Marzipan Eel from Toledo, Christmas pastry
I’ve been in the mood for a season to prepare «old-fashioned», classic, traditional recipes…If we stop to think about it, they are the elaborations that most tend to like and to which we always go when we want to guarantee a success. This happens much more at Christmas, because they are elaborations of all life, with flavors of always that manage to transport us to part of the best moments and/or memories of our life. That’s why I really wanted to make this Marzipan Eel from Toledo or Anguila de mazapán. One of the most characteristic preparations of this time of year.
This does not mean that they are not consumed the rest of the year, because there are bakeries in Toledo that have them available throughout the year. But it is true that it is a more usual elaboration of these dates. The reason could be because of the ingredients with which it is made, the idea of locating it on these dates, as it is considered a whim of a certain moment of the year…
Because if we acquire it in a bakery, it’s certainly a whim. The prices, according to size, can range from 10€ of 9 cm in diameter up to 210€ of 50 cm in diameter. We will elaborate an eel of 30 cm of diameter, approximately.
Although many of us think that marzipan was born in Toledo, there are many sources that differ from this idea. It is one of the most classic and traditional confectionery, made with almonds (50%), sugar, honey and, depending on the recipe, water or egg.
It is true that the first written reference appears in Toledo and dates back to 1520, written in Catalan and translated into Spanish in 1525. But it was already known centuries before in Italy, there is a theory that points to the origin of marzipan comes from a monastery in Sicily, and Arab countries.
One version maintains that marzipan could have been introduced in Europe by the south with the Muslim invasion of the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century or from the east through pilgrims and crusaders.
The most remote origin on marzipan seems to be Greek, a dessert made with almond paste and honey.
What marzipan from Toledo can boast of is its excellent quality thanks to the ingredients and processes used to make it. So much so that, at present, it is exported to numerous countries.
The word marzipan although it has Arabic etymology.
It has a traditional origin based on legends that say it was created in times of scarcity by the nuns of the Toledo Convent of San Clemente. It is said that the nuns, in order to calm the need for food, made a sweet paste from the ingredients they had at that time; sugar and almonds.
The almonds were crushed with a mace and the result of this cooked dough was called «Pan de Maza«, being the sustenance that was served to the besieged. It was at that moment when Toledo became the cradle of marzipan.
In 1615, Felipe III approved the ordinance of the Toledo Confectioners’ Guild in recognition of its good work in handcrafted confectionery. Today you can still buy marzipan made by the nuns.
Origin of the marzipan eel.
This marzipan figure is one of the oldest, whose existence has been witnessed in Toledo since the time of the Catholic Monarchs. The elaboration of the eel is a set of creativity on the part of the confectioners, in some cases it seems almost sculpted, joined to a historical anecdote.
It seems that there is a hidden motive behind the production of the marzipan eel and this is due to the interest of the Christian authorities of the 15th-16th centuries in discovering false Jews and hidden false converts.
In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs decreed the total expulsion of the Sephardic, Iberian Jews, from Spain. They could only stay if they embraced Christianity. Many of them emigrated, but many others remained, thus becoming Christians. Of course, the suspicion of «false conversion» always was on them.
The eel is a forbidden animal in Judaism, like other fish that do not have fins or scales. The reason why he decided to give this appearance to marzipan was to see who ate it with pleasure or who rejected it and, in this way, to give them away. Christians expected to identify false converts who appeared to be Christians, but in reality they were still heart-felt Jews.
It is said that in order for Jews to consume this marzipan eel, many confectioners began to draw scales on the surface with royal icing or simulate them with almond slices.
Whatever the origin of this delicacy, we will enjoy it remembering a popular Toledan saying: «De pesca o de mazapán, las anguilas buenas están»
It would be something like : «Fishing or made with marzipan, delicious eels are».
