By Claire Smith
The almond (Prunus dulcis) has been grown in Britain since the 16th century, and almond paste quickly became a popular medium for making moulded desserts or sweetmeats. In the 17th century there seems to have been a bit of a trend for turning it into bacon!
So how do you go about creating your marzipan bacon? Well, Robert May shared this recipe in his Accomplisht Cook, first published in 1660:
To make Collops like Bacon of Marchpane
Take some of your Marchpane paste and work it with red sanders till it be red, then roul a broad sheet of white marchpane paste, and a sheet of red paste, three of white, and four of red, lay them one upon another, dry it, cut it overthwart, and it will look like collops of bacon.
There is also a slightly more complicated recipe in Hannah Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet from 1684:
To make Collops of Bacon in Sweet Meats.
Take some Marchpane Paste, and the weight thereof in fine Sugar beaten and searced, boil them on the fire, and keep them stirring for fear they burn, so do till you find it will come from the bottom of the Posnet, then mould it with fine Sugar like a Paste, and colour some of it with beaten Cinnamon, and put in a little Ginger, then roll it broad and thin, and lay one upon another till you think it be of a fit thickness and cut it in Collops and dry it in an Oven.
In case you were wondering, a collop is a thin slice of meat, a posnet is a small pot with a handle and three feet, and to searce the sugar is to sieve it so that no lumpy bits remain.
“Red sanders”, from May’s recipe, is red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus), ground to a powder and used as a food colouring. It isn’t fragrant like the white sandalwood Santalum species, so it doesn’t scent the marzipan, and it is still used today as a colouring in textiles and wood polishes as well as food.
The name “marchpane” comes from making breads and sweetmeats for the New Year which, until the calendar change of 1752 was celebrated on March 25th, so they were called “March Pan”. The main difference between marchpane and modern marzipan is that marchpane doesn’t contain egg – it’s simply a mixture of sugar and almond paste, with a little bit of rose water added in. May gives the recipe for marchpane as:
To make Marchpane.
Take two pounds of almonds blanch’t and beaten in a stone mortar, till they begin to come to a fine paste, then take a pound of sifted sugar, put it in the mortar with the almonds, and make it into a perfect paste, putting to it now and then in the beating of it a spoonful of rose-water, to keep it from oyling; when you have beat it to a puff paste, drive it out as big as a charger, and set an edge about it as you do upon a quodling tart, and a bottom of wafers under it, thus bake it in an oven or baking pan; when you see it is white, hard, and dry, take it out, and ice it with rose-water and sugar being made as thick as butter for fritters, to spread it on with a wing feather, and put it into the oven again; when you see it rise high, then take it out and garnish it with some pretty conceits made of the same stuff, slick long comfets upright on it, and so serve it.
If you don’t feel like garnishing your marchpane with some pretty conceits, you can always press it into a carved wooden mould, and then ice it with a mixture of sugar and rose water. If you’re feeling especially fancy, you could even gild it with very fine gold leaf. So much nicer than hiding it underneath the icing on your Christmas cake!
Robert May The Accomplisht Cook full text available from Project Gutenberg:
Woolley, H. & Katherine Golden Bitting Collection On Gastronomy. (1684) The queen-like closet, or, Rich cabinet, stored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying and cookery. Very pleasant and beneficial to all ingenious persons fo the female sex. To which is added, a supplement, presented to all ingenious ladies and gentlewomen. [London, R. Chiswel et] [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/44039920/.
I’ve made some marzipan bacon (top photo) using food colouring. I shall try the original recipe coloured with cinnamon at some point.