Marzipan history

Marzipan is a sweet dated back to the Middle Ages. Numerous recipes started like this: Take almonds, put them into the mortar add cane honey to them and smash them into a dough, in the meanwhile sprinkle rose-water on it.

It came from Persia to Europe in the 13th century. The secret of its preparation probably was ferreted out by the croises of Venice. It was first made in Venice, its name refers to the patron saint of the town, Saint Mark: the Latin name of marzipan is panis martii, whose meaning is: Mark's bread.

Some researchers trace back the name of the marzipan to the mawthaban (mautaban), the "sitting Lord" expression. The Arabians called the Byzantine coin depicting Jesus sitting on the throne that. It was one tenth of the one more valuable money. They also called the 10 percent tax on some goods mautaban. There was such tenth on the boxes and windles, in which the sweets made from almond, sugar and oil were shipped. In South France the small boxes in which sweets, pastry and jewellery are wrapped are called "massapan".

According to the myth the little daughter of Badrutt Mark confectioner made the first marzipan accidentally around 1400 in Venice. The little Mary was playing in the workshop of her father when mixed honey into the ground almond and put the mass on a hot cooktop. Her father tasted the dry sweet and called out: "Here is Mary's confectionery invention!" He moulded it following the pattern of the Venetian decorated sacred candles, and called this new sweet Mark's bread, and started to sell it on the thanksgiving of the patron saint of the town on the square in front of the church. During plague epidemics bread-shaped marzipan was distributed among the people to save them from the illness. At first it was made with honey, later with sugar.

In the Middle Ages marzipan was already the favourite of the sweet-lover European nations, its production became a prosperous industry in the town of Lübeck. In 1407 a terrible famine decimated the inhabitants of the German towns. The extremely cold and rainy weather did not allow the crop to ripe. The situation was especially hopeless in Lübeck, which was besieged by enemy troops. The town council ordered the examination of the warehouses in the ports. A bigger amount of honey and almond was found in an old warehouse. Its owner had been dead for a long time, his load was forgotten. At first they could not do anything with it, as they needed bread rather than sweets. Then a baker helpmate applied for undertaking to bake delicious bread from the almond and honey. The attempt was successful; the inhabitants of Lübeck got rid of the famine and revived due to the marzipan they managed to put their enemy to flight. The Marzipan of Lübeck was born this way. Its real career started in the 18th century, when a master baker called Johann Niederegger first prepared a bulk amount of "almondbread" for sale. Soon a rival of the marzipan of Lübeck emerged, that of from Königsberg. The difference between them was that the marzipan of Königsberg was poured with sugar syrup and crystallized fruit was put around it.

In Hungary sugar appeared in the 14th century. It was gained from sugar-cane, therefore it was called cane-honey. At that time they sold the sugar arrived from the port of Levante in the Middle East as an expensive drug or spice. It first occurred on the tables of princes, at the holiday banquets of Sigismund and Matthias as table decorations in the shape of statues. Seybold Bavarian traveller recorded that in 1477 a brown-white chessboard made from almond and sugar was served as the eighth course of the New Year’s lunch following the wedding of King Matthias. It spoke highly of the work of the sweet maker arriving to the court among the attendants of Queen Beatrix from Naples.

According to the "Historical and Etymological Dictionary of the Hungarian Language" the first written domestic record of marzipan is from 1544 in the form of "marczapan". Its Italian (marzapane) origin refers to the early appearance of the confectioners from Italy in Hungary.

We know the first marzipan recipes from the 16-17th centuries. Bornemisza Anna, the chef of the Zrínyi court of Csáktornya and the prince of Transylvania and Apafi Mihály's wife, recorded the technology in her handwritten cook book. "The cook book visited distinguished and ordinary kitchens" published in 1801 adopted word for word the recipe "Make marzipan like this" appearing in the cook book published in 1695 by Misztótfalusi Kiss Miklós.

It was made in the court of the prince of Transylvania this way: they ground in a mortar two pounds (112 dkg) of cleaned almonds with at least one and a half pounds of sugar (84 dkg) for minimum of an hour, in the meanwhile they sprinkled it with rose-water four-five times, added to the mass a pinch of tragant soaked in advance (sticky fluid of a plant from Asia Minor). Then they cooked it in a copper pan on slow fire with continuous stirring until the mass sticked to the hand. They stretched the dough out, moulded into forms, decorated it and on demand they gilded it. They baked (or rather dried) the ready marzipan and coated it with beaten up sugared egg-white.

The most important equipment of marzipan making was the mortar made of stone, marble or iron. In the second half of the 19th century they started to deploy the refiner, which is an almond grinder with three cylinders. This way the mass earlier ground in the mortar and pulled through three marble cylinders became finer and more suitable for moulding. The small confectioneries used the hand-powered refiner even between the two world wars.

The innovative confectioners replaced the original almond with walnut, hazelnut, cocoa or pistachio. They made also marzipan bonbons: they aromatised the marzipan mass with lemon, orange, vanilla or strawberry, formed small balls out of it, dipped them into hot mass of Christmas fondant diluted with water then dried them.