Saturday, August 13, 2011

Creamy Cashew Marzipan

It strikes! one, two,
Three, four, five, six. Enough, enough, dear watch, Thy pulse hath beat enough. Now sleep and rest;
Would thou could'st make the time to do so too; I'll wind thee up no more.
-Ben Jonson

I don't know where the time has gone.
How (really, how) is it already August 13? Tonight there was a Slavic department gathering--a kind of "let's celebrate the beginning of the academic year" party. I must confess that, while, yes, it was lovely to see everybody (the new and the old faces), there's still a part of me that doesn't quite want to believe that summer is over and that, before I know it, I'll be on campus Mon-Fri. Don't get me wrong; I do love what I do, but there's just something sacred about summer. There's a feeling of liberation that just doesn't exist during the school year (keep in mind that I feel this way and I've worked this past summer, perhaps more than any other summer since I've been in graduate school).


Alas, time will stand still for no (wo)man.



One good thing about time and its eternal progress is that there will always be time for the things that you just don't get around to. For example: I have a pile of books I've been collecting since I was 15 that I've been wanting to read--and, every now and then, I get to experience the glorious feeling of accomplishment when I officially add one of them to the "read" section of the bookcase. Similarly, I have a pile of cookbooks and recipes that could last me until I'm 90 (provided I get that far and, frankly, I think 90 is a bit too old, so let's hope that I don't), without ever having to venture from what I've already collected. To a certain extent, that's kind of scary. I'm pretty sure I fall into the pack rat/hoarder category. I guess I just like having a lot of options, which you might be unsurprised to discover doesn't make the questions "what's for dinner?" or "what should I take to this party?" any easier to answer.


And, despite having lots of options, today was one of those days; I didn't know what to make. In the past week I had already made a chocolate cake, as well as a blueberry tart (the next post; stay tuned!) and a few savory things, too. The thought of turning the oven on was highly unappealing; plus, as much as I love cooking and baking, I have other responsibilities. Simplicity--simplicity was what I wanted. I also wanted something new, or as close to "new" as I could get in this sometimes extremely redundant world. Suddenly, I had just the thing: the lovely cookbook I had bought back in January on Mexican sweets. It was one of those whim purchases when you see something, are intrigued by it and, with a gift certificate in hand, you buy the item almost blindly (no, I lie; it was actually the section on sweet breads and a muffin top breakfast bread with apricot jam that made me buy the book). Besides the apricot jam bread (which I have yet to make), one other recipe in the book has long tempted me, something not too sweet, but right up my peanut-butter loving self's alley: Peanut Marzipan. The recipe was said to be a crowd pleaser, as well as easy to make. In short, score!


But, considering the title of this blog post, you might be wondering up how we went from peanuts to cashews...? Well, dear reader, the local grocery store, for some reason or another, sells a variety of nuts, but the only unsalted nut they had in stock was the cashew. So, cashews (a favorite nut of my pap's, which has endeared it to me) it was! While I can't say that the taste was for everybody (if you're not a cashew person, then this is not for you), I really liked it. It was almost like fudge, but not as rich and toothache-inducingly sweet; the best way to describe it is as a sweet and firm cashew butter that comes in pretty shapes, i.e. an experience for both the taste buds and the eyes. As you can see from the above picture, I enjoyed myself immensely while making these, using all the cookie cutters I had on hand. My favorite shape was naturally the dachshund, although getting the delicate nut-sugar mixture to come out of this cookie cutter without crumbling was quite the feat. The dachshund's tail, I must admit, was the result of some plastic surgery. The others, however, especially the round scalloped shape and the heart, worked beautifully. It may seem initially difficult, but, after about 4-5 of these, I fell into a rhythm, pushing down the paste and working them through the cookie cutter.




Cashew Marzipan

Yields about 24 pieces, depending on the size of your cookie cutters
Adapted from Fany Gerson's My Sweet Mexico

The original recipe, as I mentioned above, calls for peanuts. Almonds, pistachios and pecans, however, are also listed as acceptable substitutes (cashews didn't quite make the cut...at least in the official version). You're supposed to toast the nuts, but, though I'm sure it would have helped with the flavor, I also didn't do this (I was very anti-heat today, perhaps because it was 75 in the Bay Area). One other thing I'll offer is this: my food processor is a three-cup instead of the larger five-cup version; if yours is the same, grind the nuts and sugar in two batches. You want to make sure that the oil from the nuts spreads evenly. Otherwise, you'll just be dealing with a crumbly mess that won't take shape.

2 cups unsalted cashews (peanuts, almonds, pecans or pistachios could also work)
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling

-Grind the cashews in a food processor.
-Add the sugar and continue mixing, scraping down the sides.
-The nuts should release their oil and a paste should form (for me, this probably took about 5 minutes of grinding, but make sure that you can see and feel the oiliness of the paste (press the mixture between your fingers and see if it's malleable).
-Put some of the paste into a cookie cutter, filling it about 3/4 inch high.
-Press down with your hands until compacted.
-Remove the cutter carefully (the dough will crumble easily, so do this with care).
-Repeat the former step until all the paste is used.
-Lightly sprinkle powdered sugar on the marzipan.
-To store, you can either wrap the marzipan in cellophane or tissue paper, or, as I did, store it in an airtight container or place it on a cookie sheet covered in tin foil.

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