Tag Archives: Marzipan

SICILIAN CASSATA and some background (perfect for an Australian Christmas)

I first  wrote about cassata in Dec 2009. I have revisited the post and added new photos. I keep on making cassata for special occasions and in cooking classes and this recipe is successful every time.

It is perfect for Christmas.

Many believe that a cassata is an ice cream cake made out of assembled layers of ice cream. But no Sicilian believes this. The Sicilian cassata is made with ricotta.

In the early 19th century, the ice cream makers of Naples were famous for making moulded, opulent, ice cream layered cakes and these were called cassate.

Cassata was once more popular at Easter (when the ricotta is at its best – the cows are feeding on lush green pastures in spring), but cassata is now eaten at any festive occasion in Sicily including Christmas.

Some people differentiate between the two cassate by referring to the one made with ice cream as Neapolitan cassata – this may be because it is very much like Neapolitan ice cream composed of three different layers of contrasting colours and flavours: one of chocolate, a pink which sometimes can taste like strawberry and a vanilla one that is usually mixed with glace fruit (usually red and green glace cherries).

In Australia there is a particular ice confectionery  called a cassata that is sold in individual portions. It has a pink layer in the centre that  is made of cake soaked and flavoured with a pink cordial like essence (Alchermes essence).

The Sicilian cassata, has much older roots than the ice cream cakes popular with the Neapolitans.

The Sicilian cassata is a round, moulded cake shaped in a bowl lined with layers of sponge cake, the chief ingredients are sheep’s milk ricotta (it is sweeter and more delicate than ricotta made with cows milk), mixed with sugar, small bits of dark chocolate and candied citrus and zuccata (candied pumpkin). Within Sicily there are some variations which vary by location and family tradition, for example some recipes include an additional layer of sponge cake in the centre as well as the casing.

Some say that the word cassata may have come from the Roman name for cheese, caseus (the Sicilian word for cheese is casu or caseata).

Many believe that its origins are Arabic – the Arabs occupied Sicily for several hundred years – the invasion began in 827 AD and they conquered Sicily in 902 AD. They introduced the cultivation of sugar, very sweet desserts and the use of nuts and dried fruit in pastries. It is also likely that the name cassata may have come from Arab word qas’ah, a deep terra-cotta bowl; that may even have been used to shape the cake.

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The sponge cake is called pan di spagna in Italian (bread from Spain) and may have been a Spanish addition – the Spanish ruled Sicily intermittently for may years (Angevins, Aragonese, Viceroys and Bourbons from 1282 until the end of the reign of Ferdinand the second in 1859).

Usually Sicilians order their cassata from a pasticceria – it is left to the experts to make, mainly because cassate are usually elaborately decorated by pasticceri. There are baked versions of Sicilian casssate and these are often made at home. The uncooked version of cassata can also be made at home successfully but will not look as elabarate. Some of the cassate in pasticcerie are often very baroque and white and green striped fondant is used. They are then decorated with ribbons of zuccata (candied pumpkins) and are often sprinkled with silver sugar balls.

Once the cassata is turned out of the mould it is left to set and it is spread with apricot jam. It can then be covered with a sugar fondant (this is often coloured pale green. Cassata is often covered with striped covering – green and white ). My preferred option is to cover it with marzipan and candied fruits and I have no trouble making the marzipan.

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I first made cassata using Ada Boni’s recipe from Italian Regional Cooking  – this is a very fine and old publication which has been out of print for some time. My cassata recipe, through the ages, has developed to the following and it always seems to taste good, even if it is not as professionally decorated as the images above.

I always buy the solid ricotta, usually sold in large rounds –  vendors slice it to the required weight. I never buy the ricotta sold in the tub – it is far too watery (and often tasteless). If this is the only ricotta that you can purchase, it is a good idea to drain it overnight.

