Calisson single

You feel you are there with them.  Peter Mayle and his wife in Luberon, Provence, in the vivid, light-hearted autobiographical story, A Year in Provence.  Before the end of the first page, I was utterly charmed.  You are transported to the south of France, and share the adventures of a year, with Peter and his wife, in this striking part of the world.  I close my eyes and instantly see every inch of detail described.  From the 200 year old stone farmhouse the author bought, the grape vines on his property, his charming and sometimes unconventional neighbours, the clandestine tricks of the locals during truffle hunting, the dramatic changes in weather, and the endless food and gastronomic meals.

Peter speaks of a visit to Aix, and colourfully illustrates his observations the local student population.  The entertaining performance of the arrival, greeting and the ritual kissing of the students.  I read with a smile on my face, as I can picture each move.  Then my eyes wander to an illustration in the book.  A young girl sitting in a café, with the obligatory glass of Pastis, joined at the table by a box of Calisson d’Aix.

Calisson d’Aix is a speciality of Aix-en-Provence.  A tiny diamond shaped sweet, made with ground almonds and candied fruits and finished with white royal icing.  They are traditionally served with coffee after dessert.  Admittedly, I have been enjoying any time of day, and believe they would be a delightful addition to any holiday season table.  The addition of orange flavoured liqueur to the almond candied fruit mixture, is simply festive.Calisson set2

They are very simple to make, and a perfect make-ahead sweet.  The almond mixture comes together quickly, and then dries overnight.  The royal icing is then applied and allowed to set.  Lastly, the sweets are cut into the distinctive diamond/petal shapes.

My baking provisions regrettably do not contain such a distinctive shape.  Some recipes suggest cutting by hand yet I lack a steady hand so that was off the cards.  After a few moments staring at my supplies, I had a vision.  I immediately picked up a round cookie cutter with the visualisation of a Venn diagram in my head.  (Bravo my statistics degree is finally paying dividends towards my baking!)

I simply used each side of the round cookie cutter to mimic a diamond/petal shape.  Too simple for words – and no new shape required.  See ‘both A + B’ attached if you are unfamiliar with the Venn diagram.

I noticed many recipes included a candied melon that I was having much difficulty in obtaining.  So I was happy to find this version by Jacques Torres that omitted the melon, and included a healthy dose of Grand Marnier.

{ Calisson d’Aix } recipe courtesy Jacques Torres

* Ingredients *
1 pound plus 2 ounces (500 grams) almond paste
1/4 cup or 2 ounces (50 grams) candied orange peel
2 tablespoons (50 grams) fresh apricots puree or apricots jam
1 teaspoon honey
2 to 4 tablespoons (25 to 50 grams) Grand Marnier
Royal Icing, recipe follows

* Directions *
The candied orange I use is quite soft. You can candy your own or buy it in the store. If the one you buy is hard, rehydrate it in some sugar syrup.
Place the almond paste, candied orange, apricot puree, honey and Grand Marnier to the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with a paddle and mix until combined (you can also knead together by hand). You may need to adjust the amount of Grand Marnier depending on the texture of the paste. Roll out the almond paste mixture to 3/8-inch thick layer. I used some 3/8-inch thick rulers as guides so my almond paste would be rolled perfectly flat. You could use 2 wooden spoons. Let this sit overnight uncovered

Use an offset spatula to spread a 1/16-inch thick layer of Royal Icing on top of the rolled almond paste. Place this in the freezer until the Royal Icing sets, about 30 minutes, uncovered.

Use a sharp chef’s knife coated with vegetable cooking spray to cut the Calisson d’Aix into diamond shapes.

{ Royal Icing }

* Ingredients *
1 large egg white
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced and strained

* Directions *
Combine the egg white and powdered sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until opaque and shiny, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and continue whipping until completely incorporated, about 3 minutes. The lemon juice whitens the royal icing. The royal icing should be light, fluffy, and slightly stiff. You may need to adjust the consistency by adding more egg whites if the icing is too dry or more powdered sugar if it is too wet.

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