Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Handmade Marzipan

Introducing the recipe that has won me over to the cause of rose water-flavored sweets: Handmade Marzipan.

These pretty almond goodies are not the über-sweet marzipan you buy in a tube in the baking aisle, used to fashion colorful decorations for Yule logs or rolled out thin to cover Princess cakes - they are a fresh, lightly-flavored delicacy of almonds you grind yourself, and simply mix with sugar, water, and rose water to make a mold-able paste. This is a unique dessert that will add great variety to any dessert platter since it's not a cake, not a cookie, not candy...people may not know what it is, and you'll get to tell them the story of how you made it!

I discovered this recipe while helping friends out with a Syrian seder meal (also the inspiration for my kosher marshmallow attempts), and have since made these pastries several more times. My friends had the cookbook Aromas of Aleppo, which produced fabulous dishes of tamarind meatballs and a very cheesy spinach frittata in addition to this marzipan. I love the simplicity of the ingredients and the physicality of rolling them and pressing them into the mold. The one difficulty in preparing for this recipe was finding a good source for blanched almonds and pistachios, so you'll want to search out a store with good Middle Eastern ingredients in stock, or at least a Whole Foods with a good selection of nuts.

I was lucky enough to have a friend who already had an appropriate wooden mold, but I wouldn't be surprised if you could find similar cookie molds in any cooking store. And if you can't, why not just make the balls and flatten them into shapes, even add your own impression on top?

Here we go:

Handmade Marzipan

2 C almonds, blanched, peeled (and finely ground if possible)
1 C sugar (substitute up to half with Splenda if desired)
1 tsp rose water
1 C pistachios, shelled, blanched, peeled, and finely chopped
powdered sugar to dust cookie mold and surfaces

1. Grind almonds in food processor if not already ground.
2. Stir together the ground almonds, sugar, 1/4 C water, and rose water in a medium bowl. Transfer to a food processor and process until the mixture forms a paste.
3. Take one teaspoon of this paste and form into a walnut-sized ball. Repeat with the remainder of the paste, placing each ball on a sheet of parchment paper dusted well with powdered sugar (the paste will be quite sticky; should make about 25 pastries). Press down on the center of each ball with your finger, making a 1/2 inch indentation. Fill the indentations with a pinch of pistachios. Close the pastries with your thumb and forefinger. Dust a fancy cookie mold liberally with powdered sugar and then press a pastry into the mold. Tap it gently out of the mold and set on a baking sheet sprinkled with powdered sugar to dry.

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