The sponge cake and marzipan can be made well ahead of time. See: Pasta di Mandorla (how to Make Marzipan Recipe)

I have also made marzipan fruit and used it as decoration (this is not traditional: Marzapane Also Called Pasta Reale (marzipan)

Also see: Cassata (post No 2)

Cassata 2

INGREDIENTS
fresh ricotta, 700g and a little bit of fresh cream to make beating easier
caster sugar, 120 g
dark chocolate, 60g
pistachio nuts, 100g chopped
candied citrus peel, 60g (of good quality and if possible lemon, orange and cedro – candied citron)
vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon (I use vanilla bean paste)
cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon
liqueur, 1/2- 3/4 cup to taste. I have used one of the orange (Cointreau or Grand Marnier) or mandarin flavoured ones.
marzipan to cover the cassata (see earlier post)
glace fruits for decoration
apricot jam, 1/2 cup
sponge cake, approx 250 g (if bought).

If you make a sponge cake:
Use 5 eggs, 120 g of sugar, 100 g of sifted flour, grated lemon peel and/or vanilla (I use vanilla bean paste or flavour my sugar with vanilla pods) and butter to grease the cake tin.
Process: Beat egg yolks with sugar until creamy. Fold in beaten egg whites (until very firm). Slowly fold in the flour, then add vanilla. Bake sponge cake in moderate oven for approx. 40 minutes.

PROCESSES
Line a deep round mould with layers of foil or plastic wrap or baking paper.
Cut the sponge into thin layers. Use them to line the sides of the mould. Leave enough sponge to cover the top of the cassata.
Sprinkle the sponge with liqueur to moisten.
Blend the ricotta with the sugar (some use a syrup made with sugar dissolved over heat in a little water, allow the syrup to cool before using.) You may need to add some cream to make blending easier. Slowly stir in the vanilla, cinnamon and a dash of liqueur.
Fold in the nuts, small pieces of chocolate and candied peel.
Press the ricotta mixture into the lined mould, smooth the top and cover with a layer of sponge cake. Sprinkle with more liqueur. I usually refrigerate the cassata overnight (to set) and cover it with marzipan about 2-3 hours before I serve it.
Make the marzipan and roll it out into a thin round shape.
Turn the cassata out of the mould (when it is ready to cover) and spread the outer with a thin layer of apricot jam.
Cover with the marzipan and decorate it with the fruit.

Keep it in the fridge until ready to serve.

Cassata slice

JEWELS OF SICILY: A celebration of SPRING

Spring in Sicily is welcomed ‘big time’ and spring produce is embraced.

Marisa prepares artichoke 1

Sicilians make a fuss about the preparation and eating of seasonal spring produce: asparagus, artichokes, broad beans, fennel and ricotta. It is the time when the island comes alive – flowers bloom, vines sprout and vegetables ripen.

Pasta and greens with wine

The menu at Waratah Hills Vineyard  was a celebration of Spring, and all who attended the class enjoyed all of that produce and the occasion in such a beautiful vineyard.

Garfish fillets

We ate local garfish rolled around a Sicilian stuffing (commonly used for sardines called Beccafico),  stuffed artichokes and a pasta with a dressing made from sautéed spring vegetables, moistened with wine and stock and topped with nutmeg and creamy ricotta.

Carlo and Peter watch Marisa add stock

We drank excellent, matching wines with each course and used local, extra virgin olive oil made by Judy and Neil’s (proprietors of Waratah Hills Vineyard and organizers of this event) neighbours .

Beccafico

Cassata  of course was the final culinary jewel; I coated it with not-too-sweet marzipan…..and I have my tongue out in anticipation…(I do not know what I was saying!)

Marisa talks about cassata

A few dressed Sicilian Green olives at the start did not go astray (garlic, orange rind,  chilli flakes, wild fennel fronds, bay leaves, extra virgin olive oil) and a fennel and orange salad as a palate cleanser eaten after the fish was a good choice .

Marisa cooking fritedda close up

Thank you to all those eager and friendly people who made the event a success.

Judy and Marisa talking food

Waratah Hills Vineyard Wines:

http://waratahhills.com.au/buy-online/

 

 

STUFFED DATES (With marzipan or nougat)

Believe it or not but some people can do without dessert and I am one of them. This could be a reflection of the way I was bought up –as an Italian child there was always fresh fruit after any meal and very special desserts were saved for special occasions. I think that they were appreciated more because of this.

