Taste: Food & Drink

Calisson d’Aix the Sweet Almond Candy Made in Provence

Candy might not be the reason you decide to visit Aix-en-Provence, but don’t leave town without sampling the famous Calisson d’Aix. These sweets, made with ground, local almonds (sweet and bitter) and a fruit paste blend of melon confit (preserved in sugar) and orange peel, were officially recognised as part of the heritage of the city in 1990. Traditional calisson have three layers; thin host paper on the bottom, the fruit-almond mixture and a light coating of royal icing on top. Typically, a soft-diamond shape calisson are similar in taste to marzipan although not as sweet, in my opinion.

Calisson d'Aix Almond Candy

In the words of French novelist and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol,

“le calisson d’Aix est un mélange de quatre tiers: un tiers d’amandes, un tiers de fruits confits, un tiers de sucre et surtout un tiers de savoir-faire et d’amour du travail bien fait.”

”The Calisson d’Aix is a mixture of four thirds; one-third almonds, one-third fruit confit, one-third sugar, and mostly a third savoir-faire and the love of work well done.”

Calisson d'Aix Almond Candy

Origins, Legends and Benedictions

There are so many obvious Italian influences in the South of France (architecture, cuisine, language, religious symbols) that it is entirely believable that the calisson recipe, or a version of it, originated from Italy. A Medieval Latin text, from the 12th century, used the word calisone in reference to a cake made with almonds and flour. According to the World Public Library, “Among the first known references to calissons was in Martino di Canale’s Chronicle of the Venetians in 1275.”

Calisson d'Aix Candy Press

What came first the Queen or the Plague?

Visit the statue at the end of the Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence honouring the man who was known as Good King René. Roi René of Anjou’s family lineage stretched from Sicily and Naples (his father Duke Louis II held the title of King of Sicily) to modern day Spain (his mother Yolanda of Aragon). Jeanne de Laval was 21-years old when they married Abbey of St. Nicholas in Angers in September 1454. Legend has it that calisson were served at their wedding and the new queen (his second wife) smiled.

The problem with that story is the almond crop in Provence was established later in the 16th century. Although, it is possible that the almonds were imported as there was much trade with merchants from Italy.

Calisson d'Aix Almond Candy

Provence was ravaged by the plague several times starting in 1348, with the worst and most deadly episode occurring in 1629. To this day, in the old town of Aix-en-Provence, there are visible niches at the corner of some streets. Before the Revolution, these were spots for small statues of the Virgin Mary. One strategy to reduce the spread of the plague was to isolate the sick, to restrict movement and human interaction as much as possible. These little statues allowed the residents of Aix to pray from their homes. Visit Aix-en-Provence on a Le Visible est Invisible walking tour to understand more about Provence during this era.

“Calissons are served three times a year – on Sept. 1, Christmas and Easter – at Notre Dame de la Seds to commemorate the end of the great plague of 1630. With its bottom layer of rice, or azym, paper, the calisson replaces the host and is believed to guard against sudden death and contagion. The priest offers the sweetmeats from his chalice, repeating three times ”venite ad calicem” (come to the chalice). The congregation replies, thrice, with the Provencal ”venes toui i calissoun” (we are coming).” Excerpt, from “Provence’s Almond Calissons” (NY Times Travel ).

On the first Sunday in September, there is an annual mass celebrated at the church of St Jean de Malte to bless the calisson. The tradition began in 1630 and continued until the French Revolution. The practice was revived in 1995. The pageantry includes a parade through the ancient streets of Aix with participants wearing traditional dress. The show is followed by a church service to celebrate the end of the plague and the blessing of this sweet candy. You can find all the details on the annual Bénédiction des Calissons d’Aix-en-Provence here.

What is Inside?

Regardless of the exact origin, the recipe for Calisson d’Aix is controlled today by only a handful of manufacturers (Calissonniers). The following is an excerpt from Anne-Marie Simmon’s book “Taking Root in Provence”:

“The Calisson d’Aix is made following a traditional recipe: almonds are ground into flour and then combined with candied local melon and sugar. The paste is shaped and spread on a paper-thin wafer, covered in whipped egg whites and sugar and baked at exactly 130°C for exactly 15 minutes. The seven confectioners operating in Aix who bake calisson must use identical ingredients for 99% of the recipe. The 1% personalised ingredient is what will make each “confiserie” slightly different to their competitors. Calisson Roy René adds 1% orange rind. Another manufacturer adds vanilla.”

