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There are some topics of discussion on which there is no middle ground, it seems. One such topic, as I have learned since starting to sell chocolates and confectionery at my local markets, is marzipan.
People either adore it and jump at the chance to buy some handmade, chocolate-covered nuggets of their beloved sweetmeat, or else they shy away at the mere mention of it, protesting that they only eat the stuff under severe compulsion. Quite frankly, it’s a wonder to me that traditional Christmas cake (of which I am a devotee) ever managed to gain its prominent status as it combines marzipan and fruitcake, yet another divisive food item capable of inspiring a dislike so intense that it’s almost amusing.
However, although I am in the “for” camp of both marzipan and fruitcake (hence the love of Christmas cake—two of my favourites in one festive package!), I can see why there is a large segment of the population that eyes them warily. Because, when done poorly, the result can be disappointing, to put it generously.
I love this marzipan. It isn’t sickly sweet, and it doesn’t have the harsh, slightly artificial almond flavour of so many commercial marzipans. Also, since it uses ground almond meal rather than almond paste as its base, it has a little bit of texture, which I find quite nice. And best of all, it has no raw egg whites in it—or horrible corn syrup!
1 ½ cups (150 g.) almond meal
1 ½ cups (225 g.) icing sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 ½ teaspoons rosewater
¼ cup golden syrup
Tempered dark chocolate, for dipping*
Melted white chocolate, for striping
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift together the almond meal and the icing sugar.
- With the machine running on low speed, add the almond extract, rosewater, and golden syrup. Increase speed and continue to mix until the mixture is evenly moistened, pausing occasionally to scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl.
- Turn the mixture out onto a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar. Work it into a cohesive mass, pressing it firmly through your fingers.
- Once the mixture is holding together, knead until smooth and pliable.
- Roll out ½-inch thick and cut into 1-inch squares with a sharp, thin knife. Set aside while you temper the chocolate.
- Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Choose a metal bowl that will balance on the saucepan without the bottom of it touching the water in the pot, and place the chocolate in it. Set the bowl over the steam and let the chocolate melt, stirring it occasionally.
- *The Scientific Bit: Chocolate is tempered in order to convert as much of the crystal structure of the cocoa butter into the Beta 6 form as possible. Cocoa butter crystals are polymorphic, which means that they can bond in several different ways, and the Beta 6 form provides the best gloss and snap once the chocolate hardens. In order to encourage the formation of the Beta 6 bonds, the chocolate is taken through a melting process of specific temperatures. This all sounds very complicated and scientific, but tempering chocolate is actually quite simple.
- After the chocolate has melted, allow it to continue to heat until it reaches a temperature between 125°F and 130°F. In this temperature range, if you dab a little of the chocolate on the inside of your wrist or on the skin directly below your lip it will feel hot, but won’t burn.
- Remove the bowl from the steam and dry off the bottom of it with a dry towel. You do not want to get any water mixed in with the chocolate, as even a few drops will cause the chocolate to seize up and harden. Keep the pot of water on the stove at a low simmer.
- Allow the chocolate to cool, stirring it occasionally, until its temperature is just below 82°F. This is the temperature where the Beta 6 bonds form. Once the chocolate has cooled to this temperature, it is in temper. It will feel cool and the consistency will have thickened slightly.
- To test to see whether the chocolate is properly in temper, take a small strip of parchment paper and dip it into the chocolate. Drag the strip against the side of the bowl to remove all but a thin coating of the chocolate. Set the strip aside. In a few minutes, the chocolate should glaze over, and by the end of 5 minutes, it should have hardened completely. If it does not harden by the end of the 5 minutes, continue to cool the chocolate, stirring occasionally, for a few more minutes, and then test again.
- Once the chocolate is in temper, use a two-pronged candy fork (an ordinary fork can be used instead if you don’t have one, but it isn’t as easy to get a nice thin coating) to dip the marzipan squares into the tempered chocolate, covering them completely. Tap off the excess chocolate and then transfer the coated pieces to a piece of waxed paper or a Silpat to set.
- Once the chocolate has set, spoon a little melted white chocolate into a paper cone (or you can use a Ziplock bag with the very tip of a corner snipped off) and stripe the squares. The trick to getting a fine stripe is to hold the bag several inches above the surface of the candies and to move your hand up and down as quickly as possible while you apply pressure.
- After the white chocolate has hardened, you can pack the squares up beautifully and give them away as a luxurious gift, or you can stash them away in an airtight container and treat yourself to a few pieces a week over the next two months—marzipan has an excellent shelf life!