I generally prefer to eat savoury food. However I do like something small and sweet at the end of a meal, especially if I have been drinking.

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I had some left over marzipan in the fridge, some left over torrone (nougat) and I saw some fresh, Medjool dates and hence this recipe for the stuffed dates. Easy to make too.

I knew that orange flower water and/or cinnamon are traditionally included in the marzipan mixture in Morocco where stuffed dates are popular (I have eaten them in Tunis and Turkey as well). My marzipan was left over from making a cassata so I added more almond meal and some orange flower water to the mixture, and presto the stuffing was ready. Grated peel from 1 orange can also enhance the flavour. In these other countries the marzipan is often coloured but I prefer natural colours and flavours. This time I did not use cinnamon, but maybe next time.

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There were four of us and I thought that twelve dates would be enough. Six were stuffed with almond paste and I stuffed the other six with a piece of nougat/ torrone (no instructions needed – it is self explanatory).

INGREDIENTS
blanched almonds to decorate.
fresh Medjool dates
marzipan

This amount of marzipan will easily stuff 24 dates. Either halve the ingredients or store the left over marzipan in the fridge till next time. Wrap it in plastic film and it will keep for a couple of weeks.

To make marzipan:
1 cup of ground almonds (blanched) and 1 cups of pure icing sugar combined with ¼ cup of caster sugar – this adds the crunchy texture that compliments the ground almonds.
Mix the sugars and almond meal with fingers and add 1 tablespoon of orange water slowly. If the mixture is too wet add more almonds. Knead it and if it needs more water add a little tap water to make the mixture pliable.

PROCESSES
Cut each date vertically on one side and remove the stone.
Make small cylinders of almond paste the same length as the dates and place one inside each date. Squeeze the sides of each date around the paste and leave some exposed.
Decorate each with a blanched almond (or walnut or pistachio).
Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Take them out of the fridge about an hour before serving.

Marzipan: Also see previous posts:

SICILIAN CASSATA and MARZIPAN AT EASTER

CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED – a postmodernist take on Sicilian Cassata

PASTA DI MANDORLA (Marzipan, the traditional recipe)

MARZAPANE also called PASTA REALE (Marzipan)

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SICILIAN CASSATA and MARZIPAN AT EASTER (Food and Culture in Sicily, La Trobe University)

I usually coat my cassata with marzipan and every time I do this people tell me how much they have enjoyed eating the marzipan and how it compliments the flavours of the cassata.

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The last time I made cassata with marzipan was Saturday 23 March at Food And Culture In Sicily: Easter Cookery Workshop offered by La Trobe University and once again the people who attended the session liked the marzipan and said that they had never enjoyed eating it in the past.

The session began with a very interesting lecture on the history of food and feasting in Sicily, Italy and the Mediterranean.  Dr Gillian Shepherd is Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Director of the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University. During her lecture she focused on the literary and archaeological evidence for food production and consumption in the ancient world.

The lecture was followed with a food workshop and cooking demonstration that reflected the ways Sicilian cuisine has been influenced by the dominant cultures of the Mediterranean from ancient times to the modern day, which includes Greek, Roman, Arabic, French and Spanish cultures.

The cassata was very appropriate for this session, not just because of its derivation, but also because it was essentially and still is an Easter dessert. In time it has also become popular for Christmas.

Sicily produces large quantities of almonds and almond meal is used extensively for making traditional almond sweets and pastries. Marzipan fruit originate from Sicily and Sicilian pastry cooks are esteemed and employed all over Italy.

Marzipan when made in the traditional method is made by cooking a strong syrup of sugar and water and then adding freshly ground almonds. The mixture is kneaded till smooth (like bread dough) and then shaped.

The modern and easiest way is to make it with almond meal, icing sugar and water. It is still kneaded and rolled with a rolling pin. Unless you can buy fresh almond meal it is best to blanch the almonds and grind them yourself.

Over the years I have been making marzipan and adapting a recipe from Bitter Almonds, Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian girlhood. Maria Grammatico has a very famous pastry shop in Erice in Sicily and her recipes have been recorded by Mary Taylor Simeti.