Calisson d'Aix Almond Candy

Today, you can find many calisson variations for sale with different flavours and coloured icings. However, the original “Calisson d’Aix” — first created in the 17th century — are produced following strict guidelines. These include:

Location: For the manufacturer to display the official name, they must be located within the Indication géographique protégée (IGP) in one of these seven (7) communes: Aix-en-Provence, Eguilles, Meyreuil, St Marc Jaumegarde, Le Tholonet, Venelles or Vauvenargues.

Ingredients: According to Le Roy René’s website, “The calisson Aix must be manufactured from a crushed candied fruit and almonds blanched complemented by a sugar syrup. The blanched almonds (minimum 32% of the pulp) carefully mixed candied fruit are crushed. Candied fruits account for 30% minimum of the dough. Melon, fruit mainly used (80% of candied fruit) is cultivated exclusively in Provence.”

Size and shape: The Calisson d’Aix is oblong and pointed at both ends. The calisson must have three distinct layers, a slightly granular texture, and no unnatural colouring or preservatives.

Who are the Confectioners?

These are the calissoniers who are members of the l’Union des Fabricants du Calisson d’Aix (UFCA) and adhere to the standards of production.

Pâtisserie – Confiserie Béchard
12 cours Mirabeau
Aix-en-Provence, France 13100
Tel: +33 (0) 4 42 26 06 78

Confiserie Léonard Parli (since 1874)
35 avenue Victor Hugo
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tel: +33 (0)4 42 26 05 71

The factory
95 rue Famille Laurens
Pôle d’Activité des Milles – Sortie n°3
13290 Aix en Provence
Tel: +33 (0)4 42 52 19 20

Confiserie du Roy René (since 1920)
There are several boutiques in France
11 Rue Gaston de Saporta,
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tel: +33 (0)4 42 26 67 86
Factory and Museum
5380 Route d’Avignon,
13089 Aix-en-Provence
Tel: +33 (0)4 42 39 29 90

Calisson d'Aix Roi René

Confiserie Bremond (since 1830)
16 Ter Rue d’Italie
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 72 66 91

Calisson d'Aix Bremond

Chocolaterie Puyricard (since 1960)
Avenue Georges de Fabry
13540 Puyricard
Tel: +33 (0)4 42 28 18 18
You can visit the factory or participate in a workshop

Lou Calissoun
You can find them in the market in Aix (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday)
9, avenue du Dr Bertrand
Quartier Loubassane
13090 Aix-en-Provence
Tel:+ 33 (0)4 42 63 11 51

Confiserie Genis
1 Rue Gaston de Saporta
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tel: +33 (0)4 42 23 30 64

Pâtisserie Weibel (since 1954)
2 rue Chabrier
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tel: +33 (0) 4 42 23 33 21

Confiserie Nouvelle (Hospital)
Petite Calade montée Avignon
2620 chemin Maliverny
Aix-en-Provence

Confiserie Fruidoraix (since 1880)
295 Rue Agate,
13510 Éguilles
Tel: +33 (0)4 42 52 51 80

Confiserie d’Entrecasteaux (since 1889)
40, Impasse Emeri, Pole d’Activite les Jalassières,
13510 Eguilles

NOTE: Many of these companies ship internationally.

Sweet calisson dreams!

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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride was at six-months old, her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

26 Comments

  1. January 31, 2018 at 11:28 pm — Reply

    I’m so drawn to the idea of regional products and their stories that, contrary to my usual shopping behaviour, I have been known to overlook hefty commercial prices and gaudy wrappings. Love a calisson!

    • CKAdmin
      February 1, 2018 at 8:24 am — Reply

      Hello Catherine, I completely agree. Although (sadly) the calisson has become a bit commercialised too.

  2. February 1, 2018 at 12:34 am — Reply

    Oh my goodness: another sweetmeat to add to the Christmas overload. They look delicious and my mouth is watering. I’ll look out for Calissons next time I’m in Provence. Thanks for posting. #AllAboutFrance.

