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Almonds can be used to make a variety of different foods. Almond paste, a sweet mixture of ground nuts and sugar, is one versatile use for almonds. Made from blanched almonds, the nut paste can be used in baking, cooking, and crafting elegant sweets.
The nuts used for this paste should be very finely ground. Other main food ingredients for the mixture include water and sugar. The three are cooked until a smooth, play dough-like texture is achieved. Cane syrup, cream, oil, or glycerin may also be used. Rose water, almond extract, and orange water are sometimes added to provide additional flavor.
Several different kinds of cakes, pastries, and candies call for almond paste as an ingredient. It is a popular flavor additive in Europe especially. Traditional French calisson candy is made with the mixture, as well as certain types of croissants. In China, the paste is used in wife or sweetheart cakes, pastries made with winter melon.
Stuffed spice biscuits known as gevulde speculaas are made in the Netherlands from the almond mixture. The same country is famous for a Christmas bread called Kerststol, which also calls for the spread. It is a favorite treat in Turkey, where it was once reserved for royalty. The paste is present in many different German pastries and sweets.
American bear claw pastries are made with the paste. The rainbow cookie, a treat that includes several layers of bright cake, is composed of almond paste cake, different types of jam, and chocolate coating. In Denmark, Sweden, and many other countries, the paste is used in various muffins, biscuits, and buns. One famous use of the confection is in the Danish kringle pastry.
Though many people believe that paste from almonds and marzipan are the same confection, they are actually not the same thing. Marzipan is a group of certain kinds of almond paste. Almond paste itself, however, is not always marzipan. In marzipan, additional confectioner's sugar, along with lemon juice and whipped egg whites, is added to create a sweeter and more pliable texture for decorating, rolling, and molding. Marzipan also has a stronger almond taste.
British almond paste is made with almonds, sugar and egg white. No cooking, however, is involved in the British process. The Danish version includes the same ingredients, though the French style calls for sugar syrup rather than sugar. German marzipan is regulated by law, and requires one part sugar to two parts ground almonds. To make the paste less expensive, some companies add ground peach or apricot kernels to their recipes.
Substitutions for almond paste include marzipan or slivered almonds ground and blended with sugar. Almond paste has a very long shelf life when refrigerated. Should the paste harden, it can be heated to become pliable once again.
I took a decorating class and we learned to make marzipan decorations. They look so beautiful, but they are extremely labor intensive and you have to have a lot of tools and supplies to color them and fix them properly so they will look like the actual fruit or flower. A lot of people who decorate with marzipan almond paste have airbrush tools so they can do all this delicate shading on the decorations. It can be very, very expensive, but if you know how to do it, you can name your own price for your work.
Now I need to learn to decorate wedding cakes. I'm a good baker, so if I learned to do wedding cakes, I might
be able to start a nice little side business. Maybe start with birthday or shower cakes, and work my way up to wedding cakes. That business can be a headache, I know, but it can also pay very, very good money.
I made some almond paste bars with cranberries several years ago at Thanksgiving. I could find marzipan everywhere, but the recipe specifically said to get almond paste and not marzipan.
As I recall, the bars were very good. They were kind of like blondies, but with the cranberries and the almond flavor. I took them to a family get-together and seems like I didn't take too many home. I was pleased with the results, and it seems like they didn't take too much effort.
I've also had the bear claws with almond paste and they're really good, too, especially when they have sliced almonds also in the filling.
I'm going to look for that bar recipe again. Seems like it made a lot and might be something good to take to work for the office Christmas lunch.