“Jean’s dinner, smoked rock eel in caramel brandy sauce, lay chopped into fragments and scattered like debris from a battle. He was making his way slowly through dessert, a cluster of marzipan dragonflies with crystallized sugar wings that glimmered by the steady glow of the booth’s candles.”
–Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch
Marzipan Dragonflies with sugar wings
I will confess that I didn’t think I liked marzipan before this dish. However, it turns out that I really love this recipe!
The marzipan is just the right amount of sweet, with just a touch of crunchy texture from the sugar and almonds. The vanilla, I think, is what helps make it wonderful. Combine a bite of the marzipan with a bite of the sugar wings, and it’s a crunchy, almond-y experience. My wings had a slight lemon flavor, but I’d love to try making them with a variety of other flavors, such as orange, or ginger.
There is also something wonderfully decadent about casually devouring these exquisite deserts. It gives one the feel of an ancient Roman emperor, or a queen of legend. It was all I could do to keep from reclining as I munched my way through half the bowl.
Recipe for Marzipan Dragonflies
Wings: ~1 hour Marzipan: 20 minutes to make, 1 hour to chill Assembly: 1 hour plus
Cook’s Note: I have faith in you, brave adventurer!
Ingredients for Wings:
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup corn syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- a candy thermometer
- a silpat silicone baking sheet liner
Ingredients for Marzipan:
- 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds
- 1 1/2- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
Coloring and Decoration:
- food coloring
- confectioner’s sugar
- dragees for eyes
- edible gold dust or paint
Make the Wings:
Prepare your work surface by covering a baking sheet with the silpat- you’ll be pouring sugar onto it, so place it near the stove.
Combine the water, sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Clip in the candy thermometer and cook until the temperature reaches 300 F, which is the hard-crack stage. Remove from heat. Using a spoon, gently pour about 1/2 Tbs of the sugar onto the silpat in a wing shape; you can also pour the sugar into a little puddle, then drag the spoon through one side to elongate the shape. Repeat until all the sugar has been used, taking care to make both left and right side wings. It’s also important to taper the inside of the wings, so they can be attached to the marzipan. Allow the wings to cool, then dip in powdered sugar. Rub the powdered sugar into the wings to keep them from becoming sticky.
Make the Bodies:
Using a food processor, grind the almonds into a fine powder. Add in the confectioners sugar and blend well. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Using a wooden spoon blend in the egg whites and vanilla (if using) until the whole has taken on a smooth texture. Shape into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 1 hour.
To form the dragonflies, pinch off a piece of dough about the size of a chestnut. Roll this into a short rope about 2-3″ long. Pinch off another two pieces, each about the size of a hazelnut. Form one into a chunky diamond shape, and the other into a rough triangle. Smush these three shapes together, as in the diagram. Combine a bit of confectioner’s sugar with food coloring and water until you have a nice liquid consistency. Paint the bodies whatever colors you like with this color mixture, but leave any gold highlights until last.
Select two pairs of matching wings and lay them on top of the center of the marzipan body (the piece that used to be the diamond). Pinch off one last piece of marzipan, shape it into a flat diamond/disc, and place it over the assembled wings. Press gently, taking care not to break the sugar, but being sure to press the marzipan all around the wings to help hold them in place. Paint this top piece of marzipan to match the rest of the body.
To decorate, firmly press two dragees into the marzipan head where the eyes should go. Paint on highlights with edible gold dust (mixed with alcohol) or gold paint. Serve, and wow your friends!