Monday, 15 December 2014

Marzipan Buns

Marzipan is another one of those flavours that I forever associate with Christmas, mainly because I was the only one who liked the marzipan layer on the traditional rich fruit cake that my grandmother made for Christmas every year. This inevitably meant that I ate quite a lot of marzipan as I was more than happy to eat the bits that everyone else picked off their cake!

Marzipan is essentially made with three ingredients; - ground almonds, sugar and egg white. There are two ways of making it; - either simply mixing the raw ingredients together  to form a paste or by making a syrup using the sugar and some water and then adding the ground almonds and egg white. Although the first way of making it is probably easier, I prefer the second way as it produces a marzipan which, I think, keeps better and is much easier to work with.
I made quite a lot of marzipan recently as I had been commissioned to bake and decorate a number of cakes for the festive season. I deliberately made a little more than I needed as I wanted to experiment by using it in a few recipes that I had playing with, one of which was these buns.

I am definitely on a bit of a bread baking binge at the moment after the evening course that I did on bread baking in the Firehouse Bakery in Delgany, County Wicklow. I have been trying out loads of different flavour variations and have also been experimenting with different flours etc. It has been great fun and everything that I have made has gone down a treat at home. I have always loved sweet, yeasted buns and in particular Chelsea buns – a white, enriched, yeasted dough which encases a spiral filling of dried fruit, sugar and spices… YUM!
Keeping it simple, but borrowing from this idea, I decided to use a layer of marzipan in place of the dried fruit. For anyone who likes almonds or marzipan, this recipe is a must. I absolutely loved it. The buns were light and fluffy and the spiral of marzipan added a sweet nutty element but didn’t dominate.
I drizzled some almond flavoured glacé icing over the cooled buns and I loved both the taste and look of it, but you could always leave it off if you want to keep the buns simple. Don’t be alarmed by how soft the dough is when you first mix it up; as you keep kneading it will become silky smooth and easier to work with – just persevere. Do NOT add any extra flour when kneading as this will affect the balance of ingredients and result in a heavier bun… trust me; just keep kneading and after a few minutes it will stop feeling so sticky!


225g granulated or caster sugar
75ml water
175g ground almonds
½ tsp almond extract
1 egg white lightly beaten
300ml milk
40g butter
500g strong white flour
5g fine sea salt
15g fresh yeast
I egg, lightly beaten
To glaze the buns:
1 egg yolk
1tblsp milk
To finish:
75g icing sugar
1tsp boiling water
1-2 drops of almond extract


1. Put the sugar and water into a heavy-based, medium-sized saucepan and bring to the boil over a moderate heat. Let the sugar dissolve and then increase the heat and allow to bubble until the mixture reaches the ‘soft-ball’ stage (115C on a sugar thermometer). Remove the saucepan from the heat but stir it with a wooden spoon for another 60 seconds or so, until it starts to turn cloudy.
2. Immediately tip in the ground almonds, almond extract and egg white and mix well until everything is well-combined. You should have a very stiff, paste-like mixture at this stage.
3. Allow to cool completely and then knead briefly into a ball. Cover with cling film and refrigerate until required.
4. Put the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat gently until the butter has just melted. Immediately remove from the heat and set aside.
5. Separately, place the flour salt into a large mixing bowl and mix together well so that the salt is well distributed. Crumble in the yeast.
6. Pour in the lukewarm milk and butter mixture and the lightly beaten egg and stir together with your hands until the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out on to a clean work-surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes until the dough feels smooth and silky and springs back when poked.
7. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean damp tea-towel. Allow to prove for 90 minutes until it has doubled in size.
8. Line a 30cm x 20cm (approximately) deep roasting tin with some non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
9. Tip the dough out onto a very lightly floured work-surface and knock out the air. Let it relax for a minute or two and then using roll out the dough into a rectangle about 30cm x 25cms and about 5mm thick. Separately roll out half the marzipan into a rectangle about 2cms smaller all the way around. Place the marzipan on top of the rolled out dough.
10. Roll the dough along the long edge as you would a swiss-roll to create a long cylinder and to encase the marzipan. Taking a sharp knife cut the cyl8inder into 8 equal slices. Place these, cut-side up in the prepared roasting tin. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to prove for a second time until almost doubled in size.
11. Preheat oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5. Mix the egg yolk and milk together to create an egg-wash. Using a pastry brush, glaze the proved rolls with a little of the egg-wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until well risen and a deep golden-brown colour.
12. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
To finish:
13. Mix the icing sugar, almond extract and a little boiling water to make a smooth icing. Drizzle this over the cooled buns.

Makes 8.