It’s easy and very economical to make your own almond paste. You’ll use this to fill pastries, cakes and your special Christmas Stollen. This makes 2 pounds, 2 ounces — as much as six of those pricey little cans — and you control the quality.
For equipment, you’ll need the usual bowls, a food processor, a decent pot (I use my 3-quart Revere), a candy thermometer, a quart jar with lid (I prefer wide-mouth) for storing the paste in, a baking sheet, and a couple kitchen towels. Almond paste isn’t processed, so the plastic lids are good here.
I’m sure pastry chefs made almond paste and marzipan long before the Cuisinart was invented; they would have used a nut grinder and a whole lot of elbow grease.
• 1 pound of almonds
• 2 cups water
• 1 cup cane sugar (the organic is brownish, so I use conventional cane)
• 1/2 tsp almond extract – or more if you want it strongly flavored
• Optional: just a few drops of rose water
1. If your almonds have skins, you’ll want to blanch them. Easy: Bring 1-1/2 quarts of water to a boil, dump in the almonds, turn off the heat. Wait a minute or two, then pour the almonds through a strainer. Let them cool a bit while you set up and wash the pot to use for the next step.
2. I like to use a little folding table and chair. Lay out a kitchen towel – this is drippy. On it, put 2 bowls and your strainer of almonds with something underneath to catch the drip. Arm yourself with another towel on your lap.
3. Make yourself comfortable. Pick up the almonds one by one. Hold the almond over the bowl, pinch the big end and the blanched almond will pop out the pointy end. Skins go in the other bowl. Keep going until all the almonds are done. Skins can go in the compost.
4. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and let them dry. I usually pop them into a 250-degree Fahrenheit oven for a few minutes. Make sure they are absolutely dry.
5. When fully dry, put the almonds into the processor, pulse and grind until you have a nice meal. It won’t ever get like flour, but will be sort of like a coarse corn meal. Leave the almond meal right in the processor.
6. Next, make up a simple syrup. I use the same 3-quart Revere. Put the water and sugar in your pot, stir until the sugar dissolves and bring to a boil. Cook the syrup to almost the soft ball stage, 235 degrees on your thermometer. (If you cook the syrup all the way to full soft ball, your paste sets up too fast)
7. Mise en place: Have your clean jar and a spatula (either nylon or silicone) ready and the almond extract and the rose water if you have it.
8. Work quickly now: With the processor running, pour the hot syrup through the feed chute, then the almond extract and the optional rose water. Be careful with the rose water; you want just 5 or 6 drops, not to make the almond paste taste like roses. Keep the processor running another minute.
9. Open the processor and quickly spoon the almond paste into the jar. It does set up pretty quickly. Pack the jar down, trying to fill any spaces. If you wet your fingers, it won’t stick to them.
10. Whew! Ok, now get a spoon or bowl scraper and scrape out the very last bit and treat yourself to a few nibbles.
11. Cap the jar, let cool and store in the refrigerator. Best to let your almond paste “ripen” for a couple weeks before using. Watch this blog for my recipes for authentic Christmas Stollen and a flourless almond cookie.
Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.