Calissons in San Diego

8 10 2010

Ah, finally we get to try traditional French calissons. Maison en Provence, a cute shop in Mission Hills carrying specialties of the Provence region, recently started carrying calissons. They are from Chabert et Guillot in Montelimar, who appear to be particularly known for their nougat.

You can see in the picture how it breaks with a coarse crumble, but is moistly holding together. This version seems to have more water/sugar syrup than ours, is brighter orange in color, and is not ground quite as finely. I think the slightly coarser grind may help in bringing out more melon flavor — the very fine grind seems to swamp out the floral notes. The flavor reminds me of fruitcake with the almonds, candied fruit, and moist cake-like texture.


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!