There is a Christmas Eve tradition in Norway where the children are treated to a rice pudding called risgrot.
A single blanched white almond is added to the entire batch of pudding, which is then divided into bowls for all to enjoy. Whoever finds the single almond in his or her bowl, wins a big marzipan pig.
It was during a holiday trip back to Norway that Kristian Salvesen realized that there was no traditional marzipan to be found in the states. "I started thinking about why there was not any marzipan in the US. So when I came back home to California, I started looking into this. And I realized that 70-80% of the world's almonds were grown right here in this state. But still we do not make any decent marzipan."
Over the next few months, Kristian started learning everything he could about marzipan. "I took some cooking classes and started to make marzipan at home in my own kitchen. I also realized that marzipan had developed a bad reputation in the America. So I experimented with shapes and flavors to figure out a new way to present marzipan despite its bad name."
In Germany, a town called Lubeck boasts of inventing marzipan during a siege, where the townspeople ran out of wheat and made marzipan loaves.
Marzipan in the United States evokes images of oddly colored cake toppers in the shapes of fruit or animals. Tasting of cough syrup gone bad, it is usually relegated to the same status as the random sprig of cilantro atop an entree. In Europe, it is a delicacy - shared, gifted, and eaten as a wedding treat or dessert.
Originally a Turkish recipe, it was brought to Europe by Mediterranean traders. However, which European country caught wind of it first is still disputed between Germany, Spain, and Italy. Each country lays claim to ownership and has different marzipan traditions. In Italy and Cyprus, it is eaten at weddings and is usually uncolored. "Mazapan" is Toledo, Spain's most famous dessert. In Germany, a town called Lubeck boasts of inventing marzipan during a siege, where the townspeople ran out of wheat and made marzipan loaves. Lubeck is also home of Neideregger, one of the biggest marzipan manufacturers in the world. At some point in history, it was probably an import to the US from Europe, likely brought along by German or Spanish immigrants.
But almonds are increasingly expensive. So somewhere along the way, US manufacturers and bakers began to substitute other cheaper ingredients for almonds. The sugar content also increased - American marzipan is usually two thirds sugar with only bit of almond - to cater to the national sweet tooth and to make it more pliable for shapes. These days, you will even find marzipan that has substituted white beans for ground almonds.
Whole and real ingredients are used for the flavors.
To differentiate, Kristian decided to focus on naturally flavored marzipan. "I began adding spices and other ingredients that complimented the almond flavor. And then I took the flavors out to the streets as samples to see how they were received. Eventually, I had a shortlist of flavors that people were excited about and started production."
The "Pure Almond" marzipan bar from Nuttyness is nearly identical to what Kristian enjoys back in Norway. Uncharacteristically high in almond content - two thirds ground almond and one third sugar - it has a wonderfully distinct almond flavor.
In addition to pure almond, Nuttyness offers several other flavors that have added spices (like ginger and cayenne - coming soon to Makenter), or nuts (like pistachio and hazelnut). Interestingly, the marzipan available in Europe is usually of the Pure Almond variety and not flavored. But each of the flavored marzipan bar varieties from Nuttyness is a study in complimenting flavor pairings.
Whole and real ingredients are used for the flavors. Real pistachios and hazelnuts make up the respective flavors, and in greater quantity than other products out there. To compare, the pistachio marzipan from Niederegger, the famous German marzipan company, is about 3% marzipan, whereas the Pistachio Almond bar from Nuttyness is 25% pistachios. The lemon isn't lemon flavor, but real lemon zest, and the ginger is not ginger oil but actual ginger. The flavors taste fresh along the marzipan base, adding to rather than overshadowing or competing with the almond taste.