Almond Paste Marzipan, Ground Almonds, Failed Genoise, etc.

Reader Laura asks:

I thought marzipan was almond paste with more sugar added. Correct? If so, then what would the ratio of nuts and sugar be for making almond paste instead of marzipan? Another question: I have always used my mini food processor for grinding nuts. Is a spice grinder that much better at doing the job?

Indeed you can make marzipan with almond paste and powdered sugar. Many professional bakeries do exactly that. The formula for almond paste marzipan is: 9 ounces almond paste mixed with 2 egg whites and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, kneaded together with 12 ounces powdered sugar — bingo bango. The reason I decided to go with a from-scratch version is firstly because I think the taste is a whole lot better, secondly because not everyone has easy access to canned almond paste.

To the second point, I find that a coffee grinder usually produces the finest grind of any home device, though it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that a mini chopper could do as well. I don’t have one of those, just a conventional-size food processor, which can only reduce almonds so much. Speaking of grinding almonds, reader Sarah also asks:

I was wondering if you could use the ground almonds as almond flour in other recipes. Would it work, or do you need a finer texture?

While ground almonds aren’t really the same thing as almond flour (home-ground almonds have more oil as well as a larger particle size) you can certainly use almonds ground in a coffee grinder for macarons. You just have to be careful that you don’t grind them down too far or they turn into an oily paste. But in general I’d say that ground almonds are a fine substitute for almond flour or meal.

UPDATE: Reader Chana adds:

Just a note about using home-ground almonds: it really, really depends on the recipe. I once tried to make Claudia Roden’s Orange Cake (where you boil the oranges whole and then puree them with almond flour, eggs, and sugar) using home-ground blanched almonds. As we say in New York: fuhgeddabowdit!!! You simply can’t get them fine enough, even in a coffee-grinder, and the cake was gritty. (Which didn’t stop us from eating it, but still.)

Also: it will make a big (huge, in fact) difference if the almonds are blanched or not. Trader Joe’s sells almond meal at a great price. The almonds are not blanched, and almond meal is not anywhere near as finely ground as almond flour. I once tried to make a genoise using Trader Joe’s almond meal. Disaster! The batter actually became a dough, and I ended up using it for Linzer cookies because there was no way it would ever turn into a genoise, it was so thick. (But the cookies were good.)

UPDATE: Reader Laura writes back:

I think I asked my question wrong. I wasn’t asking about turning almond paste into marzipan-although that is interesting and useful info to know. Actually, I wanted to know: How Do You Make Almond Paste from Scratch? Is it the same thing as marzipan, but with less sugar added? I tried looking up recipes for marzipan and almond paste and the recipes seemed to kind of confuse the two.

That’s an interesting question as well. I suspect that much of the time, one baker’s almond paste is another’s marzipan. Commercial bakers typically get what suppliers call “almond paste” in large cans. It’s smooth and uniform, tan in color and very stiff. It’s sweet, but intensely almond-y. I mostly used it as a base for pastry fillings. With a little kneading one can shape it like marzipan, however my sense is that most people who use a lot of marzipan add sugar and egg whites (or water) to it, both to lighten the color and make it more workable.

As for how commercial almond paste is made, I’m sure it’s a similar process to making homemade marzipan, though the almonds are surely ground much finer, then (I’m guessing) mixed with a syrup of some kind. My feeling is that a direct equivalent probably can’t be made at home.

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