On the Interchangeability of Beans Vs. Almonds As Sculpting Media
May 11, 2019 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about how (or, if) marzipan would work as a substitute for nerikiri dough.

I've been browsing youtube clips for making wagashi Japanese sweets, and I'm starting to get a growing sense of "hey, I wanna try that". The only thing is that I'd probably have to faff around with making my own sweet bean paste and mochi to even try it. Which is possible, but while I was looking into recipes I had the brainstorm: could I just use marzipan instead? That's another substance with a tradition of "people mold it into shapes and color it and it's eaten as a treat."

I admit I've not ever worked with either one, and am basing this on a theoretical idea. I know and understand that they would both taste different, and that's fine - I'm asking explicitly about the molding/shaping parts of it. Is one more difficult to work with than the other? Does one hold its shape better? Is one more granular? Can they be colored the same way or are there things I need to be aware of? Is the finished product for one longer-lasting than the other? That kind of thing.

I have a package of marzipan in my cupboard I've been trying to figure out what to do with, and realized that this could be a place to jump in with wagashi practice rather than trying to figure out how to make nerikiri; if it works I thought I could start playing there. But if it's a really really different prospect then maybe not. Please advise.

posted by EmpressCallipygos to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We had a family tradition of making marzipan petits four for Christmas. A lot depends on the brand: some are granular, some are sticky, some smooth; others crust while others yet sweat after a few hours. We tried making marzipan with fine almond flour, sweet almond oil and sugar syrup (maybe cornflour too): was a little gritty, but held its form. German marzipan tends to be heavier and harder to form, IIRC; Danish was often softer.

Some marzipan is pre-dyed yellow. It can take food dyes fairly well, though we were just applying it to the surface to make mini fruit. Marzipan is quite oily: it can make paper cases go transparent, while bean paste maybe won't do that so much.
posted by scruss at 7:22 AM on May 11, 2019

As kids we made marzipan fairly often, and made colored decorations from it. It was much easier to work with than store-bought marzipan (tastier too), though perhaps the marzipan sold nowadays is nicer. I've no idea whether it would be a replacement for bean paste & mochi, but it's so simple that I'd give homemade marzipan a try.
posted by anadem at 7:37 AM on May 11, 2019

Marzipan is easy to make. For good marzipan with modeling possibilities you want to find almonds that are ground as finely as possible. A coarse grind results in grainy marzipan. You should be able to get ground almonds (or almond flour) at any decent large grocery store or bulk store. if you get it at a bulk store buy a tiny amount first time around or taste before you buy to make sure it is not rancid or infused with an indefinable spice taste you don't want. Store your ground almonds/powdered almonds/almond flour in the fridge or the freezer.

I wouldn't recommend grinding the almonds yourself. Grind them just a little bit too much and you end up with almond butter. You don't want all of the nut oil released from the nut meal.

To turn the ground almonds into marzipan combine them with icing sugar, whole raw egg and almond extract. If you fear the possibility of salmonella from the egg, look for liquid whole eggs sold by the carton. The product in the carton has been pasteurized and is safe to eat without cooking. There are also recipes that call for using rosewater and sugar to turn the almonds into a dough. That makes a sweeter marzipan that is not as easy to mould, and which is slightly stickier.

Remember that almonds are a not-uncommon allergen, so marzipan must be labeled when brought to events.

The recipe I start with is:

2 cups of ground almonds
1 whole raw egg (or the equivalent from a carton of pasteurized egg)
2 cups of icing sugar
A few drops to a couple of tsps of almond extract
Colour, if desired.

The exact consistence you want will depend on what you are doing with it. Don't use too much sugar as moist sugar is a very sticky thing indeed; you only need enough sugar to make it taste good. It's better to err on the side of more almond and less sugar than the other way around. Start by adding not quite enough liquid. Don't forget that food colour is often liquid and can change the consistency, so add it earlier if you can. Paste colours are much better than liquid colours. The liquid colours are tricky to impossible to get to any exact colour you might want.

The final liquid to add is the almond extract, one drop at a time. Add just enough to bring it to the right consistency for rolling, handling and pressing into moulds. You can always add a few more drops of fluid but adding more sugar or almond is sticky and difficult to do. You can taste it as you go along so you know if it is not sweet enough, or if you are starting to go overboard with the almond extract. Although it is hard to add too much almond extract, it is still possible to add so much that the taste is really strong.

Your marzipan is the right consistency when it sticks together and you can knead it without it getting stuck between your fingers. As with making bread, the ambient humidity and the humidity in the flour means that you have to figure out the precise proportions as you go along. If you think you've got it, knead it for about two minutes so that it becomes slightly elastic. You can't bruise the dough, so thumping it in a bowl a bit and then adding more fluid and then thumping it again, and then bashing and scraping to get it off the spoon is not going to ruin it, unlike your pastry.

If you need to dust the marzipan with something to keep it from sticking it is too wet. At that point it is usually best to simply turn it into blobs and pour melted dark chocolate over it, rather than to try to add more dry ingredients. But if it is only a tiny bit too sticky it is often better to dust your hands and/or the surface with almond powder, not icing sugar.

The results you get will mainly be dependent on your artistic abilities. If you can never get Plasticine to work, marzipan will only be better in that it is fun to eat. But if your Plasticine figures make other people bend in closer and say "Oooh!" you are going to have so much fun with marzipan.

Watch out for eating too much marzipan in one sitting. It is really rich.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:56 AM on May 12, 2019

So thus far it's looking like the answer to "how do those two things compare" is "it depends". Going to temporarily focus on marzipan for a minute, then:

I've found a Youtube video about modeling marzipan which seems to imply that marzipan needs to be baked before eating. But it's the first such instance I've found that says you need to do that. Do I really need to?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 AM on May 15, 2019

I suspect that baking marzipan is done to ensure it is rock hard and will shatter before it loses its shape, or to deal with not trusting a raw egg ingredient. You absolutely do not need to bake marzipan before eating. I have never baked it and my friends who make marzipan subtlties for medieval events that I attend do not bake it either.

I would avoid baking as if the marzipan dries too much it can crack, and I do not like the flavour of brown toasted almond. If you decide you want to bake you will need a high temperature to ensure the egg is cooked if that is why you are doing it, or will want to bake it slowly at the lowest possible temperature to reduce possible cracking.

You might wish to be aware that people with a corn allergy may not be able to eat your marzipan either, because small amounts of cornstarch are frequently included in the icing sugar to help keep it from clumping.

If you are sticking two pieces of marzipan together, such as the little vine on the leaf in your video, use either rosewater, or almond extract to moisten the surface so the two pieces stick, if the marzipan is not moist enough that the stick without help.

Also, watch out for colours bleeding if you try to stick a colour saturated piece of marzipan to one that is not that same colour. It probably won't, but make your marzipan in advance before a planned time to bring it out and impress people because if the colour does bleed they will not be nearly as impressed.

This week I have been experimenting with using candy floss to embellish my marzipan. It was supposed to look like smoke and was tucked in amid red marzipan flames around a blazing phoenix, but like smoke the candy floss as been disappearing. I think it is the humidity. I think I am more amazed and fascinated than I am annoyed that Saturday's "Smoke and Flame" themed marzipan trays are going to need considerable tinkering if they are to have the smoke.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:15 AM on May 17, 2019

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