This story first ran on KCPT’s Flatland.* Kristina Briseno is about to invent a new species of tree. A redbud tree is being reborn – a statement piece for a local wedding with pink and white cotton candy in lieu of fall leaves. She knows this sounds fantastical, but to her this is simply another Thursday.
“Anything creative, people just come to me,” said Briseno while sipping water at a table inside The Sundry. “You can be creative with food or paint, and food has always been a canvas.”
Lately, she’s been leaning a lot more toward edible art. Caramels dotted with rosemary or studded with bee pollen were the inspiration for the 10-month-old Salt & Flint, her confection business based out of Lawrence, Kansas, that sells goods at shops like The Sundry, Season + Square, and The Better Cheddar.
“I started making the caramels for Christmas and then I just jumped right into the business,” said Briseno.
She found a commercial kitchen in Baldwin City, Kansas, and received the licensing for Salt & Flint in December 2014. The name is a nod to the ocean in California where Briseno was born and the Flint Hills near her home in Lawrence. Briseno is a self-taught baker and candy maker, a journey that began in her childhood kitchen.
“My mom would come home and say, ‘What’s that on the counter?’ I would have baked a cake and pipe frosted it,” said Briseno. “Martha Stewart was my inspiration. I love her perfectionism and the details of everything.”
Briseno moved to Lawrence in 1999. She worked in several restaurants, launched a cake business (which still leads to custom orders like a cotton candy tree), and The Life Imagined – a company that sells decorated, decaled stainless steel flasks. A little more of her inner Martha Stewart has come out with each business. Briseno does all the design and branding work for The Life Imagined and Salt & Flint.
“I’m really inspired by the local food scene,” said Briseno.”I love nature and finding ingredients that are natural, simple, and delicious.”
With her caramels, Briseno has leaned toward herbal infusions (golden saffron, royal cardamom, white chocolate and thyme) and savory components (chocolate pistachio and vanilla sea salt). Briseno uses tapioca syrup rather than corn syrup because it’s less sweet, and different ratios of cream and cocoa butter depending on the temperature and humidity.
“I want the caramel to be creamy, perfectly sweet, and not too sticky to your teeth,” said Briseno. “I’ve heard people tell me that my caramels are very easy to eat.”
She thinks of each caramel bar as two big bites. And she wants the flavor combinations front and center. That’s why she uses raw cashews for crunch and dots her honey cream caramel with bee pollen.
“Bee pollen rides around on the little bee legs and it’s adorable. It’s sweet and floral and I put it on top because I really wanted you to taste it,” said Briseno.
Caramels led to caramel sauces. A customer asked for infused honey and Briseno created fennel peppercorn honey and habanero lavender honey. Then she began experimenting with shrubs — infused vinegar-based syrups that can be used in cocktails and sodas. She uses Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar for the line of shrubs that began with a strawberry basil concoction.
“It tastes like a summer garden,” said Briseno.
Strawberry basil was joined by habanero pineapple cilantro, black pepper cherry and quince apple fennel.
“I went to harvest a quince apple tree and I liked the idea of using a local, heirloom apple from a 150-year-old tree,” said Briseno. “They’re not good raw, but I knew it would pair well with fennel in a shrub syrup.”
Her work and flavor profiles recently caught the eye of Williams & Sonoma. She’s currently developing three product recipes for the company that are slated to launch next spring. Briseno is also experimenting with a pumpkin shrub. She’s been baking pumpkins and then infusing the vinegar with crushed ginger and cinnamon sticks. She’s also been thinking about a farm-to-fountain line of bottled sodas.
“Salt and Flint is not just candies, it’s the umbrella for many different products that are based on what’s inspiring to me,” said Briseno. “I just want to keep creating.”
*KCPT’s Hale Center for Journalism serves as a center for local multimedia journalism and collaboration with PBS, NPR and regional news sources. The Center houses Flatland, an open-source, digital forum producing stories and conversations about things that matter in Kansas City.