WHEN Christine Moore left her job as a pastry chef at Les Deux Cafes to stay home with her baby in 1999, she started fiddling around with sugar and fire. Eventually she came up with extraordinary sea salt caramels -- she pushes the salty-sweet balance to the edge -- that are blissfully silky and chewy.
Today, dozens of stores around the country carry her Little Flower Candy Co. caramels (sea salt, lemon and vanilla flavors) and marshmallows (cinnamon, coffee and vanilla). They're all made in her small production kitchen in Hollywood. Now, with two kids, she's grateful to have a business that allows her to turn off the stove, take off her apron and go to the kids' Halloween pageant. When the stores call frantically begging for more candy, she refuses to get caught up in a frenzy. "It's only candy," she says.
Yes, but what candy.
We checked in with Moore at her home in Mount Washington between deliveries:
Question: How did you come up with the sea salt caramels?
Answer: When I lived in Paris, I ate Brittany caramels from Denise Acabo [of A L'Etoile d'Or, a specialty shop in Paris]. The flavor stayed with me. I tasted about 11 different salts and finally found a sea salt from Brittany that tasted right. I added two cups to a batch of caramels, and I didn't think anyone would like them.
Q: How did you arrive at two cups? Did you try adding three cups?
A: Some of my European friends wanted me to add more salt, but at a certain point I had to trust my gut and put out what I liked.
Q: What was the salt you finally decided on?
A: Le Paludier Sal Marin de Guerande. It was really tender. It had some bite but wasn't too harsh. Mellow, but with enough punch to cut through the sugar.
Q: What makes a caramel good?
A: Freshness is the cornerstone of a really good caramel. It should have a pull when you chew, a certain toothiness.
Q: What's toothiness?
A: It's a chew factor. Not too hard, not too soft. It's when you can dig your tooth into a caramel without working at it too much, or having it melt away too early, or losing your tooth.
Q: Did you make that word up?
Q: What is the most fun thing about making caramels?
A: Good music makes hard work fly by. My mom taught me that.
Q: Who do you listen to?
A: Currently a lot of the Be Good Tanyas. Have you heard of them?
Q: No. I ask, you answer. What was your favorite candy as a kid?
A: Tootsie Rolls.
Q: What's the hardest thing about making caramels?
A: Burning yourself. It's molten lava at 240 degrees. Very sticky business.
-- Cindy Dorn
Sea salt caramels, about $7 for a 4-ounce bag. Available at various shops, including Clementine in Los Angeles, EuroPane in Pasadena, Cheese Store of Silverlake in Los Angeles, Surfas in Culver City and Mission Wines in South Pasadena. For more information, go to www.littleflowercandyco.com or call (323) 551-5948.