strategist investigates

Marzipan, The Fustiest Candy, Is Suddenly….Stylish?

Marzipan peaches served at a recent dinner for Danish brand Stine Goya. Photo: Stine Goya

A not-so-insignificant number of photos in my phone taken over the past five years are of marzipan. A picture of a basket of marzipan fruits on the counter at Monteleone’s in Carroll Gardens. A close-up of marzipan strawberries in the dessert case at the (now departed) Soho Dean and Deluca. Marzipan carrots and pears at the Upper East Side Dean and Deluca. Marzipan lambs in the window of the Court Pastry Shop. A marzipan eggplant at Fortunato’s in Williamsburg. A glass platter covered in marzipan fruits in the window of a bakery in Florence.

I’ve been admiring marzipan for a long time, in other words — nothing else I’ve ever encountered manages to combine kitsch (delightful), miniatures (also delightful), and candy (delicious). And in the past few months, I’ve begun to notice other people taking note. Food artist Laila Gohar has used the candy in multiple installations — most recently in a table spread at Matter in Soho, where she braided egg-glazed marzipan into something resembling a cross between a birds nest and a challah. This past Thanksgiving, T Magazine features director Thessaly la Force posted a picture of the marzipan fruit she brought to the Thanksgiving dinner party of her friend writer Nadja Spiegelman and her parents, the New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly and Maus author Art Spiegelman. A couple of weeks ago, floral designer Brittany Asch Instagrammed an arrangement featuring a marzipan peach. And a couple of days ago, Catbird co-creative director Leigh Batnick Plessner posted a marzipan Easter lamb decorated with blue ribbon and silver tinsel to her Instagram story with the caption: “Almost marzipan lamb season.”

As it turns out, the candy’s newfound popularity seems to have translated into an actual increase in sales, at least for Fortunato Brothers pastry shop in Williamsburg. Biagio Fortunato, the shop’s executive pastry chef, told me they saw a three-times increase in 2019’s holiday sales. Plus, he says, “We’ve definitely seen an increase in the younger generation buying it. A lot more.” Antonio Fiorentino, the baker and owner of Monteleone’s in Carroll Gardens, has also noticed a spike. He told me he recently filled an order for the wedding of a couple who wanted to gift their bridal party marzipan tangerines, and says that his marzipan peaches have been especially popular lately. Mitchell Cohen, the owner of Economy Candy on the Lower East Side, says that his store has been selling marzipan for as long as he can remember, and while a few years back there was a dip in sales, these days interest is back up. “I’ve been getting calls recently to check if we still carry it,” he says. Cohen estimates that between Economy’s store and website they’ve recently been selling over a hundred chocolate-covered marzipan bars a month.

It makes sense that marzipan would see a spike in popularity in 2020. While “marzipan” refers to the almond paste itself, which can be used in everything from rainbow cookies to stand alone loaves, the small, hand-painted figures made by bakers like Fortunato and Fiorentino have all the weird visual appeal necessary to make something a hit in these ultra-visual, Instagram-influenced times. The appeal for most seems to be marzipan’s trompe l’oeil — it’s tendency to be disguised as something it is not. “There’s something inherently humorous about it,” says writer (and marzipan enthusiast) Madeleine Schwartz, who reported on Germany’s marzipan economy in 2017. “It’s presented so much more creatively than any other candy.” (Fortunato, for one, carries marzipan shaped like walnuts, chestnuts, fish, goldfish, starfish, octopus, clams, mussels, snails, avocado, cauliflower, sandwiches, pizzas, spaghetti, and hotdogs and hamburgers with all the sides. “There’s a certain whimsy and irony to it,” says WWD Accessories and Features Editor Misty White Sidell, another marzipan fanatic. Sidell, who recently returned from a trip to Paris with a sachet of marzipan fruits from La Grande Epicerie, has even considered starting, as she put it, an art practice of marzipan sculptures. “My apartment was, unfortunately, too small to roll it out,” she says.

Plus, there’s a certain nostalgia associated with the candy — Fiorentino speculates that the young customers coming into his store appreciate the sweet because it was the same thing that their grandparents served. Many of the marzipan heads I talked to grew up eating it — La Force, for one, recalls Danish members of her extended family bringing rolls of marzipan to her childhood home in California, which they would then make into snowmen and Christmas logs. Sidell grew up eating chocolate-covered marzipan acorns with her grandfather in Rhode Island. “I think the Nonna is coming back in style,” Sidell says. “I can’t wait to see what 2020 shapes people think up.” Some old-fashioned marzipan-makers are already starting to create more modern iterations of the candy: the Germany-based Odenwalder, for one, has begun making a (admittedly slightly outdated looking) marzipan iPhone.

Consider this your marzipan starter pack (or a stylish alternative to the old Valentine’s Day box of chocolates).

A 54-pack which would come in handy should you want to serve marzipan at your next party.

“I had to make a special sign for people to know that they are actually marzipan,” Cohen said of the croissant-shaped marzipan pieces on offer at his store.

The chocolate-covered marzipan loaf that Cohen sells over 100 of each month is produced by Niederegger, a German marzipan company that’s been around since 1806.

Almond paste, should you feel inspired to make your own marzipan creation — just add food coloring.

Individually wrapped (and Mozart-themed) chocolate-covered marzipan, which, we think, would make another delightfully unexpected Valentine’s Day gift.