In Italy, the terms almond paste, and marzipan are used interchangeably. In the United States, however, almond paste and marzipan are not the same thing. It is important to know the difference.
Generally, almond paste contains equal amounts of almonds and sugar. It’s used in fillings, batter and dough for many baked goods (pignoli).
Marzipan has a higher ratio of sugar to almonds (up to 75 percent). The greater amount of sugar is actually a good thing because it makes a smoother paste which is easier to roll out (covering cakes) and more pliable (for modeling into various shapes).
Marzipan, also referred to as Pasta Reale (royal paste) plays a symbolic role in Sicilian life. As part of the Easter ritual, it is molded into Agneddu Pasquali (little lambs), on All Saints Day, it’s molded into Ossi di Morti (bones of the dead) and throughout the year you will find many pasticceria with brightly colored, miniature replicas of fruits and vegetables (among other things) all made with painstaking, exquisite detail … from marzipan. These beautiful almond-flavored sweets are coveted by children and adults alike.
In Sicily, marzipan fruits are called frutta di Martorana, because they were first modeled and painted in the Martorana convent in Palermo.