy: melt the chocolate until a few shards remain solid, then temper it by scraping it up the sides of a ceramic bowl. Then dip/roll the marzipan in it and place on a greased surface to dry. Her instructions also called for a chocolate fork, which I did not have, so I substituted a corn holder. It worked well enough.

For chocolate, I began with Scharffen Berger’s Bittersweet Baking Bar, but ran out of it half way through the marzipan coating and reloaded with Nestlé Semi-Sweet Morsels for the second round of chocolate coating. I’m not sure that I can visually distinguish between them, but I would expect the first round to be a little bit more bittersweet than the second. I melted the chocolate in an improvised double boiler.

While the chocolate melted, I shaped the marzipan. Initially, I attempted to use the little Williams Sonoma molds that come attached to their gift wrapping. These were the same molds my first marzipan got stuck in, and it happened again. Even greasing the molds and chilling them in hopes of hardening the marzipan and encouraging it to shrink away from the sides, I ended up with hopelessly mangled shapes when I removed it.

The Aborted William Sonoma Mold Experiment

Since the molds didn’t work, I went with good old fashioned rolling little balls in the palms of my hands. This worked well, and had the added benefit of keeping each truffle under 1oz. which seems like a prudent and healthy choice. I wound up with a little over 40 truffles. These are only some of them.

Rolled into Balls

When the chocolate was ready, I dropped the marzipan balls in, tossed them around then carefully plucked them off the spoon with the corn holder cum chocolate fork.

Dip in Chocolate

I ended up with two greased cutting boards covered with truffles and errant chocolate.

Repeat Ad Fatigum

I chilled the truffles for about an hour, then carefully removed them by sliding a thin knife under each one. They were quite almondy, even without the extract, and had excellent texture. The chocolate coating also turned out well—fairly even with a nice sheen. I’d say they look and taste almost professional.

Finished Marzipan Truffles

Check out all the photos here.

* My dictionary suggests that “bonbon” might be a more accurate term for what I made, but I’m not into splitting hares** unless we’re roasting them afterwards.

** I am, however, fine with bad puns.

3 Comments

  1. Posted June 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    That looks delicious! (But also kind of a lot of work, what with all the marzipan making…)

  2. Posted June 17, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    The marzipan making is extremely easy. Other than skinning the almonds, the food processor does almost all the work. Dipping individual balls in chocolate is much more work, and I’d try to enlist helpers for that, next time.

  3. Anna
    Posted December 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I made marzipan, like, an hour ago according to your recipe, and they turned out amazing! Thanks for posting this, it’s incredibly useful.

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