Marzipan: A Morning with Nona Shula

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This post is about a week late because I wanted it to be around Mother’s day but I never got around to it. I was lucky to spend a morning with my Nona Shula (grandmother) learning how to make Marzipan. My grandmother claims that she does not like to cook and is not really interested in teaching us the family and traditional recipes, but if she were able to stand outside the window and look at her while she teaches she would be very impressed with her skill and her patience teaching the techniques. I think that despite her feelings of not enjoying cooking and baking, my grandmother is secretly happy when I beg her to teach me the recipes that we all love.  I am slowly cajoling her into learning many of them mostly because I have been lucky to have lived with her for a few months a while back. Today it is about marzipan and hopefully later (cross your fingers) it will be about Baton Sale.  If you don’t know what that is, you will have to wait for my next date with Nona Shula, but here is a sneak peek.

Baton Sale

My grandparents kindly let A and I live in their beach condo for a while and I really got to bond with my grandmother and to chat with her about family history and I even got her to teach me a few tricks and tips in the kitchen such as ‘always work in glass bowls as plastic bowls retain odors’. This time it was Marzipan, a simple yet very elegant and sophisticated dessert usually saved for life cycle events such a weddings or at a brit milah (ritual circumcision) or at holidays like Passover. The medieval epicenter for Marzipan production was Toledo, Spain and it is speculated that the Arabs or Jews living in Toledo brought the Marzipan to Spain and later popularized it in southern Europe and in the Middle East after their exodus from Spain.

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IMG_0182Marzipan is pretty simple and like many of these ‘grandmother’ recipes it is about making them a few times until you get the trick.  The ingredients are simple and most of you usually have them around in your home. These are made from almonds but you can also make it with pistachios or dried apricots.

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups of almonds, blanched, peeled, and finely ground
  • 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 3-5 teaspoons of rose water (the amount very much depends on your liking of rose water)
  • 1 cup of pistachios or caramelized peanuts, shelled, peeled, and finely chopped for decorating
  • Cookie cutters

Directions

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  1. For the almonds: Wash them well until the water comes out clean and place in a pot to boil until the first almond peels easily.  Once they peel easily, place in a bowl with cold water to prevent them from cooking any longer.  Dry well and peel.
  2. Place the almonds in a food processor to finely grind. Slowly add the powdered sugar and rose water and process until the mixture forms a paste.
  3. Take 1 & 1/2 teaspoon of the almond paste and shape it into a walnut sized ball.
  4. Press down the center of the ball to flatten out the dough  and use cookie cutters to cut the balls into shapes.
  5. To create the shapes on top, my grandmother uses the caps of an old cookie maker. When using these caps, rub the cap with a little bit of the dough so that it does not stick.
  6. We also made apples and pears and decorated them with small leaves on top.  You can really get creative with the shapes depending on the special occasion.
  7. We also dipped some in dark chocolate and added some peanut sprinkles to the ends.
  8. Place on a baking sheet to dry and enjoy with a delicious cup of tea or coffee.

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5 thoughts on “Marzipan: A Morning with Nona Shula

  1. I had the opportunity to taste these and I can say they are magnificent. You completely captured not only the taste but the essence of what marzipan represents. Having the fortune of tasting some “original” marzipans when I was growing up I am confident that “tradition” has been passed along.

    Can’t wait for the Baton Sale batch I will get some time soon.

  2. Absolutely love it! Food and recipes are such an immediate link to our past and learning the tips and tricks straight from the source make it so much more special! Like your dad, I also cannot wait for the baton sale!!!

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