Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Marzipan and other treats

Do you remember those Swiss Colony Catalogs that came in the mail right before Thanksgiving? The cover always featured starry eyed Aryan looking children looking down upon a Christmas scene blessed with Gingerbread houses, frosted windows and twinkly soft lighting. I remember fantasizing over these catalogs when I was a young child wishing that I could have the same look of wonderment that those children on the cover have. Wishing that I could have a fat ass gingerbread house and live the Hansel and Gretel dream that most children fantasize about.

I begged my mother year after year... to buy items from the catalog. The Gift Tower of Joy, a box of petit fours, maybe a selection of nuts, candies and old world cookies. They looked so colorful, so delicately shaped, so different from Grandmas and Chips Ahoy. You have to remember that I grew up in the suburbs of the West Coast where European or Old World bakeries were unheard of. Most ethnic food was unheard of.

Of course she was savy enough to know that the items in the catalog were a rip off. Later when she finally gave in from my pestering. She ordered what I wanted in lieu of a birthday gift. I had never been so disappointed in anything in my life. The petit fours despite their depiction in the catalog did not resemble the petit fours I'd had at a teahouse. Each petit four was the size of a small chocolate. The gingerbread house was 4 inches high and the royal icing was crumbling. The sad little house was decorated with four or five pieces of really sad looking candy that you wouldn't be able find in a lonely old lady's candy bowl.

We decided to give away little parcels of candy this year.

Today we tackled marzipan, sugar plums

Ever since I was a child, Marzipan has always been a favorite treat. I love anything that tastes of almonds... I have had this funny notion since I was a child that I was poisoned by cyanide gas in a past life.

Marzipan Fruits
2 c. slivered almonds
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar (more for rolling and dusting)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp rose water
2 tbsp water
Food Coloring

Grind the almonds until ground fine in a food processor. Add the liquid ingredients and mix in the food processor until sticky. Gradually add the powdered sugar while running the processor. Mix until a soft and pliable dough has formed. Knead slightly with a generous amount of powered sugar to avoid sticking.

Divide the dough into portions and color with food coloring. You can color sugars in 1/4 c. portions with 2-3 drops of food coloring. Allow the sugar to dry a little. While I was making these and this may sound as if I was having a remedial moment, I found it difficult to think up fruit as they corresponded to color. I kept coming up with things that were either too difficult to shape or obscure or if shaped would be mistaken for a more common fruit.: pineapple, lychee nut, passion fruit. I settled for the fruits listed below.

Peaches: My favorite shape to make is a peach. You take a little yellow and a little orange dough. Assemble them together and roll into a ball. Dust with colored orange sugar and finish with a tiny leaf made of green marzipan and a stem made of a whole clove.

Strawberries: Make an almost heartshaped fruit and poke all around with the pointy end of a clove. Dip in red colored sugar and finish with a stem and leaf just like the peach.

Peas in a pod: Roll a small piece of green dough and pinch the ends slightly. Flatten and create a long indentation along the length. Roll some more green dough with a little brown dough mixed in. Cut and roll the small pieces into tiny balls to fit in the indentation as the peas.

Baby carrots: Roll a piece of dough into a tapered cylinder shape. Semi-randomly score rings lightly around the tapered object. Create tufts of leafy protrusions to attach to the fat end of the carrot stick.

Roll a piece of yellow marzipan dough into a cylinder. Pinch on the ends and set in a curved shape. Pain the ends lightly with brown (red & green)food coloring diluted with water.

Oranges: Same as peach, but give the ball a uniformed, dimpled texture by rolling (and pressing lightly) over a screen wire sieve. Dust with orange colored sugar.

Next year I want to make a collection of maripan meats (just as a joke). You know, hams, porkchops, sausage, crown roasts... no one would eat them, and I'd have all the marzipan to myself.

Sugar Plums
These are suspiciously and delicously Middle Eastern. Add rose or orange water for an even more luxurious taste.

2 c. toasted slivered almonds, ground semi-fine
1 c. chopped dried apricots
1 c. chopped pitted medjool dates
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 nutmeg
1 tsp rose water
2 tsp orange zest finely chopped
1/4 c. honey
superfine sugar for rolling

Mix all of the above ingredients into a large sticky ball. Roll small balls of the candy (about a tsp amount each) in superfine sugar and then set aside in a cool place.


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