If you spent a day with us at The Fudge Shoppe, you'd be listening to conversations about the music industry, debates about religion and social issues, and excitement over volunteer opportunities. We are perpetually bandying quotes from movies such as The Marx Brothers and Nacho Libre, or books such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or The Fellowship of the Ring or fighting tooth and nail over who was the best Bachelor contestant of all time.
Between this exciting banter, we are constantly talking about flavor, texture and the creative process of making incredible food, in and out of work. What are the best spice combinations for stuffed, grilled branzino? Which technique is best for creating a crumbly, buttery gluten-free pie crust? Is there a perfect time/heat balance for a melt-in-your-mouth brisket? What other flavors need to be in play to blend balsamic vinegar into confections? Does a standard sear or reverse sear yield the best mouth feel on a steak? Will the eternal search for the perfect cup of black coffee (forgive me Simran Sethi) end in disillusionment?
Steve Burry heads up production here at The Fudge Shoppe and lets his interests spearhead innovation. Is it any wonder that when I asked Steve what spurred the improvements in our marzipan, his answer revolved around flavor and texture?
"I remember, when I was younger, eating a marzipan pig from Germany or somewhere and thinking, 'this is wrong. Marzipan should be made with more robust almond flavor and with way better texture.'"
MARZIPAN, WINDMILLS, AND FICTIONAL HERMITS
The true root of modern marzipan is impossible to nail down completely, probably due to the simplicity of its ingredients; almonds and sugar. Each time you find "the oldest reference" to this delicious, malleable treat, you'll inconveniently stumble across a mention of some variation of an almond paste/mash that is 75 years older and halfway across the world, made by The Hermit of Transylvania (not a real person) and claiming that it cures nomophobia (absolutely not cured by almond paste).
The likeliest and most widely accepted stories of marzipans origin have it being developed in the Mediterranean or in the far east, somewhere in or near the twelfth century. This places marzipan directly in competition with windmills for the greatest invention of that time frame. Regardless of its birthplace, marzipan quickly traveled the span of the Old World, taking on socio-economic importance, and grounding itself in cultural traditions that are still active today.
Around the world, one finds marzipan in a plethora of shapes and uses whether formed into the likeness of a pig, mixed with rose water, molded and colored as fruit, enjoyed as a mainstay of religious holidays or used as a beautifying decoration for cakes.
THE HUNT FOR THE PERFECT MARZIPAN
"Most marzipan you find on grocery store shelves or in specialty shops has an almost stale feel to it. Its overly hard and just over the top gritty. You need some grittiness but there is a point where it goes from really good mouth feel to almond butter. Which should never be the case with marzipan."
So a few years back, we set out on the adventure of a lifetime; to perfect this piece and wrap it in chocolate, creating a combination never surpassed in the catalog of human crime...er... history. Went a little Winston Churchill on you. "THAT IS OUR POLICY!"
"So that was what we wanted and made," Steve continues with slightly less gusto than my Winston Churchill impression, "a marzipan with a more robust almond flavor and a softer texture. I thought it should have that soft velvety feel of fudge. I wanted decadence. It was the symphony of our two best flavors; marzipan and chocolate."
And here they are; Steve's dream come true. The dynamics of consistency and savor in each bite is far beyond our starting point in 1961.
It all begins with that heart warming "crack" as your teeth break the chocolate shell and you are aware of the creamy smoothness of the marzipan. Without warning, that pinch of salt begins to disperse over your tongue and somewhere amidst the rich chocolate flavor, that subtle saltiness begins accentuating the unyielding, buttery almond fragrance.
I, your humble author, have never found my pallet or heart to be irrevocably intertwined with admiration for marzipan. And yet, after years of improvements and innovation, I found myself whispering the words of Mr. Darcy to these little pieces of heaven.
"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."