Introduction: Napoleon Marching Bread
Napoleon is reputed to have said that "an army marches on its stomach", and a practise of his time was to supply the troops with a "Marching Bread" to eat while on the march to keep their strength up. There is a particularly tasty treat sold in the Netherlands which they call "Napoleon Marching Bread" which they claim was given to Napoleon's troops on the long march through northern Europe on the way to Russia in 1812.
This bread is notable for two reasons - firstly, unlike traditional marching bread which can be somewhat dry, this is a moist and sweet bread, and secondly it has a bar of marzipan embedded along its length like the German "Stollen". Indeed the Dutch claim that the word "marzipan" is directly derived from the French name for this bread, "Marche Pain" - Marching Bread.
The recipe below isn't Napoleon's, or even close, but it is super easy to make and very tasty!
Step 1: What You'll Need...
Before you go any farther, start warming up your oven. We'll be baking at 375 degrees.
The underlying loaf is very similar to banana bread or raisin bread and to be honest you can make this with whatever fruit you have available. Dates and walnuts are an excellent combination. The marzipan is what makes it special - you can make this without marzipan but then it's just a loaf. You can also buy bars of pre-made marzipan but once you've realized how easy it is to make it yourself, you'll never buy marzipan again! (Almond flour is the only ingredient below you're unlikely to have. I've linked to the most cost-effective online supply I could find; if you don't want that much, buy a single packet locally.)
For the loaf:
- Self-rising flour
- Fruit (raisins? bananas?) (sort of optional)
For the marzipan:
- Confectioner's sugar (aka Icing sugar)
- Almond flour
- 1 egg (or use pasteurised eggwhites which you can buy in cardboard cartons)
Step 2: Prepare the Loaf
Pick a loaf tin to bake it in, and either spray the inside with Pam or run a stick of butter around the sides, to make the loaf come out more easily once it's done. Actually you'll need 2 baking tins if you use the quantities below!
The quantities are simple, I have them memorized like this:
TWO OF FLOUR, TWO OF FRUIT, ONE OF SUGAR, ONE OF MILK.
Doesn't matter what it's two of. Cups are the default, but as long as you use the same measuring tool for all the ingredients, it can be a large or a small cup or any sized container at all :-)
I use this recipe for banana bread any time I have some overripe bananas that I'd otherwise be throwing out soon, but raisins or dates might be better for this recipe - I doubt Napoleon had a lot of bananas to hand when he was marching through the Low Countries. :-)
Throw all of the above in a bowl and stir. That's it. This is a really easy cake!
(Personally I usually mix it in the loaf tin directly with a fork and don't even dirty a mixing bowl - less work to clean up :-) ... if you want to do it that way too, put the flour in first. It sticks to the side of the tin and helps with releasing the baked bread)
By the way, avoid the newbie mistake of filling the loaf tin too high - first time you make this, aim for maybe half full. Next time you'll have a better feeling for how much to put in.
Step 3: Make Some Marzipan
I hope you have a food processor. This will work if you don't, but it's smoother better quality marzipan if you can really grind it down to a fine powder.
Mix equal quantities of almond flour and icing sugar (confectioners' sugar) and blast with the big blade of the food processor. Add an eggwhite and run the food processor again until it all collects up into a lump, like a big chunk of dough. One and a half cups each of sugar and almond flour are about right for one eggwhite, but if it is sloppy wet and not like a piece of playdoh, add some more dry ingredients until the result is thicker and dryer.
If you want to get fancy and you have it to hand, add a capful of almond concentrate and of rose flavoring along with the egg, but really this is not critical.
Done. Take half and roll it into a ball and then roll it more to make it longer so it is almost the length of your baking tin. Ditto for the other half. (Putting all this in one loaf is too much)
Step 4: Finish and Bake.
Place the roll of marzipan on top of the mix that's in the loaf tin. Use a fork or spoon to cover the marzipan entirely with loaf mixture. You do not want to put the marzipan in the tin first because it needs to be surrounded by bread and not clinging to the bottom of the tin where it will burn.
Place the loaf tins in the oven (which should be hot by now, at 375) and set the timer for 45 minutes and start baking. Timing isn't an exact science and the recipe calls for 50 minutes to bake, but it's worth checking at 45 minutes. If you slide a sharp knife into it and it comes out wet, obviously you need more time. If the crust is hard it's time to take it out. If you turn off the oven at 45 minutes and leave the loaves in for another 10, that works pretty well for me. And is more cost-effective in energy usage...
Eat as soon as you can commensurate with not burning your mouth :-) This is great warm, though no mean slouch when its cooled down either.
Although the German version of this, "Stollen" and its Italian equivalent without marzipan, "Panettone", are both also Marching Breads, they've very heavy, a little dryer, and more bread-like; this recipe is moist and honestly it's more of a cake...
Maybe this was what Marie Antoinette was thinking of on the day that the bread ran out!