Working with marzipan (almond paste) is similar to working with sugarpaste and indeed you can often substitute marzipan for sugarpaste on many designs if you prefer the taste. Marzipan is usually available in golden or natural colours. There is no discernable difference in taste although different brands may vary very slightly.
Like sugarpaste, marzipan will start to harden when it is exposed to the air so keep any unused marzipan tightly wrapped in plastic food bags. It does not need to be kept in the fridge.
Keep a bowl of icing sugar handy. Not only will you use it to knead and roll out your marzipan on but it will stop your fingers from getting sticky when making models. Do not use cornflour. The two can react together to create mould and cracking in the marzipan.
Stick your models together using a little cooled boiled water. You can also use cooled boiled water to “paint” the marzipanned cake to create a sticky surface if you plan to cover your cake with sugarpaste. You will not have to do this if covering the marzipan with royal icing.
If your marzipan is quite cold and hard you can soften it in the microwave for a few seconds. Repeat if necessary. You must take care not to over do it though as the oil in the marzipan can get very hot and could burn you. This tip will not work on old dried out marzipan. Don’t try to re-knead it back into soft fresh marzipan it will simply ruin the fresh with hard little lumps. Cut off the dried out sections and discard.
Always cover a fruitcake with marzipan before covering it with fondant or royal icing to keep moisture in the cake and stop oils from seeping into the outside covering and causing discolouration.
If you are covering a fruitcake with marzipan, use boiled, sieved apricot jam to stick it to the cake not buttercream. This is because apricot has a mild taste so will not affect the flavour of the cake. It is recommended that you sieve the jam after heating it as chemicals in apricot skin can occasionally cause the marzipan to “blow” away from the side of the cake causing a huge air bubble to form beneath the marzipan. Heat the apricot jam to boiling point in a heatproof bowl in the microwave or with a couple of tablespoons of water in a saucepan on the stove.
Although not necessary you can put a layer of marzipan over a sponge cake too before covering it with sugarpaste. This is called “double covering” and is worth considering doing on an important cake such as a wedding cake. It will make achieving a smooth finish much easier. If the bride dislikes marzipan you could double cover with two layers of sugarpaste instead.
Marzipan can easily be coloured using food pastes in the same way as you would sugarpaste. However because marzipan is made from almonds even “natural” marzipan has a greyish tinge to it so you cannot achieve a pure white colour so take that into account and perhaps avoid trying to make a marzipan snow scene. Use natural marzipan rather than golden marzipan if you plan to add colour as the paler hue of the natural marzipan will not distort the colour as much as golden marzipan will. Apply the paste with a cocktail stick and knead it in. Try to avoid liquid colours as these will make the marzipan soggy and unuseable