Who invented the marzipan?
The production of marzipan requires great care. Below is an account of what it contains and how it just may have come about.
Who invented marzipan? Well, the learned differ but there are various stories which, although possibly not historically correct, are certainly highly entertaining.
The Italian story
Exactly when marzipan was discovered and how it got its name has not been established. Historically, several different types of marzipan have been in existence.
In all likelihood, marzipan originated in Italy. There is no clear indication when it was introduced to Denmark, but it is thought that it was brought across the Alps some 500 years ago by tradesmen. In any case, marzipan was already highly popular by the beginning of the 16th century – a dictionary published in 1521 denotes marzipan as panis Marcius. Some believe the name comes from Marzo, the inventor of Italian sponge cake, while others believe the term Marci panis stems from Marcus bread. This, however, is a contradiction in terms since marzipan was spelled with a z rather than a c already in early times, and would therefore never have been known as Marcus bread but as Marzi bread.
The mistake of a baker’s daughter
In Italy, history has it that a Venetian baker’s daughter in the Middle Ages was asked to help her father mix a small batch of blanched, chopped almonds into a large portion of cake dough. The girl, however, was madly in love and so busy daydreaming that she put way too many almonds into far too small a batch of dough.
Her father was furious when he discovered her mistake and told her off for wasting his precious almonds, but while he was telling her off and gesticulating wildly, he popped a piece of the infamous dough in his mouth and suddenly became very still – he had, quite simply, never tasted anything so delicious.
The raw dough was cut into small chunks and sold with great success, and the baker became a prosperous man from that day onwards, simply by selling marzipan bread. He called it Marcus bread after the town’s patron saint, St. Marcus, which became marcipani in Latin.
Franz Marcip and the marzipan factory
In Germany, meanwhile, the belief is that a German chef had the honour of being the first man to produce marzipan. The chef, who worked for a wealthy man in the 17th century, was asked by his employer to come up with a delicious dessert for a particularly special feast day.
The chef was an imaginative gentleman, and he set the kitchen helpers to work blanching and chopping large amounts of almonds, whereupon the chef himself added a bit of sugar to make a type of dough. This was cut into small pieces, which were very well received at the party, and the chef named the dough for himself. His name was Franz Marcip, and in his old age he returned to his hometown of Lübeck and set up a marzipan plant.
The forbidden christening present
A proclamation issued in 1701 by the city of Leipzig declared that all individuals should be free to choose between giving either marzipan or cake as a christening present, and that even the very wealthy who were asked to be godfather or godmother should not pay more than 2 rix-dollars for a marzipan gift, or 1 rix-dollar for a cake. Tradesmen and the lower classes were simply forbidden to purchase marzipan as it was far too costly.
There have been other accounts of how marzipan came about, and it is impossible to know which of these is true. But one thing is sure – marzipan is a treat that continues to win new fans, and Danish marzipan is in a class of its own: a product of excellent quality which is often adapted to the exact needs of customers.