There's one recipe that I've always wanted to try ever since I found out it existed, and that's Marchpane.
Marchpane was served since Medieval times - it was a favourite in the Tudor era, where it would be decorated with intricate designs, often pressed in by an embossed plate and then richly iced and gilded with edible gold leaf.
I'm not blessed with the fine art of decoration - I'm sure medieval, Tudor and Stuart cooks would have made more beautiful versions than this with their patience and skills - but I'd argue that my drippy and at times, a bit blobby, icing - and slightly golden edges - gives my Marchpane a rustic, authentic look.
That's my argument, anyway.
I found this recipe from 1660, in the book The Accomplisht Cook, by Robert May. In it, he tells us to:
'take two pounds of almonds blanch't and beaten in a stone mortar, till they begin to come to a fine paste, then take a pound of sifted sugar, put it in the mortar with the almonds, and make it into a perfect paste, putting to it now and then in the beating of it a spoonful of rose-water, to keep it from oyling; when you have beat it to a puff paste, drive it out as big as a charger, and set an edge about it as you do upon a quodling tart, and a bottom of wafers under it, this bake it in an oven or baking pan when you see it is white, hard and dry, take it out, and ice it with rose-water and sugar being made as thick as batter for fritters, to spread it on with a wing-feather, and put it into the oven again; when you see it rise high, then take it out and garnish it with some pretty conceits made of the same stuff, slick long comfets upright on it, and so serve it.'
Purists, please note: I have made some adjustments for Marchpane to appeal to modern cooks (and eaters), and you'll notice I haven't followed the recipe exactly.
Firstly, the recipe mentions that the Marchpane sits on wafers. I've left these out, as I'm sure some cooks would have done over the last six hundred years, but if you'd rather try adding some wafers of some sort to the base of yours, go ahead and see how it works out.
Second - I've added in a little almond extract to the dough. This is because historical cooks would have ground the almonds themselves, fresh - while my almonds are drier and slightly blander having been sat in a plastic pack for a few weeks or months on the supermarket shelf. So I've added in a little of the almond flavour that I think is missing from our modern packs of ground almonds, and this gives the Marchpane a much more 'marzipan' flavour.
And finally - I haven't used the rose water to ice the Marchpane as the recipe requests. The addition of rose water (and, to a lesser extent, the almond extract) I think would make the Marchpane too 'rosy'. As it is, this recipe is very fragrant and you can definitely taste the rose, which, which personally, I love. This might be because our modern food-grade rose water products are more like syrups with a concentrated flavour.
The Marchpane below cuts into 16 skinny triangles. It's quite rich and dense - and pretty sweet - and so I reckon a thin slice with a coffee (which you could buy in coffee houses in 1660, as the first one had opened in 1652, in Oxford) rather than a huge wedge of it would be just right. Go ahead. Brew yourself a coffee and be totally historically accurate.
Perfect for a special occasion, or just as a historical baking experiment, Marchpane is incredibly easy to make and very decadent and delicious. Hope you enjoy it. We did!
1½ cup ground almonds
¾ cup icing sugar
½ tsp food grade rosewater (I used Nielsen-Massey rosewater, which is a kind of concentrated, flavoured syrup)
¼ tsp almond extract
2-3 tbsp cold water
2 raisins (or other dried fruit) and icing sugar, to decorate - edible food grade gold lustre from the baking aisle, if you can find it
Measure out one cup of the ground almonds and place into a bowl with half a cup of icing sugar. Save the rest of the almonds and icing sugar for later.
Give the ingredients in the bowl a stir and add the 1 tsp rosewater, almond extract and the cold water. Mix the ingredients together until they form a soft, rosily perfumed dough - you might need to add a touch more water if it doesn't hold together, but only add drop by drop. Knead slightly and put to one side.
Get out a six-inch cake tin that has a removable base. Line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper. Press the dough into the cake tin, evening it out as you go along. It should come up about an inch high all round the tin.
Next, mix together the remaining half cup of ground almonds and the quarter cup of icing sugar. Add a little water - drop by drop - until you can form a dough like before. Roll this out on a board dusted with a little icing sugar, and make decorations with cookie cutters - or make small balls to go around the outside of the marchpane.
Next, make a weak icing sugar/water solution using 3 tbsp cold water and half a teaspoon of icing sugar. Paint this over the top of your marchpane in the tin, and then add your decorations. This will help everything stick to the surface.
Add your marchpane decorations, give everything another brush with the sugar solution and slide into the oven to bake for 30-35 minutes at 170ºC.
Once cooked - the edges might start to turn slightly golden and the marchpane will look pale in appearance and be firmer - take it out and leave to cool.
Once cool, make an icing by mixing more icing sugar - about 2 tbsp icing sugar, with a few drops of water - you will need to make it quite thick. Apply the white icing where you'd like it to go - the original recipe says to apply with a wing feather - I used the tip of a butterknife to apply the icing and move it around.
Leave the icing to set - I then gave it a spray with edible gold lustre from the baking aisle in the supermarket - and some chopped dried fruits.
Once it's all set, cut into slices and enjoy.
Made this recipe? Let me know what you thought in the comments - and tag me in a photo on Instagram @lovebritishhistorypics - I'd love to see it!