    • CKAdmin
      February 1, 2018 at 8:21 am — Reply

      Bonjour Harriet don’t wait for Christmas! Calisson can be sampled anytime of the year #AllAboutFrance

  3. February 1, 2018 at 1:00 am — Reply

    I love a good calisson but I had no idea they had such a rich history. Thank you for sharing! #AllAboutFrance

    • CKAdmin
      February 1, 2018 at 8:20 am — Reply

      Thank Emily – I love a food with a story, somehow it is even more tasty that way. Have a good #AllAboutFrance day

  4. February 1, 2018 at 1:33 am — Reply

    These look so delicious! I adore the old tin!! It gets me excited for my next visit to France and the wonderful Patisseries there! x #allaboutfrance

    • CKAdmin
      February 1, 2018 at 8:19 am — Reply

      Hello Marina – calisson are delicious, just as good as they look. The traditional ones are my favourites. However, today you can find all sorts of variations on the original theme.

  5. February 1, 2018 at 2:46 am — Reply

    Calissons look delicious. I would love to try them! #AllAboutFrance

    • CKAdmin
      February 1, 2018 at 8:16 am — Reply

      Hello Urska: The calisson are definitely a sweet treat with a history, and they are pretty too.

  6. February 1, 2018 at 3:43 pm — Reply

    Mmm – they do sound good although I suspect fiendishly sweet. I am now wondering if all French regions have their own speciality sweets as we have our caramels up here in Normandy? #AllAboutFrance

    • Carolyne
      February 1, 2018 at 7:43 pm — Reply

      Hi Rosie: That is a good question and my guess is probably. Have you tried Bayonne chocolate? Or of course the canelés from Bordeaux… Thanks for reading

  7. February 2, 2018 at 3:48 am — Reply

    Mmm calissons look delicious and I love the background story. It’s so important that these food traditions are preserved. It;s what makes places like Aix so special #allaboutfrance

    • Carolyne
      February 2, 2018 at 9:27 am — Reply

      Thanks Katy! I love the name of your site and your interest in cultural travel. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. Phoebe | Lou Messugo
    February 2, 2018 at 10:05 am — Reply

    Yum, I love a good calisson, but didn’t know the history. Thanks for sharing with #AllAboutFrance

    • CKAdmin
      February 2, 2018 at 1:08 pm — Reply

      Hi Phoebe I too like calisson, more than I thought I would. Thanks for pulling together #AllAboutFrance

  9. February 3, 2018 at 7:33 am — Reply

    What an interesting post! I must admit I haven’t tried a calisson – yet! I love almost anything with almond, so I’m guessing these would be right up my street!

    • CKAdmin
      February 3, 2018 at 7:46 am — Reply

      Hello June if you like almonds and sweet treats you will most likely love calisson. Thanks for reading Perfectly Provence.

  10. February 3, 2018 at 1:43 pm — Reply

    You had me hooked at almond … these look divine #AllAboutFrance

    • Carolyne
      February 3, 2018 at 7:01 pm — Reply

      Hi Catherine – LOL I love almonds too. Thanks for reading Perfectly Provence.

  11. February 4, 2018 at 11:14 am — Reply

    I’ll have to see if I can order some of these. I’ve tried many French delicacies, but to my shame, never the Calisson – and they sound delicious. #AllAboutFrance

    • Carolyne
      February 4, 2018 at 12:34 pm — Reply

      Hello Nell: you can definitely order calisson, most of the manufacturers ship world-wide. Enjoy the #TastesofProvence and thanks for reading Perfectly Provence!

  12. February 14, 2018 at 5:47 am — Reply

    Yum! I just happen to have some and I think I’ll go eat one now. This seams to happen every time I read about food – I get a craving. So if I gain weight, I’m blaming you! 🙂

    • CKAdmin
      February 14, 2018 at 8:04 am — Reply

      Enjoy the sweet bite! Happy Valentine’s Day to you.

  13. Julie Whitmarsh
    February 28, 2018 at 6:20 am — Reply

    I love Calissons & it’s nice to know the history of them too…. That delightful gentle almond flavour is always a real treat – at any time of year! #AllAboutFrance

    • CKAdmin
      February 28, 2018 at 7:54 am — Reply

      Hi Julie we agree calisson are delicious anytime of the year. Thanks for reading this post.

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