Almond paste is a dough made from ground almonds and sugar. It is used as a filling in many pastries and desserts, including almond croissants, fruit tarts and cakes. Whole almonds are used to make almond paste after the skins have been removed to give it a uniform color. Some almond pastes have almond extract to add additional almond flavor or a small quantity of glucose syrup to give it a softer texture, but that will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and the two main ingredients will always be almonds and sugar. The almonds for almond paste are ground very fine – much finer than they are for almond meal – so the almond paste has a fairly smooth texture. Almond meal is easy to work with and very versatile. It can be stirred into a cookie dough or combined with eggs and other ingredients to make a tart filling. It also has a very long shelf life, so you can keep it on hand just in case a recipe that calls for it comes up.
Almond paste looks a lot like marzipan and is sold in much the same way, packaged in tubes or tubs. The primary difference between almond paste and marzipan is that marzipan is much sweeter and has a higher sugar-to-almond ratio than almond paste. Marzipan is meant to be eaten as-is, after being rolled out to cover a cake or molded into little pieces of fruit, while almond paste is primarily meant to be used as an ingredient in other recipes and not eaten alone.