Sunday was 1 December and Christmas is now a mere three weeks away (well, for me at least, most of you I guess will be celebrating on the 25th and are lucky enough to have an extra day to get your Christmas shopping done). I thought I would start the inevitable Christmas baking bonanza with something easy, so easy you can even involve young siblings or children in the preparation as there is hardly any real work involved (and none of it requires you to switch on your oven) and the end result is something that is sure to make any marzipan lover’s heart beat faster.
Marzipankartoffeln (German for marzipan potatoes) are nothing more than little marzipan marbles, even better if slightly irregular, which are rolled in cocoa powder so they look like potatoes freshly dug out from the fields. Although with the eyes of a grown-up the actual resemblance to potatoes is fairly limited, as a child it fascinated me to no end. While most supermarkets stock almond paste or marzipan, provided you have a decent food processor it is quick and fun to make the marzipan yourself – I still remember making fresh marzipan with my niece Chiara who must have been 12 or 13 at the time to cover my sister Helena’s birthday cake one year and I still remember how intrigued she was that you could make marzipan at home.
Marzipan is one of those sweets whose origins are hotly debated – some say it has Arab origins, others claim it was first made in China. Whichever is true, marzipan is typically made from ground almonds (although there are oatmeal, apricot and peach kernel variations and I remember my mum telling me that her mum made Marzipankartoffeln using semolina when she could not get hold of almonds in post-war Germany) and sweetened with sugar or honey and often flavoured with bitter almond aroma or rose or orange blossom water. The ratio of almonds to sugar depends on the area where the marzipan is produced but typically, the higher the almond content the higher the quality.
Marzipan is eaten year round in Germany (in fact the German name ‘marzipan’ has mainly ousted the English term ‘marchpane’) although in particular around Christmas and New Year’s Eve – small pigs made from marzipan and dusted with pink food colouring are often given as a good luck token around New Year’s Eve and logs of marzipan, sometimes filled with nougat, naked or dipped in chocolate, are often eaten around Christmas.
Makes ca. 10
After reading Kathryn’s post about date sugar, I wanted to try making marzipan using dates instead of sugar and it worked wonderfully. Given their sweetness, I did not need to use a lot of dates so there is nothing standing in the way of the sweet almond taste. A drop of orange blossom water makes this a more Mediterranean/Arabic version of marzipan (and you could always leave this out or use bitter almond extract instead), although the thin cocoa powder coating reminds me firmly of the little bags of German Marzipankartoffeln my grandma would often buy us in the run-up to Christmas.
60g blanched almonds
30g pitted dates
1 tsp orange blossom water
Cocoa powder to dust (ca. 2-3 tbsp)
1. Finely grind the almonds in a food processor. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
2. Add the dates and orange blossom water to the food processor (no need to clean the bowl first) and process until the dates form a paste. Return the ground almonds to the food processor and process together with the date paste until the mixture starts to clump together and the almonds are starting to release their oil.
3. Add the cocoa powder to a bowl. Roll the marzipan into small marbles (ca. 1/2 a teaspoon for each marble) and roll in the cocoa powder. Once all marzipan marbles are covered in cocoa powder add them to a big sieve and shake to remove any excess cocoa powder so the marzipan kartoffeln are covered with a very thin layer of cocoa only (as in the pictures). Leave uncovered overnight to dry and firm up. Stored in a container with a lid these Marzipankartoffeln should keep for several weeks.