A Gilded Marchpane disc or cake was the centrepiece of any Tudor banquet. It was a large, flat, thin disc of marzipan, sometimes with a raised rim around the edge, or it was presented on a curved wooden board. It was iced and decorated, sometimes with comfits or painted and coloured marzipan or sugared shapes, like hearts or animals and for the great occasions the decorations were often gilded or even 3 dimensional sugar iced sculptures (hot sugar syrup moulded in stone casts). The recipe given below is from 1699 but the origins of this dish are much older as the Tudor instructions on gilding a marchpane from 1584 shows.
‘The Accomplisht Cook‘, By Robert May, Published 1664
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.
Original Marchpane Recipe 1699
From a common place book dated 1699 belonging to Elizabeth Birkett, Cumbria
Take blancht Almonds and sugar and beat them up into a Past, and when have beaten it into a Past, rowl it out about the thickness that you will have your Marchpane Cakes to be and cut them in 3 square pieces and set an Edge to them of the same past, and Impress the Edges of them, then take Rose Watter and beat searced sugar in it till it be as thick as Pancakes, butter and wet them within it and strew a few of Bisketts in them and set them upon Wafers, and set them againe upon Papers and bake them, and keep them for your use.
‘The Treasurie of Commodious Conciets and Hidden Secrets’, By John Partridge, Published 1584
Gilding A Marchpane 1584
“Take and cut your leafe of golde, as it lieth upon the booke, into square peeces like Dice and with a Conies tailes end moysted a little, take golde up by the one corner, lay it on the place beeing first made moyste, and with another tayle of a Conie drie presse the golde downe close. And if ye will have the forme of an Harte, or the name of Iesus, or any other thing whatsoever; cut the same through a peece of paper and lay the paper upon your Marchpane or Tart; then make the voide place of the Paper (through which the Marchpane appeareth) moyste with Rose Water, laye on your golde, presse it down, take off your Paper and there remaineth behinde in golde the print cut in the saide paper.”
Gilded Machpane (Marzipan) Recipe
Information Before Starting:
A Gilded Marchpane disc can be as simple or as complicated and elaborate as you want (or skill allows). If you go authentic in design think family or royal crest decorations, Tudor styled flora and fauna shapes, mythical creatures, or Christian symbolism. You might perhaps want to make your own family crest and motto on a round shield design, etc. It is worth sketching out a few designs on a similar sized disc of paper, and colour it in, to get an idea of what you want to make and the colours and shapes you will need to make it; you can of course follow the original designs for Marchapane Cakes mentioned here and elsewhere, but you can equally decide to make it your own modern design, there are no limits on what you can make.
We are very fortunate today in being able to buy all kinds of pastry and cookie cutters that can work equally well in Marchpane and the modern range of food colours and dyes are an excellent resource to use (Medieval cooks wanted the colour, not the taste, of the dyes they used, so modern equivalents made of natural ingredients are not ‘unauthentic’ and are much more flexible in creating and colouring our designs) however, do try to incorporate at least some real (edible) gold leaf into your design to make it really special and Tudor inspired. Also decorate by making your own Tudor Comfits, these are sugar coated seeds and fruits used to decorate marchpane cakes and discs, caraway seeds being the most popular of the Tudor Period.
Ingredients for the Marchpane:
- 300g of fine caster sugar
- 600g of ground almonds (blanched not roasted)
- 50ml of rose-water
Ingredients for the glaze:
- 30ml of rose-water
- 60g of icing sugar
Decorating the Marchpane:
- Edible gold / silver leaf (or edible gold / silver paint)
- Icing Sugar made up into a thick paste and rolled out – cut into shapes
- Sugared seeds and nuts (comfits)
- Food dyes of different colours
- Different coloured / flavoured simple sugar syrups for pouring into moulds.
- Pastry cutters and chocolate moulds to form the decorated shapes.
Preheat the oven to 150 C
Work the ground almonds, sugar and rose-water together to make a stiff paste. Knead until quite smooth (reserve a third of the marzipan for decorating the marchpane) and place the rest on a sheet of greaseproof paper.
Roll it into a circle, about 15mm thick, try to keep it perfectly round with smooth edges. Cutting neatly around a large plate works best.
Put the marzipan disc on to a non stick baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes in a cool oven, (150 °C) then turn off the oven, open the oven door and leave it in there for another 15 minutes.
Close the oven door, turn the oven back up to a cool temperature and cook for another 15 minutes. Open the oven door, turn off the oven and leave in the oven for 15 minutes.
Repeat this process until the machpane cake or disc is firm and dry, but only lightly coloured.
Meanwhile, mix the rose-water and icing sugar to a thin paste for the glaze. When the marchpane is firm and dry brush the glaze over the disc and put it in the oven at the same temperature for about 5 minutes until dry and glossy. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Roll out some of the reserved marzipan until quite thin and cut out into hearts, diamonds, letters, animals or birds using pastry cutters. Dry in the oven as above, and paint with edible gold colourings or brush on edible gold leaf and fix these gilded shapes on to the glazed marchpane with a little sugar syrup as it dries to form patterns or pictures.
Use the rest of the reserved marzipan (or roll out a thickly made up icing sugar paste) to model into 3D figures of animals or birds, or into traditional knot shapes, which can be gilded or painted as before. If you want to, pour a (cooling) simple sugar syrup (made up by dissolving caster sugar in boiling water, 150g of sugar and 150ml of water) into chocolate moulds of dragons etc. to get the 3D shapes you want. If you flavour and colour the syrup you can vary your sugar sculptures.
Sugar-coated caraway, fennel or coriander seeds, and nuts can also be used for decoration.