This is the original recipe:
2 cups (300 g) whole blanched almonds
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar *
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
In a food processor, grind the almonds with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar until very fine, almost powdery.
In a food processor or in an electric mixer, combine the nuts, the rest of the sugar, the water, vanilla, and the almond extract.
Process or mix until the paste is very smooth. Remove to a marble slab or other cold work surface dusted with confectioners’ sugar and knead briefly by hand.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Marzipan will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.

****This is what I do: I use 2 cups of ground almonds and 1 and ½ cups of pure icing sugar combined with ½ cup of caster sugar – this adds the crunchy texture that compliments the ground almonds.

I really like the taste of natural almonds and if I am using fresh almonds I see no necessity to use vanilla or almond extract.

I usually mix the sugars and almond meal with my fingers and add the water slowly. I am cautious with water because if the mixture is too wet I may need to add more almonds and sugar. I knead it as if I am making bread and if it needs more water I add it to make the mixture pliable.

This is not the first time that I have written about Cassata or Easter or Marzipan and there are many other posts about these three topics on this blog.

This post has the recipe for making cassata:

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PASQUA, Traditional sweets, Cassata Siciliana, Agnellino pasquale (Pascal Lamb)

This is a small pasticceria in Polozzi Generosa, in the Madonie Mountains, not that far from Palermo. I have misplaced the photos of the pascal lambs I found in this shop, but they were beautiful.

Polizzi pasticcieria sign_3549

These are Pascal lambs from Dolcetti. It will give you an idea of what I mean.

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In Sicily, the traditional pascal lambs (agnellini pasquali) are made with marzipan, however I have found a recipe for making the lamb out of pasta garofolata  (dough flavoured with cloves/ cloves are chiodi di garofano in Italian). This same dough is used to make ossa dei morti  (bones of the dead, customary Nov1st/ 2nd, the day of the Dead/ All saints Day).

Here is another version from a different Pasticceria in Sicily.

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For those of you who may wish to try making a pascal lamb (could be fun to make with children), here is the recipe from: Culinaria Italy, Claudia Piras, 2004:

Pasta Garofolata per Ossa Dei Morti o Agnellini Pasquali
2 pounds sugar — (approximately 1 kg)
2 pounds all-purpose flour — (approximately 1 kg)
10 whole cloves — ground
Almond oil
In a saucepan, bring the sugar to the boil in a little water. When the
sugar is dissolved, lower the heat and sift in the flour, stirring
constantly with a wooden spoon, being careful that no lumps form. The flour
MUST NOT be allowed to brown, it must stay snow white.Stir in the powdered cloves.
Once everything is thoroughly mixed and the flour is nice and white, remove from the heat.
As soon as it has cooled down enough to be handled make little bone shapes
or lambs out of the dough.
Alternatively, if you have appropriately shaped molds (spelling as in Culinaria text), you can brush them
with a little almond oil and fill with the dough.
Leave for a few days in a dry place. Remove from the molds if you used
them. Brush the undersides with water, place on a baking sheet and bake in
a preheated 350F (180C) oven. When the sugar has risen and turned the
distinctive colour of a monk’s habit, the cookies are ready.

NB. There are many recipes for making ossa dei morti; many use almond meal and egg white.

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In Sicily, the dessert has to be cassata – not the Neapolitan one made with ice cream, but with ricotta, and Sicilians  use sheep’s milk ricotta because they can.

Each time I make a cassata it always looks different, but they always taste good. on occasions I have even made made marzipan with pistachio nuts – a long process peeling off their skins!

 

To make cassata, see 2 different posts:
Cassata
Cassata 2

I always cover the cassata with marzipan. See:

 Pasta di madorla (marzipan)
Marzapane also called pasta reale

A slice of cassata

In pastry shops many cassate are covered with glassa (fondant):

There are many recipes where icing sugar is melted in water over a stove and then poured over the cassata – I find this too hard to work with and far too sweet. The following fondant is much easier to work with:
Fondant:
Beat 1 egg white till stiff, add 350 g of icing sugar (which has been infused with a vanilla bean). Add juice of one lemon and a few drops of green colouring. Beat till smooth. Spread over cassata. Many pasticcerie use white and green fondant.

