Almond paste is a key ingredient in our winning cookie, and also in one of our finalists' recipes. But what the heck is it? It's a mixture of blanched ground almonds and sugar, bound together with some kind of liquid, often cooking oil, corn syrup, eggs or cream.

Don't confuse almond paste with marzipan, although they are similar. Almond paste is used to make marzipan, although the former is far less sweet, typically composed of 50 to 55 percent sugar, compared to 75 percent and greater for marizapan. There are textural differences, too; almond paste is generally a bit more coarse and less pliable than marzipan.

Bottom line: Do not substitute marzipan for almond paste in our winning cookie recipe. Or in any recipe, for that matter. The results will differ, considerably.

The mostly widely available version is produced by Odense and is sold in 7-oz. tubes (pictured, above).

When it comes to buying almond paste, it pays to browse. After shopping around, we found some wiggle room in price: $5.49 at Target, $5.99 at Whole Foods Market, $6.39 at the Wedge Co-op, $7.29 at both Lunds and Kowalski's Markets and $8.75 at Ingebretsen's. (Both Cub Foods and Rainbow Foods stock a 4-oz. can of almond paste).

Once opened, almond paste should be tightly wrapped and refrigerated. If it becomes to hard, it can be softened by heating in a microwave oven for a few seconds.


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