These exquisite marzipan sweets, perfectly reproducing vegetables, and fruit, are a true expression of great gastronomical creativity.
Gracefully placed in wicker baskets or in wooden boxes, they appear in almost every Sicilian pastry-shops windows, particularly during the Festival of the Dead, on November 2, but also throughout the whole year.
No doubt the so-named Frutta Martorana was invented sometime in the past by the nuns of The Martorana, a cloister, founded in Palermo by the noblewoman Eloisa Martorana, but the history of these small Sicilian culinary masterpieces is surrounded by some legends.
As the story goes, in the Middle Ages the nuns were waiting for an esteemed visitor: the Archbishop of Palermo (or the Emperor Carlo V, according to another version). As the trees of the convent’s lush garden were unusually empty – it was early November -, they decided to sculpt fruits from marzipan and hang them from the trees to impress their guest. The result was a great success and, since then, the Frutta Martorana has become the cloister ultimate sweet, to the extent that it is named after it.
Legends aside, after 500 years from its invention, this sweet is still present in the Sicilian confectionery tradition, tickling every palate and fantasy.
Let’s try to prepare it…
Frutta Martorana recipe (high difficulty)
For the almond paste:
- 500 g peeled and chopped almonds or almond flour
- 500 g sugar
- 125 ml of water
- vanilla aroma
- food coloring
- gum arabic
- plastic leaves and fruit stalks
Preparation: Finely grind the peeled almonds or alternatively use the almond flour. In a pan warm the water and dissolve the sugar until it boils. Turn off and add vanilla aroma and almond flour. Stir continuously until you get a soft but solid dough that you can easily handle and remove from the pan. Pour the mixture onto your work surface, you’ll have slightly moistened and wait until it is lukewarm.
Start to knead until the dough becomes smooth and homogeneous and then model it into fruit and vegetable shapes. Let the little sweets dry for at least 20 hours, after that, you can paint them with bright food coloring and polish with a finishing lacquer of gum Arabic. Complete your fruits with plastic leaves and fruit stalks to make them more realistic.
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