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Almond Paste Sweets

19 December 2013 / 13:12:35  GRReporter
3346 reads

Danielle Lachana

Today we remain in the Provence region of France for the second part of ''Le Gros Souper'' (The Great Supper), a highlight of the Christmas Eve Festivities. As mentioned in last week's article, the first part of the meal comprises 7 ''simple'' meatless dishes (7 for the sorrows of the Virgin Mary) and is followed, after the Midnight Mass, by  the contrasting abundance and rejoicing of ''Les treize desserts de Noel'' - the 13 desserts of Christmas. Here the number 13 is again of religious significance since the dishes honour Jesus and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper.

Traditionally the 13 sweet treats include: fresh local fruits, 4 kinds of dried fruits and nuts (figs, almonds, raisins, hazelnuts), dates, nougat, sweet olive oil bread, quince paste or crystallised fruits, thin waffles, chocolates, fortified wine and almond paste sweets.

It is the latter, the almond paste sweets - called ''Calissons'' in Provence - which feature in today's recipe.

Calissons are a specialty of the Aix region of Provence, well known for its almonds, and are said to date back to the Middle ages, - at least to the 15th century when they are believed to have first been made for the last king of Provence's second wedding.

These sweets traditionally include candied melon (Provence is also known for its winter melons )  which is not so readily found outside Provence, hence the substitution provided in the ingredients. However, if you would like to try making your own candied melon you can follow this link, although I recommend leaving out the spices when using the melon for these almond sweets.

Candied melon

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RECIPE FOR THE ALMOND PASTE SWEETS

(Makes about 20)

 

METHOD

 Finely chop the candied fruits and blend in a food processor, together with the marmalade and the orange flower water, until a puree is formed.

Mix the ground almonds and icing sugar in a pan and heat gently for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, to help dry out the almonds.

Transfer to a large bowl and add the puree in teaspoons. Mix in roughly to coat then beat well (preferably in a mixer as this is hard work by hand!) until a mass starts to form. Do not over-mix or it will become too sticky. Roll out on top of a sheet of rice paper (or parchment baking paper) . Since the mixture may be a little sticky it helps to also put a sheet of baking  paper on top when rolling. You should aim for a thickness of a little under 1 cm.

Leave to dry out for 1 hour.

Cover with a sheet of baking paper and turn over on to an ovenproof baking sheet / tray.

Cut into diamonds about 5 cm long with a damp knife. Alternatively you can cut into shapes with cutters (dampen them first if the mixture is sticky).

 

 

The traditional distinctive shape of the Calissons is hard to achieve without a special cutter but here it is below, after icing, for reference:

 

For the Icing

METHOD

Beat the egg whites with the icing sugar in a bowl to a homogeneous, thin, runny paste.  Coat the Calissons evenly with it smoothing with a damp knife or spatula but not allowing the icing to run down the sides. Wipe off any excess icing.

 

Leave to dry for another hour.

Bake for around 10 minutes in a preheated very slow oven at 130 C (250 F, Gas mark ½ ) until the icing has hardened a little, but do not allow it to colour.

Leave to cool completely. Store in an airtight container away from heat and humidity. If the Calissons become sticky, leave out of the container to dry again for around 1 hour before serving.

Next week we will return to Greece with a traditional recipe to welcome in the New Year...

Tags: almond sweets Provence Aix Calissons Gros Souper Noel Christmas Treize desserts
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