Buona Pasqua.

 

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CASSATA ( Post no. 2) Calls for a celebration!!!

One of my readers has made the cassata (following the recipe on the blog) and has attached photos of it – it was the celebratory cake on New Years Eve.

She also made the mazipan fruit (following the recipe on the blog) and used them to decorate the cassata. She has sent me some photos. Doesn’t it look wonderful!!!

She writes:
Your recipe works a treat and it is a great celebratory dessert. Everyone on new years eve thought it was very special! Some even ate the marzipan fruit!

With more time I would have created a fancy edging with small leaf shapes. Your sponge recipe was most successful! The cake was delicious and I was generous with Cointreau. Everybody was delighted with the cassata – it was the highlight of the meal.
I followed your recipe closely but added more couverture choc (which isn’t so sweet) and glace orange and citron to the ricotta. The glace orange doesn’t have the intense flavour of candied orange peel so you need a bit more of that. I would be inclined to bump up the use of Cointreau next time to make the sponge even moister and to bring out the lovely orange liqueur flavour even more.

Could you also try adding honey to replace some of the sugar in the ricotta mix? It could make the ricotta a little moister too but wouldn’t make it too sloppy as it is stored in the fridge (the honey becomes more viscous when cooled). It has stored well in the fridge (hasn’t gone weepy at all). We had some for morning tea today with friends and it was greatly enjoyed.

 

CASSATA (It is perfect for an Australian Christmas)

Many believe that a cassata is an ice cream cake made out of assembled layers of ice cream. But no Sicilian believes this.

The unrivalled Sicilian cassata is made with ricotta.

Some people differentiate between the two cassate by referring to the one made with ice cream a Neopolitan cassata, this may be because it is very much like Neapolitan ice cream composed of three different layers of contrasting colours and flavours – one of chocolate, a red coloured variety which sometimes can taste like strawberry and a vanilla flavoured one mixed with nuts and glace fruit. In Australia the pink layer in the slices of that particular ice confectionary called a cassata is sometimes made of cake soaked and flavoured with a pink cordial like essence. In the early 19th century, the ice cream makers of Naples were famous for making moulded, opulent, ice cream layered cakes and these were called cassate.

The Sicilian cassata is a round, moulded cake shaped in a bowl lined with layers of sponge cake, the chief ingredients are sheep’s milk ricotta (it is sweeter and more delicate than ricotta made with cows milk), mixed with sugar, small bits of dark chocolate and candied citrus or zuccata (candied pumpkin). Within Sicily there are some variations which vary by location and family tradition, for example some recipes include an additional layer of sponge cake in the centre as well as the casing.

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Cassata was once more popular at Easter, but it is now eaten at any festive occasion in Sicily including Christmas.

The Sicilian cassata, however, has much older roots than the ice cream cakes popular with the Neapolitans.

Some say that the word cassata may have come from the Roman name for cheese, caseus ( the Sicilian word for cheese is casu` or caseata).

Many believe that its origins are Arabic – the Arabs occupied Sicily for several hundred years – the invasion began in 827 AD and they conquered Sicily in 902 AD. They introduced the cultivation of sugar, very sweet desserts and the use of nuts and dried fruit in pastries. It is also likely that the name cassata may have come from Arab word qas’ah, a deep terra-cotta bowl; that may even have been used to shape the cake.

The sponge cake is called pan di spagna in Italian (bread from Spain) and may have been a Spanish addition – the Spanish ruled Sicily intermittently for may years (Angevins, Aragonese, Viceroys and Bourbons from 1282 until the end of the reign of Ferdinand the second in 1859).

There are baked versions of Sicilian casssate and these are often made at home. The uncooked version of cassata can also be made at home successfully, but usually my relatives order their cassata from a pasticceria – it is left to the experts to make, mainly because cassate are usually elaborately decorated by pasticceri.

