Officially, martorana fruits were born in Palermo, in the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio or della Martorana, forged by the hands of Benedictine nuns who decided to adorn the bare trees in their garden with small sweet that were an incredibly realistic copy of all kinds of colourful fruit, celebrating an important visitor to their convent. The fruits are made of marzipan or almond paste, considered a royal product worthy of a king's table, and composed primarily of almond flour and confectioner's sugar, flavoured with vanilla essence, lemon or cinnamon. The characteristic fruit shapes, once made by dripping the soft dough into lovely sulphur and plaster moulds, are now the result of less poetic procedures but are still coloured by hand using ancient skills to achieve the stunning shades of nature. While the marzipan was originally only prepared in fruit shapes to commemorate all souls, with passing time all religious holidays acquired a particular marzipan subject: sheep for Christmas, and piglets in Palermo for Saint Sebastian of 20 January: horses and donkeys in Acireale for Saint Anthony on 27 January; a lamb for Easter. Today they can be found in any form in any town, and all year around.
500 grammi almond flour
500 grammi confectioner's sugar
250 ml water
to garnish: food colourings
Melt the sugar in the water at very low temperature and as soon as it starts to thread (when a piece of melted sugar dropped from a spoon stretches), add the almond flour. Continue to cook over a low heat until the mixture is very compact and detaches from the sides in a uniform manner. Pour the mixture onto a wet marble slab or into a steel tray and allow to cool. When cool, knead the dough by hand so it becomes smooth and compact, then fill the moulds of the desired shape, tip out and colour with natural dyes, using small brushes for food.