Whenever she makes it into the city, my mother gets her beloved Marzipan Rolls from the esteemed Li-Lac Chocolates, a place so old, my parents went there back before they were married in 1968. (Don’t you love making jokes about how old your parents are? It’s like clinging to that last thread of evidence that you could possibly still be young.) Li-Lac is one of those Village gems, a place that’s been making chocolate the same way since 1923, from a big copper kettle in the back, on marble countertops, by hand and with minimal brouhaha. There’s no color-schemed boxes lined with velvet or gold, nothing is ever pre-packed, and yes, you can actually buy one piece at a time for those of us that love quality but fear quantity. Two years ago, after the rent on Li-Lac’s Christopher Street location of 81 years was tripled, they moved eight blocks north to Jane Street, which has really only made it easier for Alex and I to sneak down there. We love the place so much, we gave out boxes of their round flavored truffles as wedding favors. They were better than the cake, but shouldn’t that go without saying?
So among the gift candies I alluded to last week was my attempt to make a tin of homemade chocolate-covered marzipan candies for my mother. For weeks, I browsed hundreds of marzipan recipes from all sorts of non-reputable sources, finally admitting that while I had the idea, I didn’t have the formula and would have to go it on my own gut. In other words: panic! But it all came together better than I’d imagined. I whirled blanched, whole almonds in the food processor for a few minutes, until the warmth of the machine moved them from powder to almost an almond butter, or yum. I heaped in a serious amount of powdered sugar, a hefty pinch of salt and a big spoonful of almond extract, which is what really pulled the flavor together. From here I paused, as it seemed the majority of recipes called for egg whites as a binder, but I wanted these to be good at room temperature for weeks, like the real ones. I ended up going with Emeril’s suggestion of corn syrup, and while it seemed to work, I’m not sure I added enough.
Lacking candy molds, I pressed pieces into a funny ice cube tray we have, letting them sit for a day or so before dipping them in my very first attempt at tempered chocolate. I would not call it a success. The pieces were too cold, too crumbly, the chocolate immediately seized up around them and well, it was a mess and I couldn’t successfully coat all of their sides. But — and yes, it has taken me nearly a week to be able to say something this upbeat about the experience — it tastes exactly like the real deal, if not better. So, while I may need some tweaking and re-technique-ing when I attempt these again a very long time from now, it’s hard to call these failures when each and every sample bite I took (for research, of course) left me filled with excitement of the most ‘duh’ variety! “They taste like chocolate covered marzipan!” More importantly, mom agrees.
As I mentioned, this was only my first time making this, but the flavor was spot on. I found the texture too crumbly to hold up when impaled on a fork and dipped into chocolate (fantastically simple chocolate-tempering instructions can be found here), but fine if you just wanted to shape the pieces. Either way, a little more “goo” — corn syrup — couldn’t hurt.
I haven’t yet made a batch with the more traditional egg whites as a binder, but do let me know if you try it, or have a technique of your own to share.
8 ounces blanched almonds
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon almond extract
4 tablespoons corn syrup
Grind the almonds in a food processor for about two minutes: it will first become crumbly, and the crumbs will get successively smaller until it is more of a fine powder. Keep it going through this stage, and when it nearly forms clumps, that’s when you’ve got it right.
Add the confectioners’ sugar and almond extract, then the corn syrup, processing until well-combined.
Turn the mixture out onto a work surface and knead until it makes a smooth dough. If the dough seems too sticky, knead in a little more confectioners’ sugar. If it seems too dry, add more corn syrup. At this point, the dough can be tightly wrapped in foil and refrigerated until needed.