Allyson Gofton - Magical Marzipan at Christmas

Publish Date
Friday, 12 December 2014, 10:26AM
By Allyson Gofton

Travelling through the towns and cities of Europe, you frequently come across stores filled with brightly coloured cakes and candies sculptured into intricate shapes of people, buildings, animals, flowers, fruit and butterflies.  You can’t help but be immediately bedazzled by the vibrant colours and incredible variety of confections in the windows and on the shop shelves. Venture through the door of these aroma-filled boutiques and you’ll discover the world of marzipan, a paste of finely ground almond and sugar that has been eaten as a sweet treat for hundreds of years.

Where it comes from
Marzipan is thought to have originated in Persia and, like so many ingredients with an Easter heritage, it was once considered a high-priced  delicacy that only the very wealthy could afford.  Cooks in the great private of Europe would compete to see who could make the most lavish marzipan novelties, which they served to guests at the end of a banquet.  Nowadays, marzipan is much more widely available although, for the last few decades, it has generally been specialist cake decorators and bakers with a sweet tooth who have used it most.

What is it?
You can buy readymade marzipan in the delicatessen section of the supermarket – or you can make your own.  Essentially, marzipan is a mixture of almond paste and fine-grain sugar, which is moistened with a little water or glucose in a bowl until the mixture reaches the consistency of dough.  Once it’s formed into small balls, bakers can get creative making whatever shapes they choose.  Marzipan requires no cooking and has a long shelf life.

Creative touches
When used for cake decorating, marzipan is usually rolled into a thin sheet and draped over the entire coked cake.  It is then carefully smoothed over to remove any creases or wrinkles forming an edible three-dimensional canvas on to which you can paste or paint your decoration.  Alternatively, you can attach separate marzipan confections to complete an edible sculpture.  Marzipan can be eaten as a sweet just like a lolly or a sugary snack.  Unsurprisingly it has an almond-y, nutty flavour and the texture of firm dough.  You can mix food colour into it too; green for leaves on a flower, blue to make water, and so on…

Marzipan secrets

  1. When making your own marzipan, ensure you are using only very fresh almonds as rancid almonds results in rancid marzipan.
  2. Marzipan can be cut into letters or numbers using a sharp knife or a biscuit cutter.  These can be attached to cakes or eaten on their own.
  3. You can dip your marzipan creations into chocolate, finely chopped nuts or sugar.
  4. Marzipan can be painted with food colouring but it is best to chill the marzipan for at least 2 hours beforehand so the surface hardens.
  5. Marzipan is best made for immediate use but any excess can be frozen.  If you refrigerate marzipan, wrap it well in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container or it will harden and become unusable.  If it becomes crumbly, knead in a little almond oil or warm water.

Stollen With Papaya And Rose-scented Marzipan (pictured)
Stollen is a German Christmas Cake. The name is really Christstollen. The marzipan centre represents Christ and the cake the blanket he was wrapped in. Stollen is a favourite in my home every Christmas.

1 cup sultanas or currants (or a mix of both)
2 tbsp brandy
3 cups high grade flour
Pinch salt
3 tbsp castor sugar
1/4 cup mixed peel
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup finely chopped papaya (or use mixed peel)
1 cup milk
1 tsp castor sugar
2 tsp dried yeast or 2 tbsp Surebake
1 egg
75 g butter, melted, 1tblsp softened butter, 50g extra melted butter
200 g marzipan
Rosewater to flavour


  1. Toss the currants and sultanas in the brandy and set aside for 1-2 hours.
  2. Sift the flour and salt together. Take one cup of flour and set aside. To the remaining 2 cups of flour, add the three tablespoons castor sugar, mixed peel, almonds, papaya,sultanas or currants. Set aside.
  3. Bring the milk to blood heat with the one teaspoon sugar. Stir in the dried yeast and set aside for 10 minutes, or until the mixture is frothy.
  4. Bring the yeasty liquid into the bowl containing the one cup of flour. Add the egg and melted butter and beat well to achieve a smooth batter. Stand, covered, in a warm place until the batter has doubled in bulk and is bubbly. Stir this mixture into the flour and fruit mixture. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth.
  5. Turn dough over in a greased bowl and spread over the softened butter. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for one hour or until double in bulk.
  6. Knock dough down and roll it out to a large oval, about 1 1/2 cm thick.Knead the marzipan with a little rosewater to flavour. Roll the marzipan out to form a thick sausage the length of the dough and place it right of centre. Brush the edge of the dough with milk. Roll the dough over the marzipan and press the edges together firmly. Transfer to a greased baking tray. Cover with a clean towel and set aside in a warm place for about 40 minutes until the dough has doubled in bulk.
  7. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes, then lower the oven to 180 degrees Celsius for a further 35-40 minutes. The dough is cooked when it sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Transfer the Stollen out onto a cake rack to cool.
  8. Brush well with the extra butter and cover liberally with sifted icing sugar. Serve cut in slices.

Cheat's Marzipan
Classic marzipan is made with glucose or sugar syrup and is cooked for some time. This quick version is not as fine.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Makes: 400 grams

2½ cups ground almonds
1½ cups caster sugar
1/3 cup water
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon almond essence


  1. Put the almonds and sugar into a food processor and process for about 30 seconds or until the mixture is very well ground.
  2. With the motor running, pour in the water and essences and keep processing until the mixture comes together. It will remain very granular and lumpy.
  3. Turn out from the processor bowl and bring together. Lightly dust a board with sieved icing sugar and knead into a ball. Keep well wrapped and in an airtight container in the refrigerator or divide into portions and freeze. Defrost at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.


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