cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

An Almond Affair

Almond. Amande. Or perhaps just amore? A previous post thrust us into the lifeblood of everyone's favorite sweet treat, chocolate, mais maintenant c'est le temps for my confectionery mirth--marzipan. There is something dangerous in the slightly bitter taste of marzipan, a tingling feeling of doing something one ought not to do. Yet the urge to curl into a mischievous smile is unabashedly compulsory. I am not suggesting that Eve's fruit was secretly sculpted out of Niederegger, but merely that there are other, dare I say 'dangerous' delicacies aside from the wearied cocoa bean.

The amoretto for amaretto. The Italian amare fittingly means bitter, for raw almonds and drupe seeds are exceedingly bland. While today amaretto liqueurs are assumed to be predominately made directly from almonds, traditional amaretto is derived from a variety of drupes--the hard pits of such fruits as peaches, dates, apricots, and any other fruit or nut in which there is an outer hard husk, or inner stone surrounded by flesh. Drupes exude an 'almondy' flavor which causes the sharpest among us to assume amaretto is almond. Honest mistake. Being wrong has become a sport of mine, a sort of game which impulsively drives me to exhaust the topic beyond need. Amaretto is as diverse a substance as wine, the variation of drupe stones and sweeteners, such as sweet almonds, creates distinct liqueurs. Disaronno, the choice amaretto for many world wide, originated in Saranno, Italy, where legend has it the liqueur as well as the biscotti, amaretti, originated: di (of) Saronno. The Disaronno brand liqueur claims the original title of first amaretto, a fusion mainly of apricot drupe and almond, however, the claim is challenged by rival liqueur brand Lazzaro Amaretto di Saronno whose recipe differs by an actual infusion of amaretti with the liqeuer. Lazzaro Amaretto di Saronno also manufactures a brand of macaroons, to keep pace with the almond theme.

Amaretto, bitter or not provides a flavor unmatched; whether one would go as far as the awkwardly embarrassing television advertisements of Disaronno's "warm and sensual flavor" I leave purely to personal discretion. The non alcoholic syrup, however, is essential in my cooking. Sweeter than extract, amaretto syrup is copiously found in my tea, coffee, oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese, and even popcorn. An almond obsession can only be pushed one step further: marzipan.

Almond paste and sugar. C'est tout. Traditional marzipan is flavored by rosewater, however many variations in sweetening and flavors have augmented marzipan around the world with such ingredients as honey and other nuts. Like amaretto, marzipan can be created with various drupe stones such as apricots and peaches, creating distinct fruity yet almondy variations known as Persipan. Pure marzipan of unrivaled quality is undoubtedly that produced in Finland and Sweden, where law requires at least 50% almond ratio. The best, however, is the European Marzipan capital of Lübeck, Germany, where Niederegger is produced with a promising "2/3 almond ratio by weight." The quality variation is similar to that of milk versus dark chocolate. Which would you choose. Yes, I thought so. Marzipan, a word derived from the original English, marchpane (march bread) originated, like so many others, in Asia, making its way to Europe, particularly the Baltic states, as a privileged snack for royalty. Now you see the attraction.

Cake icing, painted fruits, sculptures adorning the tops of cakes (Dobby, Arthur), covered in chocolate, and sliced thickly from a foil wrapped log, you may take your marzipan any way you desire. Bitterness is the signature; bitter and sweet, the classic "little bitter love." The Italian linguistic similarity between bitterness and love may or may not be responsible for the association with bitter love, in my opinion there is no need for a linguistic explanation, almond amaretto exudes the taste of longing all by itself. Arrivederci.

A bientôt