Confectioner Rachel Dana first encountered the calisson in 2012 on a trip to Aix-en-Provence, its principal habitat. Back home in Brooklyn, she started tinkering with the traditional recipe, drawing flavor inspiration from seasonal fruits and her own home-made herbal and spice extracts.
Part cookie, part candy, calissons d’Aix are made using a paste of blanched almonds and crystallized fruit; melon and citrus are traditional choices. The pulp is candied in syrup, then mixed with almond paste and confectioner’s sugar, and the sticky dough is rolled and cut into lozenge shapes. They’re traditionally topped by a sheen of royal icing.
Larousse Gastronomique dates these sweetmeats to the 17th century, suggesting the name derives from the Provençal calissoun, from the Latin cana, reed, after the wiry stands used by confectioners to display their wares. The origins may be much earlier, though, with the confections arising in 13th-century Italy and entering southern France only in the 1600s once almonds became more widely planted there.
In 2015, Rachel Dana launched Dana Confection Co. to sell her calissons, nougats, pâte de fruits, and fruit syrups locally and via direct order. I recently tasted three flavors of her calissons, plus her utterly brilliant nougat.
Calissons are chewy and not too sweet despite the crunch of sugar on top. They get a tangy lift from the candied fruits and snappy, piquant notes from herbs, spices, flowers, and other essences. If you’re serving them with a dessert wine, try fino or amontillado sherry for the resonant notes of nut and cherrystone. Eat them fresh, as they harden quickly in air.
Cherry star anise: The cherry flavor blooms in a sharp tart burst amid hints of exotic spice.
Black currant jasmine: Suffused with clean black currant flavor without the raw fruit’s grit and bite. Flowery jasmine adds a sweet lift.
Melon blossom: Melon’s a nod to this sweet’s history, and its flavor is subtle and white-floral, a wisp of lily mingling with sweet honeydew.
Rachel Dana’s nougat is typical of the style traditional in Montélimar, in Provence, with its mix of almonds and pistachios. But hers offers a delicious, inventive twist.
Black olive, pistachio, almond: A barely sweet, glossy paste is studded by chunks of buttery pistachios and almonds and flecked with Moroccan cured black olives. The salt hits you first, bracing against the crunch of nut and savory olives and the chewy honey nougat. It’s a genius flavor combination.
Dana Confection Co.
Tiny Drumstick Kitchen
48-18 Van Dam St.
Brooklyn, NY 11101
Confections were samples for review.