Throughout our many visits to the Algarve region of Portugal, my family has been admiring the whimsical fruit-shaped sweets called “Morgadinhos.” We’ve had such a fascination with these captivating little confections, some of which look like little animals, that we even came up with an “I Spy” game where the kids would search for various figures — yellow ducks, pink pigs, apples, strawberries — you name it, while simply sightseeing and absorbing the Portuguese way of life. These colorful treats, which we call marzipan here in the States, are made from almond paste, sugar and egg whites and are not just adorable, but quite tasty and loaded with interesting history.
It’s believed that these confections dated to 1800 BC, and were prized by the emperors of Rome. In Medieval times, marzipan figures were known to be sculpted for emperors and served as a dessert, often designed with a symbolic or complex meaning appropriate for ending a royal feast.
This year, in anticipation of our annual trip to Southern Portugal, we’ve taken our marzipan fascination to a new level by making it ourselves. And I have to say, the experience ranks at the top of my “most- food fun I’ve ever had with my three kids” list. What other kind of Play Dough can you taste (and enjoy) as you mold?
It was a whole communal affair one afternoon. As my kids rolled the smooth, colorfully sweet dough in their little hands, they formed their own creations while their imaginations wandered. They sat with their Meema, who even created a little gremlin herself as she molded and tasted. My winner was a perfectly round pumpkin with a swirly green stem, and my oldest son made a purple witch hat. It could have been Halloween if we hadn’t just gotten back from a swim at the pool on an 80 degree day.
Now as we “I spy” our way around the Algarve, we have a greater appreciation of what goes into the making of a Marzipan figure. We will think about who must have made them, why they chose what they did and if they tasted their creations and licked their fingers like we did.
My Marzipan Dough Recipe
2 ¾ cups blanched slivered almonds
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon almond extract
4 tablespoons water
Another 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons “Just Whites” dissolved in water with a whisk
In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, grind the almonds for several minutes until a paste forms. In a bowl with a mixer, combine the sifted sugar, almond extract and water. Beat until a ball begins to form a gradually add the additional sugar and egg whites.
Divide the dough into 5 balls and tint with desired colors. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill until ready to mold.