Monday 17 December 2018


If you have a forensic bent and like reading recipes from pixellated photographs, you will have noted that the recipe for Christmas cake was not fully transcribed because there was more at the bottom of the page: the instructions for making marzipan from first principles. Thus:
  • 1lb (450g) ground almonds
  • 8oz (225g) icing sugar
  • 8oz (225g) caster sugar
  • ½ tsp almond essence
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sherry ½ tsp whiskey
  • 4 egg yolks
We had an unaccountable large store of ground almonds approaching sell-by date, so Dau.II elected to make the marzipan for the cake. Other recipes suggest that a whole egg can substitute for the separated egg yolks which would clearly mean less faff. My understanding about the properties of eggs is that the yolks are full of lecithin which is the best emulsifier [think the miracle of mayonnaise] available outside of a food science laboratory; whereas egg white is just wet protein. Our discussion slipped into an enquiry about what was in commercial marzipan.
  • Aldi: 54% ground almonds; sugar, water, invert sugar syrup; humectant: invertase.
  • Tesco: Sugar, Almonds (24%), Glucose Syrup, Water, Invert Sugar Syrup.
  • Shamrock: Sugar, Almonds (25%), Invert Sugar Syrup, Stabiliser: Sorbitol, Glucose Syrup, Invertase, Colour: Lutein, Natural Flavouring (almonds)
  • Dr Oetker: Sugar, ALMONDS (26%), Water, Invert Sugar Syrup, Glucose Syrup, Humectant (Sorbitols), Ethanol.
Clearly Aldi's version wins the authenticity stakes hands down. It has more almonds that the first principles mit eggs version; and twice as much as the other industrial products. My pal Ysabel from Madrid looks at ground almonds with withering contempt - "all the goodness will have evaporated in factory leaving nothing for your kitchen; if you grind shell, blanch and grint your own almonds, you won't need <ptui> almond essence". I feel sure that the egg yolks add more lusciousness than just their yellow colour. Tesco's 'nut-free marzipan' is nothing of the sort - it is shortbread, rolled thin.

The humectant which appears in several ingredient lists is a wetting agent. Invertase, the enzyme, as explained last week, works by converting some of the sugar into invert sugar syrup which is intrinsically more wet than a sucrose solution.

Sorbitol E420 by contrast seems to work because it is hygoscopic - it has an affinity for water and so stops the wet stuff evaporating. It keeps things squidgy. Things being a long list including toothpaste, face-cream, marzipan, cakes, cigarettes, peanut-butter. You and your microbiome can digest the stuff but only slowly; which give it a desirably high glycemic index. Porridge oats will do for that too, and much cheaper.

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