To Amazing to eat!? Meticulously modeled Marzipan -- old-world skills, new world artisans

By Walter Nichols
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 5, 1997; 12:00 AM

I remember marzipan. Forty years ago at formal Washington dinner parties, just after coffee was served, waiters would pass silver trays dotted with beautiful candies shaped like tiny fruits and vegetables. They called it "the marzipan course."

These hand-formed and hand-painted almond confections were almost too pretty to eat. Apparently, at many parties, that's exactly what happened.

Well after midnight, my father, who moonlighted as a bartender for caterer Ridgewells, would bring home the leftover marzipan sculptures. The following day at school my brown-bag lunch often would contain an assortment of tiny "apples," "oranges" and clusters of "grapes." They were my favorite candy. I never traded them. Nor would I trade my fond memories of growing up with marzipan.

Fresh marzipan candy, made primarily from finely ground almonds and confectioners' sugar, is still around, sorta. At last week's state dinner for Chinese President Jiang Zemin, for instance, one of White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier's sweetmeat offerings was marzipan panda bears. And it's sold year round at a few Washington-area pastry shops and specialty stores.

But on the local party circuit it has virtually disappeared, replaced, according to Jose Valado, Ridgewells' executive vice president, by a more American confection, chocolate-dipped strawberries. Styles change. Even the twice-yearly marzipan classes offered by Ewald Notter at the International School of Confectionery Arts in Gaithersburg are not well attended. Marzipan seems to have gone the way of dinner-party menus written in French.

Maybe, though, gone doesn't mean gone forever. Several artisans steeped in the European marzipan tradition are holding the fort in Washington and Brooklyn, and one pair of young Manhattan entrepreneurs is determined to revive interest in this ancient and fabled sweet.

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