The cassata is left to set and once it is turned out of the mould it is spread with apricot jam. It can then be covered with a sugar fondant(this is often coloured pale green because at one time cassata was covered with marzipan made with pistachio meal). Some of the cassate in pasticcerie are often very baroque and white and green striped fondant is used. They are then decorated with ribbons of zuccata (candied pumpkins) and are often sprinkled with silver sugar balls.
My preferred option is to cover it with marzipan and candied fruits and I have no trouble making the marzipan (see previous post).

cassata-P1020058-300x225

I first made cassata using Ada Boni’s recipe from her Italian Regional Cooking  book – this is a very fine and old publication which has been out of print for some time. My cassata recipe, through the ages, has developed to the following and it always seems to taste good, even if it is not as professionaly decorated as the images in this post.
The marzipan can be made well ahead of time (see earlier posts, marzapane).I have also used marzipan fruit as decoration(this is not  traditional).

INGREDIENTS
fresh ricotta, 700g
caster sugar, 120 g
dark chocolate, 60g
pistachio nuts, 100g chopped
candied citrus peel, 60g (of good quality and if possible lemon, orange and cedro – candied citron)
vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon(I use vanilla bean paste),
cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon
liqueur, 1/2- 3/4 cup to taste. I have used one of the orange or mandarine flavoured ones, sweet Marsala or Amaretto, Strega or Maraschino

marzipan to cover the cassata (see earlier post)
glace fruits for decoration
apricot jam,1/2 cup
sponge cake, approx 250 g (if bought).

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If you make a sponge cake:
Use 5 eggs, 120 g of sugar, 100 g of sifted flour, grated lemon peel and/or vanilla (I use vanilla bean paste or flavour my sugar with vanilla pods) and butter to grease the cake tin.
Process: Beat egg yolks with sugar until creamy. Fold in egg whites separately until very firm and add them to the mix. Slowly fold in the flour, then add flavours. Bake sponge cake in moderate heat for approx. 40 minutes.

PROCESSES
Line a deep round mould with layers of foil or plastic wrap or baking paper.
Cut the sponge into thin layers. Use them to line the sides of the mould. Leave enough sponge to cover the top of the cassata.
Sprinkle the sponge with liqueur to moisten.
Blend the ricotta with the sugar (some use a syrup made with sugar dissolved over heat in a little water, allow the syrup to cool before using.) Slowly stir in the vanilla, cinnamon and a dash of liqueur (do not use this if you have used a sugar syrup).
Fold in the nuts, small pieces of chocolate and candied peel.
Press the ricotta mixture into the lined mould, smooth the top and cover with a layer of sponge cake.Sprinkle with more liqueur. I usually refrigerate the cassata overnight (to set) and cover it with marzipan about 2-3 hours before I serve it.
Make the marzipan and roll it out into a thin round shape.
Turn the cassata out of the mould when it is ready to cover with the marzipan and spread the outer with a thin layer of apricot jam.
Cover with the marzipan and decorate it with the fruit.

Keep it in the fridge until ready to serve.

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ADDDED17/12/09
I have had a request to explain about the type of ricotta to use.
I always buy the solid ricotta, usually sold in large rounds –  vendors slice it to the required weight.
I never buy the ricotta sold in the tub – it is far too watery( and often tasteless). If this is the only ricotta that you can purchase, it is a good idea to drain it overnight.
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PASTA DI MANDORLA (How to make Marzipan recipe)

This photo of marzipan fruit (also called Frutta di Martorama) was taken in a pastry shop in Catania. This pasticceria has shaped the marzipan into a variety of shapes: apples, apricots, oranges, prickly pears, different varieties of plums, cherries, green figs, pomegranates, pears , chestnuts and almonds.

I make marzipan when I make cassata di ricotta which I cover with a thin coat of pale green marzipan (I use a drop of green food colouring. In earlier days my mother used to use a little puree made with wilted spinach leaves). Sometimes I also add a proportion of ground pistachio nuts to the almond meal.

In one of my previous posts I have included a non traditional, simple recipe for making marzipan and for shaping marzipan fruit. I like this version because  it is less sweet.

INGREDIENTS
almonds ground, 500 g – blanched and ground finely
icing sugar, 300 g, icing sugar
vanilla bean paste, to taste
egg white, 1
salt, a pinch

In a bowl whisk the egg white with the salt until frothy. Whisk in the vanilla. Gradually stir in the almonds and the sugar, kneading as you go to form a smooth, pliable dough. Add  more almond meal and/ or icing sugar if it is too soft.

