This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.
This experiment I am about to undertake is completely a labor of love for Eloise, and in turn her love of marzipan pigs. Because to Eloise, Paris and marzipan pigs are inseparable, and we are spending April in Paris with The Orchid Affair, so there must be marzipan pigs! Whenever I hear marzipan I think of two things simultaneously. One is icky Turkish Delight, which for some reason I associate with marzipan, I seriously don’t know why, and all I end up doing is thinking of Narnia, or when Vyvyan accidentally found Narnia on The Young Ones. The second is my friend Huyen who would buy roles of plain marzipan from World Market and just eat it straight. So yes, in my mind marzipan is a little gross, despite the fact I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it, to my knowledge. Also, interesting fact, marzipan pigs are both a German and a Norwegian tradition, so I think my ancestry is also telling me this must be done.
The first thing I did was find out if this was feasible. I mean, even if it was slightly hard I was still going to do it, I made up my mind to make Plum Pudding from scratch once and I surprisingly succeeded despite the horrid smell it made while cooking. The main problem to making marzipan pigs was the pig part. Did they use a mold? Did they loosely shape it by hand? Thankfully Amazon is where I go to answer all these questions and I found this delightful mold! It was well priced at $5.99 including shipping and handling! I know you want it to just to have novelty ice cubes or chocolate pig faces! Sadly, it’s only the pig’s face so I couldn’t eat them in the approved Eloise manner, tail first to prolong the pig’s agony. Personally I’m a head first girl, so this mold is for me.
As for the recipe, it was deceptively simple, what with only three ingredients! Four if I decided to color it. I spent some time looking for a recipe without eggs, mainly because if, like me, you didn’t know that marzipan isn’t cooked, it’s just all mixed together and then done, well, raw eggs, no thank you. So I found this recipe by Emeril Lagasse that looked easy enough, 8 ounces of almond paste (of course it comes in 7 ounce tubes), 1 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, 4 tablespoons of corn syrup and red food coloring for the pinky pig hue. Supposedly only twenty minutes to prep it… I was cursing Emeril and his twenty minutes for the next ninety plus minutes.
Weird thing about almond paste, those aren’t handy twist ties, they are metal staples that have riveted the tubing shut, so I had to break them free of their prison with a knife. Also if you don’t use all the paste, well, then you end up wasting cling film trying to re-cover the remainder.
Step one, throw almond past into mixer to “break up the almond paste some.” Beware, the almond paste is hard and shards of it will shoot out at you as your mixer bucks. Perhaps I shouldn’t have cranked it up to eleven. Or had it on the uneven part of the counter.
Once the sugar has been added “the mixture will look like coarse bread crumbs.” Was it still supposed to look this crappy once I added the corn syrup? Emeril kept reassuring me that “the mixture will still be very crumbly.” Seriously, it was nothing BUT crumbs! I was in complete disbelief that this could turn into any kind of dough like substance. I tried a little, rolling it around in my hand and it did seem to slowly come together into dough… eventually. So I guessed I’d give it a go, what was there to lose?
Ok, so after quite a while, let’s say in the ten to twenty minute range, perhaps more, I had this. It was like the driest dough you’d ever seen. Like biscuits gone to the bad. The very very bad. It didn’t taste nasty, it just looked it. At this point my hands were already tired, my counter had a layer of marzipan remains that I had to use a knife to remove, and it still wasn’t in a workable condition. I threw out half the dough as unusable, I found adding a little water to the surface of my hands helped a little with the lack of moisture issue. But I kept at this little bit that was starting to come together.
And at it. Slowly it actually started to hold a shape, and oddly it also went from its kind of whitish color that it had in its “crumb” stage to a warmer more dough like tan. I was feeling slightly optimistic; slightly. Though I had noticed the marzipan had a strange greasy residue that it was leaving all over my counter and my hands; great, even more to clean up besides trying to find all the places the mixer had shot the almond paste to. Also, the faster I rolled it the more grease! What the heck?
Adding the food coloring is when I really got grossed out by this process. To not dye my hands and my counter red I put on latex gloves and worked on wax paper. This just made it look even more like an abattoir. My first impression of adding the red food coloring to the marzipan was that it looked just like that scene in the movie The Golden Child where the blood seeps up through the oatmeal, otherwise known as why I didn’t eat oatmeal for about a decade. Once the dye got a little more worked in it started to look like meat and I felt a bit as if I was making set dressing for Hannibal. And yes, I actually did form it into a human heart, but I was too freaked out to even take a picture of that experiment.
Finally after about thirty minutes of just working the dye into the marzipan I had an even color that looked freakishly like really vibrant bubblegum.
The molding of the pigs started out challenging but quickly became easy. At first I was worried I’d have to spray the mold, but it was springy enough that the marzipan didn’t stick so long as you didn’t leave it in more than a few minutes (if you left it in more than a few minutes, well, ears and snouts got damaged). I was also worried that the marzipan would be too soft and might have to be thrown in the freezer before being popped out of the mold so that the piggies wouldn’t have smooshed faces, but again, this wasn’t a problem. The main problem was that the mold is soft silicon and it would go wonky if I wasn’t paying attention. I found that a small amount of marzipan pushed only into the four center pigs worked best, popping them out immediately and doing the next group. This quickly got me a piggy army.
My porcine army in all its glory! If I hadn’t tossed some of the dough I probably could have gotten another five or so more pigs. They really are so stinking cute, I almost didn’t want to eat them. Almost.
As for my first “official” taste of marzipan? Kind of tastes like bubblegum, not sure if that’s its normal taste, or if the food coloring added the flavoring. The main thing this whole process taught me was that I shall never make marzipan again. It takes far longer and is far harder than you’d think, just buy yourself some already made at World Market or do what Eloise does and just buy a pre-made pig, preferably in Paris with your hunky boyfriend. But my arms got a really good work out and I did something incredibly bookish and nerdtastic, and that is a win in my book any day.