If you are looking for marzipan fruit, you’re probably Sicilian, Italian, or maybe you’ve married into a family of that background. The good news is that there is a local bakery that still creates this Holiday specialty for Christmas and Easter every year.
“From our very first year in business in 1994, we knew that (Sicilian) marzipan fruit would be something we were going to commit to making, even though it is labour intensive,” says Angelo Battaglia, founder of Francesca Bakery.
Although the history of marzipan can be associated with several European countries like Germany, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, it is the region of Sicily (Italy) known for the artistic bakeries and their displays of beautiful marzipan fruits made during Christmas season.
“The most commonly accepted story behind the Sicilian marzipan tradition begins in Palermo at the Convent of the Martorana. As a prank on the Archbishop’s Easter visit, the nuns created dozens of marzipan fruits and painted them to appear like real fruit. Then they strung these from trees in the cloister garden, and the Archbishop believed that the trees had a miraculous fruit-bearing season.”
Marzipan is made from real ground almonds (almond flour), sugar, sometimes honey or glucose as a binding and preserving agent. The mixture creates a very pliable texture that makes it easy to form into fruit, animal, seafood or ornaments of any shape. It firms up over time but can be eaten weeks later – even after being held at room temperature.
“We start making the marzipan in November and then start shaping individual pieces – which can take a couple of weeks of work.” Angelo continues by explaining that he and son Francesco do most of the work marzipan fruits and airbrush painting, which gives them an incredibly life-like appearance. It fools many people not familiar with marzipan. “They sometimes do a double-take before realizing it is not real fruit on our display.”
Referred to in Italy as “Frutta di Martorana,” popular pieces include apples, oranges, pears, bananas, berries, cobs of corn, figs, watermelon, peaches even garlic, fish, and octopus are in this fantastic marzipan display.
Francesca Bakery sells marzipan fruit by weight, so customers can choose any design, colour or piece which suits them. Frequently, families will use the marzipan fruit on a table – it’s not uncommon to see them right in the middle of the dinner table, Holiday display. Slowly through the Christmas season, family or guests will start to nibble away on these tasty almond treats.
“Once we have the marzipan fruit display ready to go (usually by the end of November), it pretty much means we are in full Christmas season around the bakery here. And it stays like that right to the New Year,” explains Fabio Battaglia, the manager at Francesca Bakery. “We always get a lot of fantastic feedback about it, so we try and add something new or different every year. We get a lot of regulars coming back year after year as soon as the marzipan fruit display is ready.”
Francesca Bakery is open 7 days a week with a full eat-in cafe and offers catering service for home and family functions. Call 416-299-1174 for hours and catering information.