Recipe based on Luisa Jaime, profesora de ESAH
- 500 g ground almond
- 480 g icing sugar
- 20 g honey
- 8 Tbsp of water (about 70 g)*
- 1 beaten egg for brush
* I recommend adding it little by little, the amount of water will depend on the almond's freshness
FOR CANDIED YOLK:
- 6 large egg yolks
- 150 g water
- 150 g sugar
- 480-500 g candied spaghetti squash
FOR ROYAL ICING:
- 15 g egg whites
- 100 g icing sugar
- few drops of lemon juice
- 2 silver sprinkles
- candied fruits
Prepare the marzipan.
- In a large bowl mix the ground almond with icing sugar, honey and water.
- Start mixing the ingredients with the help of a silicone spatula. Once it begins to acquire a more solid consistency, knead it with our hands.
- Knead the dough very well until a uniform, smooth and manageable consistency is achieved. It will take a while.
- Flatten to shape a disc, wrap very well in film and let stand in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Make candied yolk.
- Add the yolks in a bowl and whisk, set aside.
- In a saucepan add the water together with the sugar, place at medium heat.
- Without stirring, leave until it reaches a temperature of 221ºF/105ºC. It will help you to use a digital thermometer.
- Incorporate the syrup to the yolks, we will do it in a fine and continuous thread at the same time that we beat to avoid that the yolks curdle.
- Once we have added all the syrup, pour the mixture into the saucepan and place at medium low heat.
- Cook at the same time that whisk, constantly, until these begin to thicken. It will take a while to get the right consistency.
- Remove from the heat, pour the yolk into a container and film.
- Let it cool completely and keep in the fridge for 24 hours.
Shape the base of the marzipan eel.
- Take 450 g of marzipan and stretch with a rolling pin, cover the rest with film to prevent it from drying out. The marzipan dries very easily.
- Sprinkle some icing sugar on the work surface, this will help the marzipan not adhere to the work table. Shape a cylinder with the marzipan.
- Once we have the cylinder, shape it into a "tail" by refining one of the ends.
- To help me in shaping, I used as a template a disc with a diameter of 9,85 inches/25 cm (base for cakes).
- Place a square, or circle, of baking paper on the base for cakes and, on top of this, the eel tail.
- Press with your fingers along the entire surface of the marzipan except for the edges. Flatten the surface.
Fill the marzipan eel.
- Put the candied spaghetti squash in a piping bag and the candied yolk in another one.
- Fill half of the eel with candied squash and the other half with candied yolk.
- Using a spatula, smooth the surface and join the two fillings.
- Store in the fridge while preparing the rest of the marzipan.
Prepare the top of the marzipan to cover the eel.
- Take the rest of the marzipan and shape a flattened circle.
- Using a rolling pin, stretch the marzipan to a slightly larger diameter than the piece we have already shaped and filled.
- Roll the marzipan disc onto the rolling pin.
- Remove the filled marzipan from the fridge.
- With the help of the rolling pin, place the marzipan disc on the base of the eel.
- Very carefully, adjust the marzipan and shape it. Cut the surplus and wrap it in film, it will be used to make the top decorations.
Create the decorations and place them on the eel.
- Shape the whiskers and ornaments that we want to place on our eel. Remember to cover them with film each time you finish forming each one of the pieces.
- Moisten the surface of the marzipan where we are going to place the pieces with water. The water will serve as "glue".
- Place all the decorations (whiskers, eyes, nose...) and create relief, if desired. We can help ourselves with a knife or wooden stick for it.
- To create the scales I have used a Saint Honoré tip, but you can use any tool that allows you to create this effect. Otherwise, you can always do it with a knife.
- Once we have all the eel decorated, cover very well with film and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.
- If we bake directly, it is very likely that we will lose the scales and the reliefs.
- Preheat the oven to 518ºF/270ºC. If your oven does not reach this temperature, preheat it to the maximum.
- Place the eel on a perforated tray lined with baking paper.
- Brush the whole surface of the eel with beaten egg.
