POSTMEDIA TIMES COLONIST
Sweet dates stuffed with a decadent mixture of marzipan, coconut and cranberries.
Often, almond paste is is easiest to find at Christmas. So what’s the difference between it and the similarly almond-flavoured paste called marzipan?
Almond paste is made of blanched ground almonds, sugar (in the form of syrup) and glycerine or another liquid. The "other" liquid, depending on the recipe, could be citrus juice, liqueur or rose water.
Almond extract is sometimes added to almond paste to intensify the flavour.
According to Regan Daley’s book In The Sweet Kitchen, almond paste is used in many traditional European pastries, baked goods and confections, such as macaroons. Daley says almond paste should not be confused with marzipan, a similar paste confection, but one that is used in different ways and is quite a bit sweeter, thanks to a higher ratio of sugar to almonds.
In fact, you can use almond paste as a starter to create marzipan. Here is a simple recipe for marzipan from the Joy of Cooking:
• After beating one egg white, gradually mix in one cup of almond paste. After that, one and half cups of icing sugar is blended in, creating a paste that is sweeter, pliable and much smoother than coarser-in texture almond paste.
While almond paste may be incorporated into baked goods, marzipan is a more refined product that’s used to create fancy sweets, such as petit fours and items that are just made of marzipan, such as fruits, animals and holiday shapes. According to the New Food Lover’s Companion, some commercial marzipan fruit is coloured so convincingly that it can almost be mistaken for the real thing.
Marzipan is also rolled into thin sheets and used to cover cakes, or cut into strips to form ribbons, bows and other shapes used for edible decoration.
But although almond paste is easiest to find Christmas, if you’re a keener, have almonds, sugar and one of the other liquids noted above on hand and find a recipe — such as I did in the Joy of Cooking and several other books — you can make your own any time of the year. Or, if that sounds like too much work, you might be able to buy ready-to-use almond paste at a place specializing in baking and dessert supplies.
As for marzipan, if you have almond paste, you could make your own as described above. You could also take the easy route and buy it ready-made. It’s available in many forms, such as plain bars, chocolate-covered bars, fruit and in bulk.
In the following recipe, I made a classic sweet by stuffing an oblong piece of marzipan into a pitted date. Before doing so, I flavoured the marzipan with coconut and chopped, dried cranberries. The dates I used were the large and easy-to-pit Medjool dates, sold in the produce section of some supermarkets.
Marzipan-stuffed dates with
coconut and cranberries
You can prepare the dates several hours before needed.
After stuffing, set on a serving plate and tightly wrap; keep at room temperature until needed.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: None
Makes: 12 stuffed dates
• 12 Medjool dates
• 1/3 lb. (150 grams) marzipan
• 2 Tbsp. medium unsweetened coconut flakes
• 3 Tbsp. dried cranberriesMake a lengthwise slit in each date. Gently squeeze the date open and remove the pit. Knead the marzipan to soften it, then set in a small bowl. Work the coconut and cranberries into the marzipan.
Take 1 Tbsp. of the marzipan and shape it into an oblong ball. Stuff the marzipan into the centre of a date. Gently squeeze the date shut, leaving some of the marzipan still exposed. Repeat with remaining dates.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 5, 2012