Making marzipan for the almond prize

It’s a rainy Boxing Day in Rome, but I had a nice long walk earlier. Armed with my police declaration form, I walked around the very quiet neighborhood. No police spotted, but lots of people with strollers and dogs. We are having a very nice Christmas, all things considered. It’s hard not being home, but interesting to see Rome this time of the year. The fresh pasta shop downstairs had massive lines (socially distanced) the last days before the 25th, with time slots to collect pasta orders. They had two small refrigerated trucks to store all the orders. Trays of tortellini, ravioli, mmm…… I collected my order of two small lasagnas, on Christmas Eve morning: one with salmon, and one amatriciana (tomato, guanciale). We are technically allowed two guests a day, but are being careful, so very little socializing now and the fridge has been stuffed (as have we).

On Christmas Eve one friend came over and we had a lovely evening. Bramble gin cocktails and smoked salmon paté (super easy, great recipe from the Guardian). Then Norwegian pinnekjøtt with mushy peas, red cabbage, potatoes, Christmas-spiced meatballs and Canadian meatpies with chutney. We never even made it to dessert (riskrem) or coffee and cookies. However, yesterday we had a bracing walk and an afternoon watching “Miracle on 34th Street” and managed to make a dent in the Christmas cookies. We made shepherds pie with leftovers, and finally had the riskrem.

Traditionally many Norwegians have risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge) on Christmas Eve, served warm with cinnamon, butter and sugar. A blanched almond is hidden in the porridge, and whoever finds it wins a small marzipan pig. The cold leftover porridge is mixed with whipped cream to made riskrem for dessert the same day, served with red cherry sauce, sometimes with a new almond added and a new marzipan pig prize (there were a lot of small children to keep entertained……). Here in Italy, they grow beautiful almonds and Sicily is famous for amazing marzipan. But could I fins any marzipan in Rome? No. Well, I only tried my neighbourhood, but eight shops later I gave up and made my own marzipan. Really not that hard.

Marzipan

  • 250 gr blanched almonds
  • 250 gr icing sugar
  • 1 raw eggwhite

If you need to blanch the almonds, do it the day before so they dry. I have a small manual almond grinder but a food processor would work too. Grind the almonds once alone, then mix with the icing sugar and grind again. Keep some of the dry mix aside ad you may not need it all, that depends on the size of your eggwhite (I had maybe 1/3 cup extra, it will be used in some dessert soon.) Add the eggwhite and knead firmly until you get a smooth firm paste. Voila! Homemade marzipan!

We have some silicon sheep molds crafted by my husband, and pressed the fresh marzipan into them.

Wrap well or stick in a plastic bag) and store in fridge, invert when needed and serve to the lucky almond-finder. This made plenty of marzipan, next time I would scale it down to 100 gr almonds. But the extra marzipan is now safely stored in the freezer labeled XMAS 2020 in case I have an urgent marzipan need.

I hope you are all having a good Boxing Day!

Ferragosto cake with rhubarb and vintage marzipan

rhubarb cake with marzipan

Yesterday was Ferragosto, an Italian holiday and the peak of summer. It goes back to Roman days (18 BC, says Wikipedia) and it’s also the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Our neighbourhood was already quiet, but it’s been just deserted this weekend. Lots of parking, hardly any laundry out, and we can actually hear the gentle swoosh of birds flying by. And it rained, so the temperature dropped under 28C! After weeks of relentless heatwave after heatwave, it is just wonderful. I baked bread, sorted clothes for the refugee collection (there is a camp at Tiburtina), tidied away post-guest bed linen piles, and made a cake for the first time in ages.

Garbatella at Ferragosta

Spurred by the temporary drop in temperature, I have been sorting through my baking cupboard. Why do I have four boxes of dark syrup from Norway? And three boxes of potato starch?  And an unreasonable amount of cream of tartar. If you have a mortal fear of expiration dates, please look away now: I also unearthed three rolls of marzipan, the oldest from 2012…. Still edible, so into this cake a wedge of the vintage marzipan went, with precious Norwegian rhubarb.

Ferragosto cake with rhubarb and vintage marzipan

2 large eggs
50 g sugar
180 g plain wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
50 g melted butter, slightly cooled
Pinch of salt
100 ml milk
One large stick of rhubarb (about 120 grammes)
60 g marzipan

Pre-heat the oven to 210C. Whisk eggs and sugar. Sift in flour and baking powder, with a pinch of salt. Add milk and melted butter, slightly cooled. Line the base of a 24 cm cake tin with a circle of baking parchment.
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Pour half the batter into the prepared cake tin. Now, take your chopped rhubarb (thumbnail sized pieces) and crumble the marzipan over, then pour the rest of the batter over it. Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 min or so at 210C, until the cake is nicely golden.

Cool slightly and enjoy!

Notes: I had been planning to make rabarbragrøt, a rhubarb compote/thickened dessert soup, but then I saw the marzipan and swapped to cake.  Compote might be better with frozen rhubarb anyway (that might be a bit soggy in a cake). I thought it might be a bit tart with the rhubarb added like this, unsugared, but it’s actually OK with the marzipan crumbled through, that complements the tart little pockets of rhubarb.  I had made an apple/marzipan cake earlier, using a 20cm tim, and this is a flatter variation of that.

Marzipan-stuffed baked apples

three apples Spring is here, the cherry trees are beginning to blossom here in Rome, and I still had Christmas marzipan lurking in the fridge. Our basket of mysterious, old, or challenging pantry items to use up is shrinking (samples: Chinese salted black beans, cod liver pâté, dusty  meringues, alici piccante – spicy anchovies, which turned out to be amazing on pizza) and now it was time for that marzipan to go. It’s been sitting in the back of the fridge in a desolate row of jars with leftover bits and pieces: fondant, harissa, truffle butter, tamarind paste, and more of those ingredients that would be great for something, eventually….. No, now we had a friend coming over for our weekly TV night, and we needed an easy dessert. Hmmmmm…. I’d seen Baked Marzipan Apples on Recipe Reminiscing, a very enjoyable and highly recommended Norwegian-English blog with delightfully retro recipes, and took that as my inspiration. The original includes marzipan, rum, raisins and cream, and looks amazing! This is is a more stripped-down weeknight version.

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I am bringing this to Fiesta Friday #59, with many thanks to the hosts  Jhuls @The Not So Creative Cook and Mila @milkandbun and Angie@thenovicegardener.

Marzipan-stuffed baked apples for three
3 apples
70-80 grammes marzipan  (what we had left…)
2 tbs butter
2 tsp golden caster sugar

Heat the oven to 220C. Peel and core the apples. Stuff the cores with a sausage of marzipan, and slather some butter on top to seal the gap. Sprinkle some golden caster sugar on top. Place the apples in a greased ovenproof dish. Bake 15-20 min until they feel soft. Enjoy!

baked apple

Not so pretty, but these were very nice just like this, and the sweet marzipan core contrasted well with the lingering tartness of the apples. Custard or cream on the side would be good too, but our visiting friend is on a diet, so we were trying to be morally supportive (despite the marzipan).

We have TV nights on Tuesdays with this friend, and we are currently watching Forbrydelsen series 3 (with subtitles), so dessert also has to be easy to eat when on the sofa. I’m wondering if I could do chocolate stuffed pears in a similar way, maybe sliced in two and wrapped in foil to hold them together while baking? Pears are harder to core, unless I found really firm ones, but that might just work. To be tested!

Happy FF59 to all!

Fiesta Friday