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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daring-bakers-flourless-chocolate-cakeFebruary’s challenge is a Flourless Chocolate Cake – Chocolate Valentino – inspired by Malaysia’s “most flamboyant food ambassador”, Chef Wan.

I hit the jackpot with this the challenge this month.  A rich, flourless chocolate cake is one of my all-time favourite desserts.  I have frequently made flourless chocolate cakes using almond or hazelnut meal.  But this challenge included only a simple mix of chocolate, butter and eggs.

The simplicity of the ingredients really only adds to the complexity …  strangely enough.  I was overwhelmed by the richness and flavour of this superb cake given how few ingredients are included. 

Due to the limited ingredients, however, the end result is enormously influenced by the quality you select.  For that reason I included the best quality chocolate and butter I could afford.  In this case, the chocolate was Callebaut, and the butter was Lurpak.

This cake is incredibly quick and easy to make.  I would highly recommend it for a special occasion or a decadent after-dinner dessert.

{ Chocolate Valentino } Recipe comes from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan

* Ingredients *

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

* Directions *

Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.  While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.  Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).  With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.  Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.  Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.  Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C.  Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.  If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.  Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

The flourless chocolate cake was to be accompanied by homemade ice cream.  A couple of recipes were provided by our hosts.  I enjoy the creamy standard vanilla ice cream recipe from my KitchenAid ice cream maker instruction book so selected that instead.

{ French Vanilla Ice Cream }

This recipe is perfect for the 2-quart capacity of a KitchenAid ice cream maker.

* Ingredients *

1-⅞ cups half-and-half (see note)
6 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1-⅞ cups whipping cream
3 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

* Directions *

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat half-and-half until very hot, but not boiling, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar.  Very gradually, whipping all the while, add half-and-half and mix until blended.  Return half-and-half mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat until small bubbles form around edge and mixture is steamy, stirring constantly. Do not boil.
Transfer half-and-half mixture into large bowl. Stir in whipping cream, vanilla and salt.  Cover and chill thoroughly, at least 8 hours.
Assemble ice cream maker according to directions. Start up ice cream maker and add mixture slowly. Churn until thick, soft-serve consistency is reached.  Remove from ice cream maker.

Note :: Half-and-half is a combination of whole milk and cream (and my ‘creamer’ of choice for coffee when living in America – regrettable for my waistline!). Half-and-half typically contains 10.5 percent to 18 percent fat.  In Australia, use ‘light’ or ‘extra light’ cream.