They have been around for one and a half centuries: Bethmännchen, »the« speciality produced by confectioner’s in Frankfurt/Main and the surrounding area. Not much has changed during that time, as far as the shape and the production methods are concerned. Bethmännchen are made from a so-called “Brentenmasse”, similar to marzipan, which is shaped into a hemisphere which in turn is decorated with three almond halves.
They have become known and appreciated the world over. However, the history behind the “Bethmännchen” is long and illustrious. As indicated by their name (“Bethmännchen” is the diminutive form of “Bethmann”), it began at the home of the respected bankers’ family Bethmann. In the year 1838, after a grand luncheon, “a delicacy was served”. This was shaped after the Bethmann house, and was decorated with four almonds, representing the four sons Moritz, Karl, Alexander and Heinrich. When Heinrich died in 1845, aged only 24, one of the almonds was left off.
However, it was the Assembly of Princes held in Frankfurt in 1863, which really caused the fame of this delicacy to spread far beyond the confines of Frankfurt. This “new confectionery” was served again by Moritz von Bethmann at a soiree held at the Villa Ariadne, the country house of the Bethmann family, near the Friedberger Tor. It was widely applauded by the guests, including the emperor Franz Josef of Austria, 24 princes and four mayors of the free cities. Numerous fairs and coronations held in Frankfurt turned this speciality into a royal delight.
The history of the so-called “Brentenmasse”, which is used to make the Bethmännchen, is far older. The first mention of a marzipan recipe in Frankfurt is found in the “New Kochbuch” (New Cookbook) of Max Rumpolt, of 1581: marzipan is a mass made from ground almonds, with an equal amount of sugar, a little rose water and some egg and flour added.
Towards the end of the 17th century a particular Frankfurt speciality was created, the so-called “Brenten”. The name comes from the English word “print”.
In those days, the mass was shaped in moulds, which were frequently masterpieces of carving, and were then singed in an oven.
Each of the Patrician Frankfurt families had their own recipe, which was strictly guarded. The best known one is that of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s grandmother, which can still be seen today in the Goethehaus in Frankfurt.
When the French chef of the Bethmann family decided to shape this mass into small, bite-sized bits, rather than to bake it in large moulds, they were received enthusiastically.
Soon all confectioners as well as the pastry chefs of the large hotels copied the recipe, which was first recorded by the master confectioner Hahn in his cookbook in 1840, and which, to this day, forms the basic recipe for these “little delicacies”, with only minor changes.