The most authentic recipe that I have found is in the book called Bitter Almonds, Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian girlhood. The book was researched and written by Mary Taylor Simeti and it contains recollections and recipes of Maria Grammatico, famous for making almond pastries. She has a wonderful pastry shop in Erice and I visited this recently (in September 2009).

This is the recipe as written in the book.

• 2 CUPS (3oo gr) whole blanched almonds
• 2 CUPS (4oo gr) granulated sugar
• 1/3 cup (0.,75 dl) water
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

In a meat grinder or a food processor, grind the almonds with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar until very fine, almost powdery.
In a food processor or in an electric mixer, combine the nuts, the rest of the sugar, the water, vanilla, and the almond extract, if using. Process or mix until the paste is very smooth. Remove to a marble slab or other cold work surface dusted with confectioners’ sugar and knead briefly by hand.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Marzipan will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator. This makes 800gr of marzipan.

A particular specialty at Easter time in Sicily are the pecorelle pasquali (marzipan lambs). These lambs are from Pasticceria Spinello in Modica Sicily (it is near Ragusa where my relatives live). In Sicilian they are called agneddi (lambs)or pecuredde (small sheep) di pasta riali. . They are often filled with citron jam or paste made from pistachio nuts.

I once bought one for my mother and she still has it, 20 years later. She said that it was too pretty to be eaten. It was never kept in the fridge – it is a little bit dusty!

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MARZAPANE also called Pasta Reale (Marzipan)


This photo was taken in Erice, one of Sicily’s most precipitous fortress towns that dates back to the Romans. It is said that from Erice, the Romans could see the ships in the harbour of Carthage. (Those of you who read my blog will know that my laptop was stolen in Paris about three weeks ago). I have lost most of my current photographs of Sicily because they had been downloaded onto the laptop. This is one of the few remaining photos still in the camera.

Anyone who has been to Sicily is almost certain to have seen displays of marzipan fruit like this one. Sicilians are the masters of marzipan. Real marzipan is made by cooking a strong syrup of sugar and water and then adding freshly ground almonds. Almond extract enhances the taste. The mixture is kneaded till smooth (like bread dough) and then shaped.

Seeing this array of marzipan in Erice reminded me that I had made marzipan to decorate a cassata I made about three months ago. Marzipan keeps. I wrap any left over marzipan in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge. I have just checked the left-over marzipan from the cassata, and it is still there – fresh and ready to be use.

This recipe is for the easier, non-traditional, uncooked marzipan.

INGREDIENTS
almonds ground, 500 g – blanched and ground very fine
sugar, 500 g,caster
vanilla bean paste, to taste
egg whites, 2
salt, a pinch

In a bowl whisk the egg whites with the salt until they are frothy. Whisk in the vanilla. Gradually stir in the almonds and the sugar, kneading as you go to form a smooth, pliable dough. Wrap tightly in foil or in a plastic bag or in an airtight container in the fridge.

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MARZIPAN FRUITS

Make at least 2 days ahead. The marzipan can be made up to 8 weeks in advance.

marzipan paste (at room temperature)
food colouring, for decorating
cloves, for decorating
icing sugar, to coat hands

Work with small pieces of marzipan at a time and keep the remaining marzipan covered tightly. Form the marzipan into a smooth ball by rolling it between the palms of your hands, and mould it gently into the desired shape. Wiping your hands occasionally with a damp cloth and using a little icing sugar to coat your palms (like you do with flour) helps stop it sticking.

If you wish to make the marzipan look like citrus fruit or strawberries roll it over a fine grater or sieve. Let the marzipan dry on sheets of foil overnight.

Use small brushes dipped in the food colour to achieve the desired colours and shadings. You may need a second coat of colour but let the first coat dry. Use cloves to form the blossom end of fruits such as apples and pears.

Let the marzipan dry uncovered for one day, and once again with a soft brush add any fine details.

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Photo below shows one of the many  little lanes in Erice.

Feature photo is of marzipan fruit made by Libby, a friend in Adelaide.
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