Calissons

1 08 2010

Our latest candy obsession has been calissons.

They are similar to marzipan, but have ground candied fruit, particularly melon and orange, in addition to almonds. The paste rests on wafer paper and is covered by royal icing.

Calissons have quite the history and lore regarding their name and origins. They are a specialty of Aix en Provence where they have been made in a semi-industrialized process since the 1800’s. This region of Provence was well known for it’s almonds until the early 1900’s and melons are still celebrated with an annual festival in the nearby Cavaillon. Prior to the Aix factories, they date to the middle ages, possibly coming from Italian monasteries, although they are often attributed as being first made for King Rene’s (the last king of Provence) second wedding in 1454. They retained a religious significance for some time and were said to protect from the plague.

It seems like a simple candy, but finding a recipe for these things has proved challenging. In seemingly reputable descriptions (like here, here, and here), they indicate ground almonds, ground candied fruit, and sugar or syrup from the candied fruit, but fail to provide actual directions. The ground paste is molded on top of wafer paper and then topped with royal icing as you can see in this video. The result is an almond shaped confection.

There is another version that contains egg yolk and heavy cream that seems like it just can’t be right, and others that seem close, but simplified, with ground almonds and jam. MFK Fisher even has a contribution in her book Map of Another Town. She gives the recipe (you can search for it in the Amazon book) from a factory that she never seems to get around to visiting — a pint of blanched almonds, a pound of sugar, and a few tablespoons of fruit syrup — no mention of candied fruit itself and no candied melon.

We decided that we needed to re-engineer the recipe. We based it on Greweling’s marzipan recipe, which is 50% almonds, but decreased the almonds and added candied fruit and syrup. We changed the recipe to about 35% almonds, 30% candied Cavaillon melon, 5% candied Seville orange rind, and 30% melon syrup + a little honey.

Usually, the candied Cavaillon melon is the most difficult ingredient to source. You can find it online, but it is prohibitively expensive for candy making. You can make it yourself if you can find a really good cantaloupe-ish melon. Cavaillon melons are a type a cantaloupe with a strong, honeyed flavor that is just wonderful. We get ours at the Chino Farm, but they seem like they are becoming more common at farmer’s markets and the like. It can be candied like any other fruit by letting it sit in progressively stronger sugar solutions until it is translucent and the solution is about 75% sugar. It can be dried to look more like candied fruit or drained briefly and used for cooking, as in this recipe.

The almonds we get at Terra Bella Ranch, which have the benefit of being very fresh with a clear almond flavor. Unlike European almonds, though, these do not have any additional flavor from the occasional bitter almond. So, we add a little pure almond extract to compensate.

Here’s our current calisson recipe:

350g almonds
300g drained candied Cavillon melon
50g drained candied Seville orange peel
350g syrup from melons
60g lavender honey (not the infused kind — the kind from bees feeding on lavender)
1/4 t. pure almond extract

The syrup is 75% sugar, but gets cooked to ~88% sugar, so it is >30% to compensate. The honey is in place of glucose in the recipe and is characteristic of Provence, which is renowned for their lavender honey. Historically, fruits were often candied in honey, so this is probably consistent with some version in the past.

To make the paste, we use the same method as Greweling’s marzipan. We blanched the almonds in water for 5 min, removed the skins, lightly ground them with the fruit in a food processor. This gives a roughly chopped mixture:

We boiled the syrup to 244F, poured over the fruit/almonds, lightly stirred and let cool on a marble slab.

This recipe is a little too wet, I think and the above image is probably too moist. We actually microwaved this for 1-2 min to reduce some of the water, let cool, and then proceeded with grinding. We ground the mixture to a paste in 2 batches with the almond extract in the food processor for about 8 minutes per batch. Greweling specifies a commercial processor, but our home 11-cup version works just fine. You just wouldn’t want to make too much, as the motor gets pretty hot. This resulted in a fine, smooth paste that was sticky when warm, but smooth when cool.

After this cooled, we rolled it out onto wafer paper (rice paper, but made of potato starch, available here) using .375 inch aluminum bars as guides.

If you try to cut this immediately, it is pretty sticky. But, if you leave it overnight, it hardens on the outside and becomes much easier to cut. We cut them with a slightly oiled knife, using the aluminum bar as a guide.

Although these are usually molded into tapered almond-shaped diamonds, candies like this have historically been cut into diamonds for centuries. Since we don’t have a mold, we have opted for the cut diamonds. After cutting, they are dipped into royal icing and set out overnight to harden.

These are a pretty subtle, but quite addictive candy. They are not terribly sweet and are floral from the melon and orange. I felt the honey and the almond extract really helped to bring all the flavors together. It is much like marzipan, but with a lot more character — in a light, fruity, flowery sort of way.

We’ll have to run these by the French folks in our lives to verify that they are close to the real deal (we haven’t tried the real deal yet!), but we’re quite happy with their flavor. I think a badge will be in our not too distant future!

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6 responses

10 09 2010
Marielle Giai

Waow !! i’m sooo impressed ! I should have some Calissons from Aix en provence soon…we haven’t have any the last 2 years. Nobody was importing them anymore. I can let you know when they’re in . If you email me , I’ll have your email too 🙂 Keep the good work !
Marielle
PS: We have a little farmer’s market in Mission Hills now: friday 3-7pm next to the shop ….the guy who sells fish has the best fish in town…and he often has fresh live sea urshin!!

28 12 2010
gil

Thanks so much for the informative and detailed post. How did it go with any feedback about your calissons? Did you tweak the recipe further?

1 02 2011
murat

Hii,
When do you use melon and orange and honey in the recipe?
Thanks

2 02 2011
Erin

Hi there — the candied fruit gets chopped up with the almonds in the food processor and the honey is combined with the syrup and boiled.

5 07 2011
helen

Hey, I love your recipe, it is indeed hard to find one for calissons. I was wondering if you could more thoroughly explain to me how to make candied melon? I found some recipes online, but they all include only melon rind. Did you use the rind or the fruity part? Thnaks!

7 07 2011
Erin

Hi Helen,

Thanks! Peter Greweling in Chocolates and Confections (not sure about the home version) gives the most in depth description that I have seen, but he requires a refractometer to test the sugar concentration. The basic idea is you blanch the fruit to damage the cells a bit and make it easier for the sugar to permeate. Then, you start with a 40-45% sugar syrup, bring the fruit to a boil with the syrup, take off the heat, and let sit for a day in the syrup. The next day, you strain the fruit out, add a bit more sugar to the syrup to make a 5% more concentrated syrup, bring to a boil again, and add the fruit back. Let sit and repeat the next day. Eventually, at around 75% sugar or about 7-10 days, the candy is translucent. Larger fruits require a slower progression. Here’s an example that worked, but you’d want to scale it for the weight of your fruit.

Day1: 560g melon, cut into 1/4 inch slices and blanched in boiling water for 1 min; 400g water, 330g sugar.
Day2: add 70g sugar
Day3: add 70g sugar
Day4: add 120g sugar
Day5: add 120g sugar
Day6: add 120g sugar
Day7: add 150g sugar
Day8: bring syrup to 220F and let sit with fruit for 2 days.

Good luck!

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