When Liz Gutman and Jen King founded Brooklyn’s Liddabit Sweets in 2009, they momentarily considered not selling sea salt caramels. “We were like, eh, those have been done, people do them really well, we shouldn’t even bother to try that,” Gutman says. Good thing they did. The pair instantly sold out of the caramels their first week at the Brooklyn Flea Market and the sweets continue to be their bestseller “by far,” she says. Now, they’re teaching home cooks how to make the caramels and many other treats with “The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook: How to Make Truly Scrumptious Candy in Your Own Kitchen.” We spoke with Gutman about the book and the business.
Q. Where does the name Liddabit come from?
A. It’s actually from my childhood. When my brother and I were little kids, he had trouble pronouncing Elizabeth, so it came out Liddabit. That was my family nickname for a while when I was little. And when Jen and I were in school [at the French Culinary Institute], there was a project where we had to come up with a fake restaurant and I came up with this tapas place and called it Liddabit, you know, a liddabit of everything. When we started this business and actually had to file the paperwork and make it official, Jen hates coming up with names for stuff and she was like, “You know I kind of just like Liddabit.” We thought it was kind of cute and fits the fun, without being twee, vibe we were going for.
Q. Your coauthor grew up in a household without sweets. Did you convert her to the dark side?
A. She was already well on her way, I think, before I even met her. I think really what got her into sweets and stuff was baking. She’s a home baker at heart. I can only imagine growing up in a household where there was no butter. She talks about these cookies her mom used to make that weren’t actually cookies, they were like oatmeal and carob, like little hardtack biscuits. So you can only imagine once you were able to have access to butter and sugar and vanilla and all these wonderful fatty, sugary things, you would just be completely entranced by how differently they would turn out. And I think that’s really what turned her.
Q. Are people apprehensive about making candy at home?
A. You know, making candy’s not as hard as people think it is. It’s just something that people aren’t used to making at home anymore. But people used to make candy all the time. You hear about taffy pulling parties and making brittle for the holidays and stuff like that, and I think just with the rise of commodity candy and the fact that you can buy a candy bar at the corner store for a dollar, it didn’t seem that special anymore. It’s something Jen and I talk about a lot. The advertising campaign for Snickers is not even selling it as a treat. It’s selling it as like if you’re hungry and don’t have time to eat. That’s something that we definitely don’t agree with. We think candy should be something special. What we were going for is to take away the scariness and mystery of it.
Q. At the holidays, which recipes would you recommend for parties?
A. There are a couple caramel corn recipes in the book that are really great. They’re super simple. If you have an air popper at home, then they’re really easy. Just put the stuff in and forget about it while you’re getting the other stuff together. It’s really beautiful, people are always really impressed by it, and it tastes so much better than anything you get out of a tub.