Marchpane was one of the most popular Tudor confections – at least for those who could afford it. Created from costly ground almonds, sugar and rosewater, moulded into shapes and baked, decorated with coloured glazes, gilded fruit and “comfits”, then assembled into elaborate centrepieces, it was found only on the most aristocratic and royal tables.
Lucky for us sugar, almonds and rose water are easily available at the local grocer and while almonds are expensive, you won’t have to mortgage the house. My Marchpane Cookies are made in the tradition of smaller less ambitious cakes, “dainties” often in shapes of birds, butterflies and roses.
I strayed from traditional recipes to add my own rose-petal sugar and because they glittered so prettily I decided to forgo the icing. You could dust these with rose-petal infused confectioners sugar too. (instructions below)
I decided to dedicate these cookies to the memory of Queen Anne Boleyn who apparently had a great fondness for Marchpane – and a great passion for roses. Annes’s most famous portrait depicts her holding a single red rose, and her royal gardens, her heraldry, her clothing, carpets, her jewels – all featured rose motifs.
Considering the Tudors were obsessed with roses as symbols of their royal houses and family lines, I don’t think this was a decorative obsession, but a bold statement about who she was and what she represented. And in my upcoming video series on the Hidden History of The Rose, I speculate it may have been the real reason she lost her head!
In the Anne Boleyn episode (coming soon on Gather Victoria Patreon) I explore the ideas found in The Boleyn Legacy, a fictional series of books by author Kathleen McGowan. After nearly a decade of research, she claims she has found evidence that Anne was not only secretly schooled in heretical traditions but groomed by the female rulers of Europe‘s most influential families to become Queen of England and initiate a new age of religious reform!
Anne was apparently a star pupil at Margaret of Austria’s School for Sibyls (female prophetesses) and served the French Queen Marguerite of Navarre, a learned woman and author whose mystical works verged on heresy. Navarre was a region of the South of France widely known for Catharism, an early version of Christianity where women held equal footing and the same spiritual authority as men. In this area, there are many legends of Mary Magdalene who is said to have arrived there after the Crucifixion. Many Cathar Churches were dedicated to her as the “apostle of the apostles” – the heiress to Christ’s true teaching. Obviously, this couldn’t be abided and the Cathars were exterminated by the Catholic Church in what was known as the Albigensian Crusade.
McGowan claims it is likely Anne was a devotee of Mary Magdalene (whose secret symbol is the rose) as there is documentation that along with the Queen of Navarre, the queen-mother, and the sister of the king – she took a six-month pilgrimage on Mary Magdalene’s “Royal Road” to her clifftop shrine at Ste. Baum to revere her relics.
Anne was said to have many heretical books which she studied and encouraged ladies of her court to read, too. Her hand in the Protestant Reformation and King Henry VIII break with the Papacy is well documented. One of her and Henry’s favourite pastimes was to sit together and read scriptures, discussing and debating their hidden meanings. Was she, as McGowan alleges, fulfilling a role she had been groomed for by some of Europe’s most influential women?
When Henry closed down the Catholic Churches absconding with their land and riches, trouble in paradise began. McGowan claims one reason Anne got annoying was her insistence that the wealth be channelled into charity – not the Royal Coffers. In his quest to marry Jane Seymour and finally spawn an heir, Henry had to get Anne out of the way. And so accusations that she was “a sorcerer who had bewitched him” led to her doom.
History is written by the victors and McGowan believes this is why Anne Boleyn has been so vilified through history. To keep the truth about who she really was from getting out – a woman destined and “devoutly committed to creating a spiritual revolution in Europe”.
Now let me just say I’m fully aware that McGowan’s alternative view of Anne Boleyn is far from accepted, so please don’t write to me and say this is all fanciful imagination. I know the official story. The reason McGowan’s ideas intrigue me is that fits with the hidden herstory of the rose I’m currently exploring a la video. It begins with the roses goddesses of antiquity and traces a Lineage of Rose Queens at the heart of an ancient feminine spiritual wisdom often called rose alchemy or the rose mysteries down through the ages. (with recipes of course.)
Long story short, these rose mysteries were banned as heresy by the Church. Driven underground, the rose became the emblem of a hermetic stream of secret societies which hid the rose in plain sight, in art, architecture, poetry, folklore and literature. In this way, they preserved the ancient teachings for those with “eyes to see” – and future generations.
One of Anne’s extremely lavish, heavily illuminated Book of Hours, (prayer books designed to be read at different hours of the day) can be seen in the Boleyn Castle, Hever. She signed the edition with the prophetic saying le temps viendra, or ‘the time will come’.
So I can help but wonder – was she one in a chain of powerful “Rose Queens’ ‘ dating back to the first century, who sought to keep the spiritual wisdom of the Magdalene and the “rose mysteries” alive?
One thing we do know for sure is that Marchpane was also a great favourite of Queen Elizabeth – like mother like daughter I guess. So in honour of the “Rose Queens” favourite rosy treat, here is a recipe for Marchpane – my version that is!
I wanted to add a little more colour, texture and flavour, so for my version of marchpane I started with Rugosa Roses, as they’re highly scented and can be found growing all through the summer – even until fall! You can use any rose you like, all are edible, but you need a good fragrance otherwise your Marchpane will fall flat.
I infused the rose petals in confectioners sugar and then blended some others with granulated sugar in the food processor to make a rose sugar. I used a touch of rose syrup to bind together but it doesn’t necessarily need it. (Easy to make by infusing one cup of petals in 1/2 cup of hot sugar syrup). Finally, I used a splash of my own rose extract but you can substitute rose water. Pretty rosy!
This was mixed and all pressed together, then rolled into balls, cut into cookie shapes and baked. Some I didn’t bake at all, but rolled into balls or put into candy moulds and served soft. They reminded me of mild rosy marzipan – heavenly.
You can bake these cookies longer for if you want a little more little snap and less moist, chewy texture. However you make them, you can’t go far wrong, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them!
You may not want all the rose additions (i.e. rose icing sugar, rose sugar, rose syrup and extract) so add what strikes your fancy. You can keep to the basics of rosewater and that’s fine too. But be warned, once baked Marchpane can be a stiff dry cookie as it was meant to adorned with gobs of icing.
On with the recipe!
Makes about 2 dozen small cookies
- 2 cups ground almonds
- ½ cup icing or confectioners’ sugar
- ½ cup of rose sugar
- 3 tablespoons of rose water
- Splash of rose syrup
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, stir the ground almonds and sugar (s) until thoroughly combined.
- Add rose water, syrup or both, one tablespoon at a time, until you have a smooth, moist play dough consistency.
- Dust a cutting board or large piece of parchment paper with a bit of confectioner’ sugar, then place your “dough” on top.
- Roll out to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into shapes.
- Transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake the Marchpane approx. 15 minutes or until it is just starting to brown.
- Cool and serve.
- (If you want a more moist marzipan-like confection – skip the baking and eat as is!)
(For more on the hidden history of the rose and a recipe for divinely feminine cupcakes click here)