Thursday, 7 December 2017

Made of Almonds and Spice and Everything nice...

While taking the Online class by FutureLearn  by the University of Reading and Royal Historic Palaces (I can only recommend signing up for it too. It’s great fun, not too much to digest and yields some nice recipes and cook-alongs at ) there was the mentioning of Marchepan for Christmas and as banquet course for a Medieval & Tudor feast.

Last year I was invited to join the Christmas celebrations of the local Basel group, and I thought I’d prepare something small to take along what follows the feast-theme and would be something I could enjoy as well. Impressions of the Christmas-Celebration can be seen here

A baker at work, from a 15th century Franciscain Missel
© Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon (Ms 514, f. 6v)

So Marchepa(i)n* it was. Below the modern variation I worked with.

2 part of white powdered almonds**
1 part of powdered cane sugar**
As much orange flower water or rose water as necessary to form a dough.

It would translate to 200grs almonds, 100 gr sugar, 1-2 Tablespoons of flower water.

Mix almonds and sugar, add the flower water gently, little by little, until you achieve a mass what looks a bit like store bought marzipan.
Do not overmix, else the almonds start loosing their natural oil, and everything separates.
Form your Marchepains (I just cut them into shape, and was happy with it) and bake them in a moderate oven (150°C) for 20-30 minutes, until they start to turn slightly golden.

To decorate: Either use some egg-white and gold foil (if you want to be really fancy), or just some flower water with powdered sugar and some crushed dried flowers, or some food colouring (e.g. beetroot-juice for a nice pink)
I left mine with just a bit of icing sugar and flower water.

My fance not so fancy cut shapes.
I used parchement paper to separate the layers, as I made about 30 pieces.

The old fashioned way would be: Blanch almonds, peel them (great fun…), then grind them in a mortar, then add the sugar.
Careful again not to overwork them, else they separate.. like curdle and whey.

They are light and fluffy when freshly out of the oven, and a tad chewy the next day. I guess one could bake them a bit longer, to have more of a chewy cookie. I was a bit worried that the orange-flower scent would be too soapy for modern palates, but it evened out well with the almonds and the sugar.

*(spelling is optional… if you want to google it, skip the “i” and you’ll get English language results)
** I used organic ingredients for two reasons: powdered cane sugar isn’t a supermarket staple here, and beet sugar wasn’t used in the time period. So I had to pop by our local organic store for the sugar, and as they also had the powdered almonds, I figured I’d save myself a lot of work and use the already powdered blanched almonds. Generally I prefer to cook with organic local ingredients, as I think farmers deserve a decent income and I don’t like the thought of my veggies being transported over hundreds or thousands of kilometres.

Further reading:

No comments: