Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a traditional winter fruitcake, covered by a thick layer of white marzipan and decorated with small marzipan figures of snowmen, sledges and holly.
But where does marzipan come from and how did it become one of the most established treats of the seasonal Christmas sweets?
The History of Marzipan
Although there is no record of when marzipan was first created, it is thought that the sweet almond confectionary originated in the East, either from Arabia or China. It was when trade with the East became commonplace in the Middle Ages that the sweet delicacy was first introduced to Europe. It was an instant success, becoming a regular part of sweet deserts served at the tables of the European nobility.
So, What Exactly Is Marzipan?
Made from mixing powdered almonds with either honey or sugar, marzipan is a solid paste which can be moulded into sweets or rolled out into sheets to be used for icing cakes.
Naturally light yellow in colour, food colourings or dyes can be used to create different colours, making it the perfect edible moulding material for sweet decorations.
The tradition for creating marzipan varies slightly from country to country. For example, Lübeck marzipan sold in Germany has a strong almond flavour thanks to the high level of almonds used and a reduction in the sugar description. Traditionally in the UK we have added rosewater to our marzipan to give it a floral flavour, while in the Middle East orange-flower water is often added.
Marzipan and Christmas Sweets
Marzipan has historically played an important part in our selection of Christmas sweets, largely thanks to its malleability. Since its introduction into Europe during the Middle Ages, marzipan has been used to decorate the rich Christmas desserts which are traditional at this time of year.
While in the UK we are used to seeing the almond paste as a smooth layer of icing on our seasonal cakes, across Europe each country has its own marzipan tradition to celebrate the festive period.
In the Italian city of Palermo, and much of Italy, marzipan is moulded and coloured to resemble fresh fruit and given as gifts to friends and family throughout the festive season.
For the Swiss, marzipan forms the central point of one the city of Geneva’s most colourful festive traditions. During the annual L’Escalade commemoration of the battle of 1602, a cauldron made of chocolate is filled with marzipan fruit and vegetables, and then smashed by the youngest and oldest person present.
Whether you choose to stock marzipan-flavoured treats like the pear and cinnamon marzipans finger box from Ko-Koá or some enchanting festive figures from Günthart, or traditional Belgian Marzipan Fruit, marzipan should definitely make up a central part of your Christmas sweets range.
Help your customers celebrate the history and tradition of this most adaptable confectionary by telling them about its rich, fascinating history and the very important role it has always played in the celebration of the winter festival.
Angelina Moufftard works for hf Chocolates, established Christmas sweets suppliers with decades of experience supplying sweets and high-end chocolates to retailers across the UK. Working with the most dedicated suppliers from France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Belgium, the USA and the UK, hf Chocolates' great tasting and beautifully packaged products add panache to any sweet display.