The Edible Incredible Marzipan
By: Karen Donnelly
Forget the shopping, the candles and the antique ornaments. The best tradition about the holidays is food. For some that means turkey; for some it’s fruitcake; and for still others it’s that wonderful ground almond treat, marzipan.
In Joy Of Cooking, marzipan is described as having come from Europe via Arabia. The confection’s unusual name is said to have meant “a seated king” or “a stamped coin” - a tribute to its rare delicacy.
Fortunately for us in Edgewater, we don’t have to travel to Europe via Arabia for this rich almond candy. Some food critics say that the marzipan found at Bjuhr’s Swedish Bakery, 5348 N. Clark, is among the best to be found anywhere.
“Historically, marzipan goes back many, many years,” said Kathy Stanton, general manager of Bjuhr’s for the past two years. “My mother said it may even go back to the Byzantine era.”
Her mother, Marlies Stanton, is as knowledgeable about the subject as one can get. Having earned the title of pastry chef in Europe, she worked many years for the original owner of the Clark Street shop.
The current owner (Kathy’s father), George Stanton, has been well known for years in the neighborhood, having been chief steward at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. His son is the artist who drew the fantastic marzipan copy of our logo for the cake donated by Bjuhr’s for EHS’s first birthday party earlier this year.
This year is an important one for the Stanton family. They are celebrating their tenth anniversary at their Clark Street bakery.
Some marzipan recipes call for a mixture of ground almonds and fondant - the type of filling found in chocolates. Other recipes require egg whites mixed in.
Kathy says their bakery’s basic recipe is simple: almonds ground to a velvety consistency, plus sugar, making a whitish paste. “We now get our ingredients locally,” Stanton added.
The candy is easily tinted to vivid colors. “In Sweden, the coloring (of marzipan) is traditionally light green,” Stanton pointed out. However, at Bjuhr’s the green marzipan is usually a more vibrant hue.
“A popular seasonal item lately has been the pumpkin cakes,” Stanton mentioned, in which cakes are decorated with pumpkins shaped from marzipan tinted bright orange.
“One almond coffee cake is so popular,” she added, “they even named it after the neighborhood.” The Andersonville coffee cake incorporates almonds along with cardamom and cinnamon.
Seven Sisters is another favorite. “It’s a ‘pull-apart-style’ coffee cake,” Stanton described, “with fruits along with almonds peeking out of seven ‘pockets’ in the pastry.”
Marzariner (almond tarts with cookie dough base) and wienerkranz (danish with almond paste filling) are two more pastries that incorporate the sweet confection.
Another popular marzipan treat is sometimes known as “vacuum cleaners.” “The rum rolls are called that by the Swedish - I don’t know how they got that name,” Stanton said of the small almond-rum cakes. Other almond petits fours include pink triangles (with almond and raspberry filling) and toska bars (with a cookie dough base and chocolate).
Perhaps the grandest of the Stanton marzipan confections is the Princess Torte - layers of yellow cake with whipped cream and custard filling, with marzipan substituting for frosting on the top.
On the subject of holiday goodies, Kathy mentioned a few other Swedish Bakery specialties. Their Christmas bread combines citron, raisins and cardamom. They also make a traditional holiday stollen and special cookies called pepparkakor, similar to the German pfeffernusse, so called because of the black pepper in the dough. “The Swedish variation,” Stanton said, “is thinner and crisper than the German version and, at Bjuhr’s, the cookies are formed into heart shapes.”
You don’t really have to forget the shopping, the candles and the antique ornaments. Those things, after all, are as much a part of holiday tradition as the tummy-tempting treats, including the incredible marzipan, available at Bjuhr’s Swedish Bakery. Enjoy!