If there's one region in the world that nails marzipan, it's Lübeck in northern Germany.
According to Lübeck's tourist board, the link all began when Johann Georg Niederegger established a factory in the city in 1806. He was a dab-hand at the art of converting almonds and sugar into the marzipan we all know and love, supplying kings and czars. Nowadays its appeal (and availability) is much more widely spread.
Thanks to the power of YouTube (and a piece by German public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle), here's an interesting look behind the scenes at the factory:
While I've not been fortunate enough either to make my own pilgrimage to this Hanseatic city or to visit the sacred factory itself, I have, on many occasions, purchased countless bars of Niederegger Marzipan Classic. I can't get enough of it.
But before you start with cries of bias, this particular bar was disappointingly sub-par. So I thought I'd share with you the experience of what happens when exceedingly good marzipan goes bad.
A thin, glossy red paper sleeve wraps entirely around a gold foiled bar. The red wrapper benefits from gold foiled text - which looks classy - together with a graphic of a segment to tease what is hidden beneath.
The packaging doesn't say how many portions Niederegger reckon you could get out of this 100 gram bar, but I'd suggest an optimistic value of six portions of two segments, thanks to its moulding of a dozen rectangles.
The German-made marzipan bar is covered in bittersweet chocolate, with a ratio of 52:48 marzipan to chocolate. Reassuringly, the ingredients lists for both are short and sweet. The marzipan appears to be a blend of almonds, sugars, and a touch of alcohol (albeit in top secret proportions). The chocolate is a mix of cocoa mass and butter, sugar, milk powder, and an emulsifier.
Niederegger Marzipan Classic ingredients:
Bittersweet Chocolate (Cocoa Mass, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Whole Milk Powder, Emulsifier: Soya Lecithins, Vanilla Extract), Almonds 30%, Sugar, Invert Sugar Syrup, Alcohol. Cocoa Solids: 50% min. in Bittersweet Chocolate
The gold foil is embossed with the Niederegger logo and is folded rather than heat sealed, making it easier to reseal for consumption in little nibbles.
Niederegger Marzipan Classic Review
So far, so good. But this particular bar suffered from degradation, most likely caused by a combination of poor storage somewhere along the supply chain and the fact it was a month away from its best before date.
A normally polished surface was replaced with slight blooming to the top of the bar. There was also some minor cosmetic damage to one corner. Familiar sweet-yet-bitter aromas emanated from the bar, dogged by a slight mustiness. The faintest waft of almond fought incredibly hard to be noticed.
At this point, it was clear something was amiss. In my past experiences of the Niederegger Marzipan Classic bar, the chocolate was mirror-like, with the heavenly aroma of almonds and chocolate tempting me to take a bite.
The snap was delicate, thanks to the generous amount of marzipan - 52% - contained within its bittersweet chocolate shell. Ordinarily, this would help easily portion up the bar, but in this instance, keeping it to savour over several days was not an option I wanted.
Tasting the bar, my suspicions about the bar were confirmed. The normally moist marzipan had dried out, so much that the texture was bone dry and coarsely gritty. The chocolate tried its best to rescue the overall flavour by adding a sweet, slightly bitter, taste together with a flaky texture but it wasn't enough.
Typically, I'd expect the tiny amount of alcohol in the marzipan to add a little trademark zip to the marzipan. After all, it's what sets Niederegger marzipan apart from the rest. But here again, there was disappointment. Just as the flavour of the almonds had faded, so too had the kick. In fact, the musty almond flavour dominated the overall flavour profile, and lingered long into the aftertaste. The chocolate added a slight sweetness to the aftertaste but it had to work incredibly hard to battle the almonds.
Overall, this was a good bar gone bad. My previous experiences have all, without fail, been exceptional by comparison. It was clear that the moisture from the marzipan had leached out into the chocolate, becoming dry and gritty in the process. I believe this then caused the almonds to break down, leading to a musty smell and flavour.
I am a firm believer this has something to do with product care, or more specifically, the lack thereof, somewhere along the supply chain. The bar was a month away from its best before date at the time of review although I'd expect a bar to remain palatable right up to that date.
Understandably, I wouldn't - and couldn't - recommend this particular bar, other than being a great example of what happens to marzipan when it degrades. However, I know this bar does not represent my very many previous tasting experiences of Lübeck's finest export.
Niederegger Marzipan Classic Bar Review
RRP: £4.50 | Niederegger | Shop now
This bar was no where near the normal standard I've come to know and expect from Niederegger. Instead, this was a musty slab of marzipan wrapped inside bloomed chocolate. I strongly suspect this bar was had been badly stored at the supermarket.
I'm very keen to review another Niederegger bar in the near future to demonstrate how good it normally is – I'll try to buy something with a much longer best before date next time! Better still, I hope to visit Lübeck soon to pick up the freshest marzipan I can (or at least that's my justification for booking a mini break!).
UPDATE: I was sent a few Niederegger treats including the snack-sized Stick 'n Go bar. Check out my latest Niederegger review.
Where to Buy Online
Should you wish to try Niederegger - and I implore you to do so as my experience here is not representative of my previous purchases - I'd suggest you source your bars and boxes from somewhere like John Lewis & Partners, Amazon°, Friars, Chocolates Direct, Lakeland, or Flowers Buy Delivery.
Note: Between purchasing this bar and reviewing it, I believe the 100g bar has been replaced with a 110g version in different packaging, albeit with the same name. While the weight is slightly more, the 52% marzipan content has dropped to 50% in the new bar. This implies that the recipe has been tweaked slightly.
Have you visited the Niederegger Cafe in Lübeck? Would you recommend it? Let me know in the comments below.