Marzipan - in its many forms - is a luxurious addition to cooking world wide. Clearly it originated where the almond trees originate - in China and Central Asia - and then it spread as people spread: along the silk road and to the Mediterranean countries.
Around high days and holidays is when Marzipan really comes into its own. At Epiphany, the French eat Galette du Roi. On Shrove Tuesday, the Swedes eat Semlor. At Easter the English eat Simnel Cake and all of continental Europe tucks into sweet breads stuffed with Marzipan. Throughout advent, the Germans eat stollen which always has almonds in it and frequently has a log of marzipan in the middle or bits of marzipan folded into the dough.
Marzipan is simply a paste made of ground almonds (now also known as almond flour) with other things added and there are as many recipes as there are people. The most important thing to know is this: If you like almonds you like marzipan. Many people believe they do not like marzipan and I believe them! Many kinds of commercial marzipan are horrible, and the dry, flat stuff you get in the cake decorating shop or supermarket is pretty gross, although I confess I even like that.
To make marzipan you need ground almonds, something sweet - to taste - and something to bind it altogether. Optional additions are grated orange or lemon, a flavouring like vanilla, rosewater, or orange blossom water, or alcohol of some kind like rum or brandy or a fruit liqueur. The sweetener can be sugar or icing sugar or honey or maple syrup or glucose. The binder can be egg white or ground flax "egg" or water. It depends if you are vegan or not. It depends what time of year you traditionally made it (no eggs in winter in the old days) and it depends where you are from. You can substitute other nuts too like pistachios or hazelnuts if you prefer or are allergic to almonds.
The important thing is the texture. In order to bake successfully with marzipan, it should be stiff and on the edge of crumbly. You should JUST be able to form it into a ball or blob with your hands and your hands should be pretty dry and clean afterward. Anything else melts in the oven at which point it simply bursts out of the bread dough or bubbles over the pie pan. To bake with, marzipan should not be spreadable. You kind of "dot" it on the dough.
Below is my standard recipe for marzipan - it's rough and ready and completely delicious. I use it all the time both to bake with and as a "layer" in cakes and buns. If you think you don't like marzipan, give it a try. Substitute pistachios or hazelnuts if you like. It's really good. If you are vegan, you can search "vegan marzipan recipes" and I am certain there is a lot out there for you to find.
Recipe for home made marzipan
400 g ground almonds (also called almond flour)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk OR 1 egg white (depends if you want it yellow or white)
5-10 tablespoons of icing sugar (add it gradually until it is as sweet as you want it to be)
pinch of salt
You can mix this by hand. I frequently add 150 grams of dried apricots which I cut up with scissors and then I put the whole thing in the magimix so that the mixture is not lumpy with apricot bits.
You can use this (with or without apricots) in bread or on cake, or you can roll it into balls, roll those balls in cocoa or other chopped nuts or dehydrated fruit "dust", or dip them in melted chocolate for a delicious sweet.
The recipes for all of the bread photographed above are in All You Knead Is Bread, by Jane Mason.