A King, a sad Queen and a Sweet Candy.
Provence has many traditions and fantastic stories behind them. This one is the story of a King, a sad Queen, and a sweet candy. If you have traveled to Aix-en-Provence, France you for sure will have noticed in the “la Confiserie” or sweet shops a small almond-shaped candy. Usually, it’s coated with a royal white icing and is sold in a pretty clear gift bag with a ribbon. These small candies are called Calissons and they have a long history in Aix.
Some say Calissons were born in Aix-en-Provence around 1457. They are a pale, smooth paste made of candied fruits (usually melons and oranges) and ground almonds. They are topped with a thin layer of royal icing.
The Story Behind the Candy
The most common legend of how the popular candy was made centers around a very unhappy bride-to-be and her King. Jeanne de Laval of Brittany found herself betrothed to the Good King René of Angers, France. King René was a powerful man and quite wealthy, but he was 24 years Jeanne’s senior with 9 children (3 living at the time) from a previous marriage. At this time in history, a woman had no choice in whom her father chose for her to marry. So a marriage was performed in 1445 between René and Jeanne.
Now, Queen Laval performed all the duties a new queen was expected to do, but it was evident to all that her heart wasn’t in the relationship and she was always homesick. Even though King René showered her with expensive clothing, exquisite jewelry, and banquets, nothing made her happy and there were never any signs of smiles. All this sadness was very disappointing to the king and to the people at court.
In 1457, the couple moved to Aix. Upon arriving in the city of Aix, a celebration was held to welcome the new Queen and introduce her to her people. Hoping to make a good impression on his new bride and perhaps bring some happiness, the king ordered his Italian chef (some say the Calisson is really an Italian candy, not French) to make a surprise dessert for Jeanne’s welcome dinner. A special candy was made of ground almonds and candied fruits. As an afterthought, the chef formed his new creation in the shape of the queen’s always so-sad-eyes, a long triangular-shaped candy.
After dinner, dessert was served. To everyone’s surprise, upon trying the candy the Queen broke into a huge grin for the first time since her marriage. Her subjects were thrilled and felt as if the Queen was giving each one of them a hug through her smiles. We know “little hugs” in the Provençal language look like, “di calin soun”. Hence, the candy became known as, Calisson.
So, who is to say if Queen Jeanne was truly a sad, grumpy lady or did she just need a fun, sweet dessert to make her smile? We will never know but lucky for us the Calisson was invented!
Make your own Calisson
Please enjoy the following recipe from the shop, Confiserie de Roy René in Aix-en-Provence as shared by Epicure & Culture. On a Jackdaw Journeys tour, we have the pleasure of taking an in-house class on making Calissons.
- 100 grams of pruned almonds
- 30 centiliters of water
- 90 grams of candied melon
- 50 grams egg white
- 10 grams of orange peel
- 200 grams of icing sugar
- A little glucose if you have
- In a pot, boil some water and pour in the almonds. Turn off the fire and let the almonds sit in the boiled water for five minutes to hydrate them. Drain them.
- In a blender place the candied melon, orange peel and the almonds. Mix everything.
- In a pot and the sugar and some water (30 centiliters) and the glucose. With a food thermometer let the temperature rise to between 120 and 130°C.
- Add the cooking sugar with candied fruits and almonds. Mix everything until you get dough. Let it cool at room temperature for 24 hours.
- For the icing, beat the (50 grams) of egg white with the icing sugar until you get a smooth consistency (this royal icing has to be smooth).
- With a diamond-shaped pastry cutter, shape your calissons with the dough. With a spatula spread the icing uniformly , and then let it get firm by letting it sit for one-hour at room temperature (it doesn’t have to be like crust, but it should be firm, otherwise it will break).
- After one hour place your calisson on a baking sheet for 5 minutes at 130°C. Leave it to cool.
Serving: 300 grams or 20-25 calissons
Pre Cool: 24 hours
Preparation: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 minutes
Have you tried this or another Calisson recipe, or tasted the treat in Aix-en-Provence? Please share your experiences in the comments below!