If you’ve ever dabbled in food blogging, you know that it is quite the strange way of life. You spend most free moments thinking of gorgeous food to make. Then you make it and it looks aaaahhhmazing and tastes divine. And you sit around for a while being totally stoked about how awesome you are. Send a few snaps to your friends to make them drool a bit. Then you clean up the mess you’ve made, put your newest creation into the freezer portioned into either lunchtime meals or bulk baggies for weekend breakfasts, and drop onto the couch. Then you take out your phone or computer and promote other blogger content and gush about their totally creative recipes and food shots. And thennnn you get hungry sometime later and eat some crackers washed down with Diet Coke or something.
I can’t tell you how many times I am writing a tweet at lunch about my most recent post when I look down to discover I am eating a granola bar or some depressed spinach leaves. How phony, right? Sometimes I do have really great lunches leftover from those blog shoots. But by then I am probably sick of it because I’ve recipe tested everything, so I’ve been eating the same leftovers for a while.
Isn’t that sad?
Well I say no more. I think we all deserve to make something dainty and totally delicious and feel fancy for days (if they last that long) while you nibble on them. Something that won’t just be a one-and-done recipe. Something that makes sitting in front of a marathon of House new and exciting and transports you somewhere blissful (not that House isn’t a show that does that already—I love that show. But you know what I mean). Because that’s what food is supposed to do! Food bloggers, readers, kitchen novices alike. Calissons are for you!
Calissons are like a cross between a dryish tea cookie and marzipan. Typically made with dried fruits and nuts, this paste-like dough is rolled out, cut into shapes, glazed, and left to dry. And voila! That’s it. Just different enough to hold your attention for weeks as a quick nosh to spice things up if need-be, but super easy and rewarding. The best part? Calissons are pretty much exclusively made in Provence, France, but Molly came up with a foolproof recipe that will get you pretty darn close to the real thing. So you can feel like you’re in France when you eat these, but you can also get the ingredients at your local grocer without breaking the bank.
These babes are glazed with a royal icing which traditionally uses egg whites and powdered sugar to make a hard icing…wait…egg whites? Egg whites are mostly water, but they’re also chock-full of proteins. If you’ve ever mixed water and powdered sugar together to make a glaze, you know that it either creates this drippy substance that has no stand-up (clearly a glaze as it leaves a sugary trail but no real decorative merit) or a rock-hard pile of powdered sugar if you try to add less water.
Egg whites to the rescue! Egg white proteins intertwine with those sugar molecules and take up space in the water as they unfold after we beat the heck out of them. This makes an icing that is stable and holds its structure much like a meringue. That’s why this icing is so popular for anywhere you need to do some serious decorating. Fun fact: royal icing is also bright white because the proteins scatter light so effectively when they’re whipped.
Brush up on some egg white science with this post. There are cocktails involved…
I, however, cheat on my royal icing. I like to use meringue powder which is sacrilegious for a lot of pastry people. But hey! I am all for working smarter, not harder. Just keep reading! Meringue powder is actually a mixture of dried egg whites and a tiny bit of cornstarch to prevent clumping. There are also sometimes some gums in there to help the powder rehydrate much more easily. If you’re feeling uneasy right now, it’s not scary at all! I swear. In fact, I like to take advantage of these ingredients added for our convenience.
First we mix the meringue powder with some lemon juice with a quick flick of the wrist and make it all frothy to get that protein unraveling going (the acid helps with this!). But we don’t actually need to go all the way with egg beating. Add the powdered sugar, and we’ve basically got royal icing that stands up just like the old-school stuff. But how? Well powdered sugar is actually really small sugar crystals mixed with cornstarch to prevent clumping. (seeing a theme?) So we’ve got cornstarch all up in here whose job it is to thicken when hydrated. Add to that the gums from the meringue powder in such small amounts that we have just enough magical natural thickening power to create the trademark stiffness. The protein denaturation that was partially accomplished earlier creates the overall body, but the other stuff gets us all the way there and does the hard work for us.
Now this royal icing may not be as shiny because only stiff egg whites can create this. But honestly, I never do serious ‘I’m-getting-paid-for-this’ decorating and usually use royal icing to create some cool designs (that look like crap because I’m too impatient) or simply have an icing that doesn’t run off the sides of my cookies. So if you’re looking to ice like the pros, you go ahead and beat those egg whites. But I think we can kind of Sandra Lee this one…
So I just have one more thing to add. Because this post is waaaay longer than I originally envisioned. You know how Calissons are super French and fancy feeling? Well last week just happened to be the anniversary of Breakfast at Tiffany’s which is also fancy feeling and absolutely marvelous, so you should probably watch Audrey while you make these…
Calissons with Lemon Royal Icing
Adapted from My Name is Yeh
¼ cup dried apricots
½ cup roasted, unsalted almonds
½ cup roasted pistachios (I actually used salted because it provided a nice salty, sweet contrast)
6 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
A pinch of salt (if using unsalted pistachios)
1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoon water
Lemon Royal Icing
1 teaspoon meringue powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup powdered sugar
- In a food processor grind the almonds and pistachios until they are broken down and beginning to form a paste. Add the apricots and grind until everything comes together and keep going until it becomes gummy.
- Add the sugar and salt and pulse—the mixture will become cumbly. Keep the food processor running and add the lemon juice and water slowly. The mixture will come together to form a dough. At this point turn the food processor off.
- Dust your counter with powdered sugar and roll the calisson dough out on top. Cut into desired shapes placing them on parchment-lined baking sheets. Set aside.
- Make the icing by whisking together the meringue powder and lemon juice until frothy (if you’re patient, beat until firm in your stand mixer, but we don’t need perfection for these, so feel free to skimp a bit). Add the powdered sugar. Spread on top of the calissons and let dry.
- Eat to heart’s content and store in an airtight container if there are any left. I ate most of mine while they were drying 😉 Bon Appétit!