Marchpane

How to make a good Marchpaine.
First take a pound of long smal almonds and blanch them in cold water, and dry them as drye as you can, then grinde them small, and put no licour to them but as you must needs to keepe them from oyling, and that licour that you put in must be rosewater, in manner as you shall think good, but wet your Pestel therin, when ye have beaten them fine, take halfe a pound of Sugar and more, and see that it be beaten small in pouder, it must be fine sugar, then put it to your Almonds and beate them altogither, when they be beaten, take your wafers and cut them compasse round, and of the bignes you will have your Marchpaine, and then as soone as you can after the tempering of your stuffe, let it be put in your paste, and strike it abroad with a flat stick as even as you can, and pinch the very stuffe as it were an edge set upon, and then put a paper under it, and set it upon a faire boord, and lay lattin Basin over it the bottome upwarde, and then lay burning coles upon the bottom of the basin. To see how it baketh, if it happen to bren too fast in some place, folde papers as broad as the place is & lay it upon that place, and thus with attending ye shal bake it a little more then a quarter of an houre, and when it is wel baked, put on your gold and biskets, and stick in Comfits, and so you shall make a good Marchpaine. Or ever that you bake it you must cast on it fine Sugar and Rosewater that will make it look like Ice.
A.W. A Book of Cookrye, Very Necessary for all such as delight therein. (1591)

How to make a good Marchpane.
First take a pound of long small almonds and blanch them in cold water, and dry them as dry as you can, then grind them small, and put no liquor to them but as you must needs to keep them from getting oily, and that liquor that you put in must be rosewater, in manner as you shall think good, but wet your pestle therein. When ye have beaten them fine, take half a pound of sugar and more, and see that it be beaten small in powder, it must be fine sugar. Then put it to your Almonds and beat them all together, when they be beaten, take your wafers and cut them round with a compass, the size of your marchpane. As soon as you can after the tempering of your (marchpane) stuff, let it be put in your paste, and strike it abroad with a flat stick as even as you can, and pinch the very stuff as it were an edge set upon, and then put a paper under it, and set it upon a fair board, and lay lattin Basin over it the bottom upwards. Lay burning coals over the basin. To see how it bakes, if it happen to brown too fast in some places, fold papers as broad as the place is & lay it upon that place. And thus with attending you shall bake it a little more than a quarter of an hour, and when it is well baked, put on your gold and biskets, and stick in comfits, and so you shall make a good marchpane. Or ever that you bake it you must cast on it fine sugar and rosewater that will make it look like Ice.

The text of the recipe is taken from Mark and Jane Wak’s transcription of A Book of Cookrye, available here.

Marchpane was a centrepiece of any Elizabethan banquet – a small, gathering after a feast, where expensive sugary confections were served. Marchpane features in most Elizabethan cookbooks; all recipes feature almond meal and fine sugar in differing proportions, held together with rosewater. This is my preferred recipe, featuring half the amount of sugar to almond meal. I have seen recipes which call for twice as much sugar as almond meal – incredibly sweet!  Far too sweet for many modern palates – though the Elizabethans probably loved it.

Ingredients

450g almond meal 225g icing sugar 20-50mL rosewater
Icing
80g icing sugar 20-40mL rosewater

Method

  1. Mix together the icing sugar and almond meal, and pass through a fine sieve at least twice to ensure there are no lumps.
  2. Mix the rosewater into the icing sugar and almond meal a spoonful at a time, and incorporate well. It should be stiff and hold together, but not be too wet.  It is easiest to use your hands to do this.
  3. Press the marchpane into a cake pan that is lined with baking paper, and smooth off the top. You can also set aside some to mould into decorations.
  4. Put the marchpane, and any decorations, into a 120⁰ oven for about 15-20 minutes. You are drying the marchpane out, more than cooking it. You don’t really want it to brown.
  5. If you wish to press any decorations such as comfits (see notes) or candied fruit peel into the top, do it as soon as the marchpane comes out of the oven. The marchpane will still be very soft and malleable, but will stiffen on cooling.
  6. To make the icing, wait until the marchpane is completely cool. Sieve the icing sugar, then gradually add the rosewater, mixing well to make a stiff icing. Spread over the surface of the marchpane, and decorate with flower petals, comfits or candied fruit peel.

Notes

  • Icing sugar can also be called confectioner’s sugar. A similar product is available in Australia called icing mixture, which contains a small amount of cornflour to stop it clumping. I prefer to use pure icing sugar.
  • Comfits are seeds, nuts or spices coated in many thin layers of hardened sugar syrup (Brears, 2016, 562). They are often mentioned as garnishes for other sweet dishes, but very few books contain recipes. This leads me to conclude most people purchased comfits ready made from confectioners. Modern equivalents would be sugar coated almonds, or mukhwas, sugar coated fennel seeds available from Indian grocers.
  • I have suggested the weights of almond meal and sugar based on the original recipe.  If you wish to make a smaller marchpane, it is fine to vary the amounts, so long as you keep the proportions roughly the same (that is, half the weight of sugar to almond meal).  However, if you wish to make a larger marchpane, I would do it in two batches, as the mix becomes difficult to work with if you have too much in the bowl.

Iced marchpane
Iced marchpane, decorated with cornflower and dianthus petals.

Marchpane with comfits
Marchpane decorated with sugar coated almonds, mukhwas and candied lemon and orange peel.

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Brears, Peter (2016). Cooking and Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England

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One comment on “Marchpane

  1. Barbara Loucks Vanderhoff says:

    Facinating! My Christmas stocking always included Marchapan purchased
    At local German Deli. I remember one in particular – open face rye bread sandwich w/ham, swiss and even a smear of yellow mustard. At the time I balked at eating a Sweet Sandwich. Such workmanship, I think now! This is the first oldie/&modern recipe I have seen for “Scratch Prep.” and even pictures… I usually make just mini fruits
    W/almond paste, conf. Sugar & Rosewater as a bow to family tradition..
    Love your posts. I collect cookbooks,
    Recipes and am now embarked on my second effort at Rose Petal CORDIAL. Have brandy, rock candy, & $ 61.00 worth of Antique Rose bushes. Just waiting for the flowers now!

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