Calissons (Calissooun is the Occitan language) are a traditional provençal candy consisting of a thin layer of royal icing on the top, a purée of hand-picked finely ground premium almonds mixed with candied melon and orange peels, and finally a thin wafer bed (potato starch and water) on the bottom. They are gluten-free and dairy-free. They are part of the traditional thirteen desserts for the Holiday Season in Provence.
They have a texture similar to that of marzipan, but not as sweet and with a fruitier, distinctly melon-like flavor. If you love marzipan, you will definitely appreciate this delicate confectionery.
Why are they almond-shaped?
History and legends
Although the creation and the name of this confectionery was originally very controversial, it has become a popular and well-loved symbol of Provence and has made Aix-en-Provence the capital of the calisson.
The calisson is believed to have its origins in medieval Italy. An earlier 12th century text written in Medieval Latin used the word ‘calissone’ to refer to a cake made with almonds and flour.
Some think that calissons date further back to Antiquity when Romans created candies with honey and almond that would protect the population from plague and cholera owing to their nutritive quality. The legend says that priests would bless the calissons for their benefits and they still do nowadays at the church Saint-Jean-de-Malte at the beginning of September every year. They argue the name ‘calisson’ has a religious connotation referring to the 'venite ad calicem' at Easter and Christmas, translated into 'venes touti au calissoum' in Provençal. For them, the almond shape represents Jesus-Christ's bed or the alcoves in the Cistercian churches.
Others, maybe more romantic, trace the introduction of calissons to Provence at the second wedding of King Rene of Anjou in 1454. It is said the King’s confectioner had created this confectionery for his marriage with Jeanne de Laval who was reputed not to be cheerful and rather severe. When she tasted this candy, her face lit up and she started to smile. When she asked what it was, she was answered 'di câlin souns' ( these are hugs in Provençal dialect). Thus, the almond-shape was to remember her beautiful smile, whereas others said that the King’s confectioner had chosen this shape because he found the Queen’s eyes were beautiful.Who was Léonard Parli? Throughout the centuries and till the beginning of the 20th century, the Swiss had to leave their mountains and villages to earn their living in other countries. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Napoleonian empire, the Grison valleys in Switzerland were deeply affected by the widespread misery.Swiss immigrants were highly reputed as skilled and honest workers, not only in many sectors such as watchmaking and trading, but also in confectionery. First, they established themselves in Marseilles, which became the capital of delicacies in the 18th century.Another wave of Swiss newcomers decided to settle down in Aix, first employed by local pastry shops thanks to their expertise at candying fruits and making delectable jams. Shortly after, many opened their own business, like Léonard Parli who became a pioneer in the industry in 1874 and specialized in the making of calissons. What makes Maison Léonard Parli’s calissons different today? The Living Heritage Company Léonard Parli has been perpetuating the traditional and artisanal know-how of the calissons d’Aix-en-Provence since 1874. It is a veritable institution in the confectionery industry renowned for the inimitable taste and texture of the paste of the calisson d’Aix-en-Provence.Its delectable taste results from rigorously selected ingredients, including the candied melons and orange peels, hand-made according to tradition by Léonard Parli’s confectioners, as well as the quality of the whole almonds. Contrary to the industrialized processes which crush the almonds too fast and too much, the stone grinder they still use to slowly crush the almonds and candied fruits together give the calissons a unique and flavourful grainy texture.
Last but not least, Léonard Parli quantity of almonds and candied fruits is much more generous than any others: 44% candied fruits, 42% of almonds. A real delight that Douce France carries from Aix-en-Provence for you!