What is a Calisson, you ask? Well, a calisson is a confection combining candied fruit and almonds, originating in Aix-en-Provence. Dana Confection Co. was established by Rachel Dana and thanks to her passion for confection, she’s brought these calissons to the States!
Have you always been passionate about design?
I have always been passionate about art and creating by hand. As a kid, I was constantly making things, learning how to draw, making silly jewelry, yet curiously never experimenting in the kitchen. This brought me to RISD, where I majored in film. I paint, I’ve worked as a botanical illustrator, love knitting, and Calisson making really is an artistic process as well.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft/field?
My discovery of CSAs in 2003, starting my own veggie garden, and working on a farm really solidified my love for using seasonal produce and fruit, and cooking from scratch. An obsession with confections started about 6 years back while I was living in Brazil. I was researching and experimenting with all sorts of goodies, and I discovered these beautiful Calissons, which of course I could never find where I lived in Brazil. The only way I could make them was to candy cantaloupes, which are hard to come by there. The first coffee shop I showed them too immediately ordered them to serve with expresso and I ran with it, selling them in all sorts of different shops and eventually making them at a restaurant.
Candying fruit is the most important aspect of what we do and I am particularly fascinated with preservation methods. I love using the traditional slow method and creating these perfect candied gems. I love going to the farms and picking up my fresh seasonal fruit. I will soon be growing my own fruit for this process. I love that I can supply bars with fruit syrups that are a by-product of the candying process – flavors that they can’t get anywhere else.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
We are lucky to be one of the very few companies to make Calissons outside of France, and their beautiful and unique shape, colors, and flavors really help to make them stand out from other confections. We are also very lucky to work with a great design team, Gander Design.
Our process is fun. We take seasonal fruit fresh from the farm and candy it over around a month. It is soaked in increasing concentrations of syrup until fully candied. I love trying out everything, juneberries (one of our best!), red currants, melons of course, Balaton cherries, etc., and this year I want to do full mini watermelons to see what happens. Fruit that hasn’t worked for Calissons, such as pink gooseberries, are dehydrated and used in our yummy nougat.
After the candying process is complete we have not only the fruit pieces, but an amazingly delicious fruit syrup. We have started selling our fruit syrups to bars and restaurants in Brooklyn. 61 Local will feature our melon syrup this spring paired with their sour beer, Hail Mary is opening in May/June and will feature a variety of syrups in their cocktails, and more on the horizon.
Each fruit is paired with a different herbal or floral flavor. My friend has a rooftop in Greenpoint where we grow most of the herbs we use for our Calissons, as well as tomatoes and other veggies.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Failures happen constantly when experimenting with food, especially using an uncommon process. I had to teach myself how to candy fruit and sometimes I got it wrong. No waste is important, so I just try to use these for different candies!
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
Really every time someone tries a Calisson for the first time and I get to see the look on their face of appreciation for a new taste is a proud moment. I love introducing people to new things.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
I’d say the region I live in influences my work. We want to bring regional flavors to this traditional French candy, and every farm I build a relationship with is a big part of our work.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
Working on my own gardens and at a farm really gave me experience and an appreciation of the possibilities of working with the seasonal produce. Plus, working with a great chef in Brazil, learning larger production at Balthazar Bakery in Soho, and working for pastry chef / restauranteur Sohla El-Waylly and her constant fun experimenting ways has been of massive value.
What are some inspirations for your work?
Growing a plant from seed that I will use in my confections. French love for beautiful design that spreads into their food creations. Food preservation methods, old recipes, traditional recipes, hard to find local goodies from around the world. Stopping in every bakery and sweet shop in any remote village, tasting family recipes.