Originally created 12/15/04

Marzipan is merrily versatile



HYDE PARK, N.Y. - You don't have to be a pastry chef to create marzipan garnishes. With a touch of food coloring and a little imagination, you can make deliciously sweet one-of-a-kind creations just like the professionals, for the holidays or any season.

From delicate, lifelike shapes to playful characters, marzipan's configurations are endless. Made from almonds and sugar, marzipan is an ultra-fine paste used to shape and embellish a variety of sweets. Realistic-looking marzipan confections that resemble fruit, vegetables and figurines can be found in pastry shops and candy stores throughout the world.

This highly versatile ingredient is also used as a filling for sweets, as an elegant covering for cakes and as a component in classic preparations such as petits fours and stollen.

Producing marzipan shapes doesn't require special tools. Most shapes and designs can be achieved with your hands, a rolling pin and a knife or toothpick. When working with marzipan, the key is to knead it properly, notes chef Kate Cavotti, professor in baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America.

"Kneading helps to soften the marzipan and distribute any added food coloring. If it is too dry, knead in a little more liquid; if too soft, knead in more powdered sugar," she recommends. Once it softens, you can roll it into sheets, cut out shapes or roll it by hand to make three-dimensional candies or decorations.

Creating marzipan can be a fun activity for the whole family. Regardless of what you make, be sure to sample your delicious handiwork. Here's a recipe from The Culinary Institute of America's "Baking and Pastry, Mastering the Art and Craft" cookbook (Wiley, 2004, $65).

Marzipan

One 7-ounce tube or box of marzipan

Confectioners' sugar, as needed

Liquid or paste food coloring, as needed

Vegetable oil, as needed

Lightly beaten egg white, as needed

While still in its packaging, gently knead or roll the marzipan on the counter a few times. Dust the work surface lightly with the confectioners' sugar and remove the marzipan from the package. If you want to make more than one color, divide the marzipan into smaller pieces.

Squeeze a few drops of food coloring onto the marzipan. Knead it by hand just until the color is evenly distributed and the marzipan is soft enough to roll out or mold into shapes. Keep any portion of the marzipan that you aren't working with well covered to prevent drying.

To make cutout shapes, dust your work surface and rolling pin with confectioners' sugar. Roll the marzipan into a very thin layer, about 1/8-inch thick. Use cutters of various shapes. Transfer the marzipan shapes to a plate and cover to keep them pliable.

To make flowers, use a flower-shaped cutter, or a knife to create the petals. Roll a small ball of marzipan. With the handle of a wooden spoon, make a small depression in the center of the flower petals, and press the ball into the depression.

To make fruit and vegetable shapes, roll the marzipan into a ball of about the size you'd like for the finished shape, then mold or sculpt as you would clay. To make coffee beans, color the marzipan a deep brownish black. Break off small pieces and roll them into bean shapes. Press the blade of a small knife lengthwise down the center of each bean.

For a more natural look, dip a toothpick into vegetable oil and use it to press any seams or depressions into the shape.

To attach smaller pieces, such as stems, centers or leaves, use a toothpick to make a small depression at the point where you want to attach something, such as in the top of an apple shape. Lightly moisten the attachment with your fingertip (a small ball for the center of a flower, cutout leaves, and longer cylinders for stems, for example) at the place where it should join the marzipan shape and press it gently in place. Use egg white to act as glue, if necessary.

To cover a cake, work on a surface lightly dusted with confectioners' sugar and roll the marzipan into an even, thin sheet about 1/16-inch thick. Turn the marzipan as you work to keep it from sticking and tearing. Cut to cover small cakes, or transfer the entire marzipan sheet to the cake. Allow the sheet to drape over the sides and press gently onto the sides of the cake. Pinch off any excess marzipan and rub the seams to seal and smooth them.

Makes enough to cover an 8-inch cake or form a variety of shapes.

Nutrition information per 1-ounce shape: 90 cal., 2 g pro., 12 g carbo., 4 g fat, 5 mg sodium, 20 mg chol., less than 1 g fiber.

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This recipe, along with many other desserts, is explained and illustrated in The Culinary Institute of America's "Baking and Pastry, Mastering the Art and Craft" cookbook (Wiley, 2004, $65), available at bookstores nationwide or at:

http://www.prochef.com/fbi/textbooks.html.