- Place in the oven at medium height and bake for 5 minutes.
- Place the grill and bake for 2-3 minutes more.
- Important: The higher parts should be browned first. In my case what I did was to cover them with aluminum foil once they had the desired color. It doesn't matter if we open the oven for a moment to cover them. That way we will avoid burning some areas while the rest of the eel finishes browning.
- Take out and let it cool completely on a rack.
Make the royal icing.
- In a bowl mix the icing sugar together with the egg whites and a few drops of lemon juice.
- We must achieve a consistency of delineated.
- Place it in a piping bag with a very fine tip. In case of not having, we make a very small cut in the tip of the piping bag.
Decorate the eel.
- We must decorate the eel once it has cooled down completely.
- Transfer the eel into a cake base, so we can serve it here.
- Decorate the surface of the eel with the royal icing. At this point you can do it completely to your liking. In my case I have left you an idea of how to carry it out.
- To place the eyes, pipeh a small quantity of royal icing and, with the help of some tweezers, place the silver caramel balls/sprinkles.
- Finally, fill the central hole with frosted/candied fruit of our choice. The most common is to use apricots and cherries, but we can use the ones we like the most.
- On this occasion I have made marzipan using almonds, icing sugar, honey and water. On other occasions, as in this Pan de Cádiz, I use egg white. I read that the process of making eel was done this way and I decided to do it this way.
- The quality of the ground almond is very important. Not only for the taste, but for the final texture. If it is of poor quality, the almond will be very dry and the dough will need more water to be added. I leave this to your choice because I know we are talking about an expensive ingredient, but it is certainly worth using a good quality. You can even grind it at home, buying Marcona almonds, for example.
- Traditionally, marzipan eel is made by grinding the almond and mixing it with the rest of the ingredients. In this case rest is necessary for it to acquire the right consistency.
- You can buy candied spaghetti squash or do it at home. Homemade, always, is better. But this time I didn't have this variety of squash to do it and I had to use it store-bough.
- The candied yolk that I have prepared on this occasion is made with syrup instead of adding icing sugar. It is more laborious to carry out because it takes much longer to become dense, but the result is wonderful. If you want to reduce a little the cooking time, you can do it following the recipe of candied yolk that I made for the Pan de Cádiz. You will only have to double the quantities and follow the process detailed in that recipe.
- If you don't like any of the ingredients in the filling, you can omit it and stuff the whole eel with one of them of your choice.
- The marzipan rest time is necessary, do not omit it.
- The baking time should not be exceeded because we run the risk of drying out the marzipan too much. If your oven does not brown the surface, reduce the cooking time and place the grill to achieve a golden finish on the eel.
- If you want to make a smaller marzipan eel, you will only have to reduce quantities according to the quantity of ingredients you want to use.
- The baking time will be the same for any size.
- Royal icing can be made from egg white or albumin, as you prefer.
- The decoration with royal icing can be completely to your choice, but apparently what cannot be missing are the spots on the scales ;)
- It can be kept refrigerated, well wrapped in film, for 1 week.
I know that the process of making this Marzipan Eel is a little laborious, but although it takes 3 days to have it ready, there are few hours that we must dedicate each day. With the exception of the second that we will have to model it.
The first day we will only have to prepare the marzipan and the candied yolk. The second day will require a little more time because we will have to create and model the eel. Finally, the third day requires very little time since we only have to bake it and decorate the outside. As you can see, it is a process that is not complicated to carry out, but it needs patience and love to achieve a good result.
No doubt you are going to surprise your family and friends this Christmas if you make this sweet treat traditional from Spanish Gastronomy. In addition, you can let your imagination run wild and decorate it as you like. In my case, more than an eel that almost looks like a dragon, hahaha. So much so that my husband told me why instead of putting candied fruits I did not put Dragon Balls... Oh, my God! hahaha
I wish you a wonderful weekend! See you next week.