Ruby Tandoh demonstrates the art of baking simple but sublime lemon and marzipan cupcakes, and adds a floral tweak to the festive classic cherry stollen
I love marzipan. I like to peel it from battenberg cake and eat it in one long strip, or uncover a log of the stuff nestled inside the buttery dough of a stollen. Great slabs of Christmas cake have been left, marzipan-less, around the house and there are finger-shaped gouges in the block in the kitchen cupboard. For all its sweetness and lurid colouring, it's perhaps one of the few confections I prefer ready-made. If you have an (unfathomable) aversion to marzipan, I've also included a recipe for a more grown-up pistachio version.
Lemon and marzipan cupcakes
In Portugal, they serve a drink called amarguinha - a mixture of a light, bitter almond liqueur and a very generous measure of lemon juice. They are heavenly flavour partners and this very simple recipe is proof of that. Use the juice of the lemons, mixed with a little sugar on the hob, to make a lemon drizzle which will add even more of a lemony kick.
100g butter, softened
60g caster sugar
½ tsp almond extract
Zest of 2 lemons
100g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1½ tsp baking powder
⅛ tsp salt
2 large eggs
2 tbsp milk
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a cupcake tray with 10 paper cases.
2 Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the almond extract and lemon zest.
3 Combine all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add an egg and 2 tbsp of flour mix to the butter mix. Stir to just combine. Repeat until it is all mixed together. Add the rest of the flour along with the milk. Stir well.
4 Grate in 100g marzipan. Break the remainder into small pieces and mix in. Spoon into the cupcake cases and bake for 17-20 minutes. A skewer test is tricky with these, as the melted marzipan inside looks like uncooked cake batter. If the cakes are well risen, golden and spring back when gently pressed with a finger, they are done.
Cherry stollen with pistachio marzipan
The pistachio marzipan has none of the cloying sweetness of the shop-bought almond stuff, and you can add vanilla or rose water to it to suit your needs.
Makes 1 stollen
250g strong white flour
5 pods cardamom, seeds only, crushed, or ½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
2 cloves, crushed, or ¼ tsp ground cloves
1 x 7g sachet instant dried yeast
¾ tsp salt
150g butter, divided in half
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
125g dried cherries, roughly chopped
75g mixed peel
30g icing sugar, for dusting
For the marzipan
150g pistachio kernels
130g icing sugar
⅛ tsp salt
30g egg white
Vanilla extract (optional)
1 Combine the dry ingredients (not the dried cherries or peel) in a bowl. Don't heap the salt directly on the yeast, or vice versa, as this may kill the yeast.
2 Melt 75g butter in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat. Stir in the milk, egg, vanilla extract and orange zest. If the mix is anything less than tepid, heat it very gently over a low heat - just enough to slightly warm it.
3 Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients. Knead into a dough for about 10 minutes. Once everything's thoroughly combined, tip it out on to a clean work surface (don't add flour!) and knead. The mixture may feel a little wet, but due to the high butter content you'll find that it's actually less annoyingly sticky than some doughs. It'll soon begin to feel smoother and more elastic. After 10 minutes, add the dried cherries and the mixed peel.
4 Return the dough to a large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave it for 1½-2 hours, until doubled in size. Normal room temperature is perfect for the yeast to get going. Bread risen at higher temperatures will taste yeasty and risks exhausting itself.
5 While the dough is rising, make the pistachio marzipan. Grind the nuts in a coffee grinder, in batches, or in a food processor. Add the icing sugar and salt, then stir to combine. Transfer the mixture into a bowl.
6 Add the egg white (30g is about two-thirds of the egg white of a large egg - this may seem likea bit of a faff, but even slightly too much risks making the mixture wet and sticky). Combine the egg with the pistachio mixture using a cutting motion, and once it has mostly integrated you can use your hands to very lightly work the paste into a smooth mixture. If it's too dry to come together, add a few more drops of egg, or some vanilla extract, if you prefer.
6 Gently knock back the risen dough and stretch it out to an approximately 30x20cm rectangle. Roll two-thirds of the marzipan into a 30cm-long log (you can use more or less of it, depending on how much marzipan you prefer) and lay it along the middle of the dough. Roll the dough around the marzipan, orientating the seam to the bottom, and fold the ends of the log underneath. Gently pat into a more squat, slightly flattened shape. Let the stollen rise for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
7 Bake for 40 minutes. Towards the end of the bake, melt the remaining butter over a low heat. As soon as the stollen is ready, brush it all over (even underneath) with the melted butter. This will create a meltingly soft crust and a festive richness. Once out of the oven and cool, dust with icing sugar.
8 Because it's practically mummified in butter and sugar, this bread keeps surprisingly well. Wrap in greaseproof paper or foil and continue to indulge at leisure over the Christmas holidays.
Photo: Lemon and marzipan cupcakes. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian