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As holiday baking season approaches, one question on everyone’s mind is: Are marzipan and almond paste the same thing? OK, maybe that’s not a universal wonder, but the heady scent of ground almonds is especially prevalent during the holidays, where it graces many baked goods from cookies, to cakes, to croissants and other pastries.

I first associated the term marzipan with the fruit-shaped candies that were prevalent at my German family’s Christmas celebrations, but came to use the term as synonymous with almond paste when encountered in the baking supplies aisle of the grocery store. I mean, marzipan sounds cooler, right? (It’s a long rabbit hole to go down if you’re into the etymology, but basically comes from the root “march pane” where pan or pane is the Latin for “bread.” Despite my association with it through German heritage, and its Latin nomenclature, its earliest culinary roots are more likely Middle Eastern.)

Marzipan and almond paste are not the same, however. The nuance is slight, and has more to do with utility than anything, but let the proof of their differentiation lay in the fact that they do actually occupy separate spaces on the baking aisle shelves:

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Both are made from blanched and peeled ground almonds, plus sugar. Marzipan may begin its existence as almond paste, but becomes its own entity with additional components and processing. It is typically ground more finely than almond paste, giving it an almost dough-like consistency, whereas almond paste maintains a slightly coarser texture. More sugar is added to marzipan, giving it more of a candied nature, and also almond extract, giving it a more amplified almond flavor. Finally, marzipan typically includes an additive such as honey or corn syrup to give it a more pliable texture.

Marzipan (Almond Paste)

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The easiest way to think about the primary difference between almond paste and marzipan is by looking at them functionally: Almond paste is more commonly a filling, whereas marzipan is a coating, or an end product in its own right (though our Marzipan Caramel Apples.

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Several cities throughout Europe lay claim to marzipan candies as a speciality, including Spain’s Toledo, Portugal’s Algarve, Italy’s Palermo, and Germany’s Lübeck. According to an article in New York Magazine, marzipan may be having a bit of a renaissance in the U.S., perhaps due to its Instagram-friendly nature. “Nothing else I’ve encountered,” says author Hilary Reid, “manages to combine kitsch, (delightful), miniatures (also delightful), and candy (delicious).” Molded marzipan is used frequently in cake decoration, and rolled marzipan can also be used as a cake coating, much like fondant, as in Sweden’s famous Princess Cake

Almond paste is more of a workhorse than a showoff. It may also be known as the term “frangipane” in French baking. Its presence is unmistakable, however, giving flavor and structure to goods such as Apple Tarts, Almond Crinkle Cookies, and Stollen.

You may still find recipes that use the words interchangeably, and there’s no significant harm in using one for the other, except that recipes utilizing marzipan will come out a bit sweeter. Whether you’re working with almond paste or marzipan, the results are always delicious.

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Header image courtesy of Chowhound.

Pamela Vachon is a freelance writer based in Astoria, NY whose work has also appeared on CNET, Cheese Professor, Alcohol Professor, and Diced. She is also a certified sommelier, voiceover artist, and an avid lover of all things pickled or fermented.
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