You may have noticed that we are big fans of marzipan chocolates, and for good reason. There is something dangerously moreish about the powdery, almondy, sugary goodness that is marzipan. From perfectly crafted miniatures to completely encased cakes, it has been a firm favourite for centuries. While we can often turn to a tasty layer of marzipan for special events and afternoon tea, it can be an underappreciated treat.
However, marzipan is not reserved for Christmas cake and Battenberg alone. It is a saccharine art form with a long, rich and delicious history. So, let’s get into the who, the what, the where and the how of marzipan’s marvellous history.
Who Crafts the Best Marzipan?
Depending on your personal tastes and preferences, there is a multitude of skilled marzipan-makers out there, from huge international brands to localised artisans. There are though, a select few brands who are revered for their luxury marzipan creations.
Two of our favourites – both of which are long-established as some of the world’s finest confectioners – are Niederegger and Anthon Berg.
The Niederegger brand started at the turn of the 19th century when Johann Georg Niederegger – a 29-year-old pastry chef – acquired Maret Confectionery in Lubeck. In 1822 he was welcomed as a member of the town’s Merchants’ Association, helping him, and eventually his son-in-law, to grow the business. Their products were so highly esteemed that they were firm favourites of Russian Czars!
Improved production methods saw the company’s growth continue throughout the 19th century. Accolades followed, with the marzipan winning awards at the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna. Niederegger was even appointed as the supplier to the court of the German Kaiser at the turn of the 20th century – an honour indeed.
In 1886, this Danish greengrocer handed out chocolate marzipan treats, free of charge, to those queuing outside his store. A few short years later, in 1898, his infamous marzipan bars were in production, complete with the iconic pink packaging.
Anthon Berg’s popularity soon spread across the world. His marzipan was even given the royal seal of approval by the Royal Danish Court in 1958 and has been enjoyed all over the world ever since.
Where Did Marzipan Come From?
The etymology of the word is unclear, with several theories surrounding various European phrases for breads and pastries. Equally, the earliest origins of marzipan are a mystery. Some argue that it came from the Orient, moving across the continents and coming to Europe during the Crusades.
Another school of thought is that marzipan is of Mediterranean descent, hailing from Persia and moving across the continent via Eastern European trade routes. There is evidence to suggest this could be the case, with a 9th-century Persian physician called Rhazes writing about the health benefits of the would-be marzipan mixture. It also ties into how Lubeck and Tallinn became the two most iconic towns for marzipan making.
Spain’s first written reference to the almond-infused goodness is from 1512, while Portuguese nuns have a long history of creating marzipan.
As for how the modern world came to love marzipan so much, we can thank figures like King Louis XIV of France who took the indulgence of marzipan to new heights, with entire centrepieces constructed from realistic marzipan recreations – everything from poultry to fruit and vegetables!
Once marzipan was “fashionable” its popularity grew, and by the 19th century, the emerging middle classes were hooked. Confectioners were an established trade, with the likes of Johann Niederegger and Anthon Berg rising through the ranks to become names synonymous with luxury confectionary and marzipan. From there, the treat became more accessible, and a traditional goodie for people of all ages across the world.
How is Marzipan Made?
Now that would be telling!
Simply put, marzipan is an elastic, malleable paste. Traditionally made from grated and powdered almonds mixed with powdered sugars or honey, it can be moulded easily once at the desired consistency. There are variations that incorporate different nuts and sugar sources, with a wide variety of textures from smooth and silky to chunky and crunchy.
The basic process includes cleaning and blanching raw almonds, cooling them before chopping and grinding them into an almond flour. The almond flour is roasted and cooled, mixed with sugar and moulded into shape.
Beware though – not all marzipans are created equal! The quality of marzipan is measured by the ratio of almond to sugar. More almonds means better quality. However, in some cases like the creation of marzipan sculptures, more sugar is required for sturdiness.
So, there you have it – a snapshot view of marzipan’s marvellous history. With a whole host of varieties out there to enjoy, from classic loaves and tortes to chocolate dipped and liqueur-infused, or painted, iced and glazed – there is bound to be a marzipan made for you! We recommend starting with a classic like Anthon Berg marzipan chocolate or liqueur discs…