Calisson is a type of soft candy originating in France, specifically in the Provençal region. It is often shaped like an almond or a diamond and has a frosting of white royal icing. It is primarily made of a paste created by grinding almonds and candied fruits, usually of melons and oranges. It is said to have a similar texture to that of a fondant or marzipan, but what makes it distinct is its fruity taste from the candied fruit. This chewy candy is still traditionally and largely produced in Aix-en-Provence, a town in Provence.
There are different accounts as to how the calisson got its name, one of which narrates how the candy originated from Italy around the 17th century. The candy was known in the Italian language as “calicem” or “calisone,” and was believed to have the power to counter the bubonic plague. Before it was eaten, the candy would undergo a ritual wherein the archbishop would bless it before distributing it to those who believed in the candy’s power. When the candy was introduced in France, its name was altered to “calissoun” and then to “calisson.”
Another story dates further back in the 15th century, during the wedding of French King Rene of Anjou and Queen Jeanne de Laval, his second wife who was reputed to have never smiled. When the queen was served with some sweets created in her honor, she smiled, making the courier react by saying, “Di calin soun,” or “They are sweet.” In this way, the sentence was made into the word “calisson.”
Traditionally, the calisson usually undergoes two major steps: preparing its dough and its actual molding. When the paste is made and the orange fruit is not included, the fruit’s peel is integrated into the paste to give the candy a tangy taste. Some recipes suggest soaking the candied fruits in almond liqueur to give the candy more of the almond flavor. The paste is then treated to a water bath, wherein the container holding the paste is placed on a larger container that has water in it before putting it in the oven.
Once the paste is cooked and cooled, it is rolled into a rectangular shape on a piece of wax or wafer paper. The paste is then cut into equal strips, which are then cut into small diamond shapes. The candies are dipped into or smeared with royal icing and are left to be cooled for the icing to harden. Modern calisson factories use trays that are incorporated with diamond molds to create uniformly-shaped candies.