Immediately recognizable because of its distinctive diamond shape, this delicious confection made with almonds and candied melons is synonymous with Provence.
A little bit of history. Ancient Greeks and Romans already had the idea of mixing almonds and candied fruits. In the 12th century, Italian monks produce a cake made of flour and almonds called Calisone. It is used during religious celebrations. After the introduction of the almond tree in the south of France, the calisson appears for the first time in Aix-en-Provence: blessed by the archbishop and presented in chalices, it is offered to the people on September 1st to celebrate the end of the black plague of 1630. From then on, it will be distributed three times a year at the church of Notre-Dame de la Seds in Aix, for Christmas, Easter and September 1st. In keeping with their religious heritage, the calissons were said to prevent evil and diseases, and were especially appreciated by those looking for forgiveness of their sin of gluttony...
In the 19th century, the calisson gradually looses its religious connotation: Aix is now the main market for the almond trade in Europe and an important confectionery center as well. Once considered a unique treat that was served only on special occasions, the calisson has become known throughout France as one of the finest gourmet delicacies. Hurt by the technological revolution and the industrial concentrations that followed World War II, many confectioners closed their doors. Nowadays, a few pâtissiers make their own calissons and sell them locally, but only eight confectioners in Aix still manufacture them for the French market and foreign trade.
Four centuries of tradition and craftsmanship. Making calissons still relies on the craft and experience of the local confectioners. What gives the calissons such a distinctive aroma and flavor is the use of the almonds grown in Provence: they contain a very low percentage of bitter almonds. Making this confection is a two step process. First, the almonds are hulled, blanched, finely ground and added to candied melons of Cavaillon and fruit syrups in a proportion of 40% almonds to 60% fruit and syrup.Then, a thin sheet of unleavened bread is placed on a tray, the diamond-shape molds are set on the tray and filled with the almond-fruit paste. Finally, the calissons are coated with a velvety white icing, removed from their molds and dried for a brief moment in a hot oven. After cooling off, they are packed in their traditional diamond-shape boxes.
Proud of their product (and anxious to protect its heritage and originality), the confectioners of Aix hold an "appellation d'origine" patent on the calisson and its distinctive shape. No other confection is quite like it: it is neither a cookie, nor a candy but its aroma and color evoke the light and the subtle flavors of Provence.