Caramels de Bouchard
By Deb Kaneb / Photos by Katie Noble
Lauren Poussard’s passion for caramels and her caramel company, Caramels de Bouchard, is infectious. She’s been in business for less than a year but has been honing her caramel making skills since she was a small child. Her family’s roots in the sweet, buttery confection run deep.
Lauren’s face beams with pride and joy as she explains that generations ago, her great-grandma Bouchard made the caramels in The Point neighborhood of Salem, at the time a French Canadian enclave. Only two flavors were made, vanilla and walnut. The tradition continued when the recipe was passed on to Lauren’s beloved grandma, Mémère, who Lauren fondly remembers each time she smells her own caramels cooking. When Lauren’s mom Jackie married into the family, the recipe was shared with her.
Like all family members, Jackie guarded the cherished recipe closely. She cautioned her own children (including Lauren) not to share it. Family tradition dictated that their French Canadian recipe be kept within the family, but Lauren’s mom also protected the recipe because she dreamed that some day they would sell their caramels.
Every Christmas season, the extended family (and some special friends) gathers to make caramels for other relatives both far and near, and for themselves. Years ago, Lauren jokes, her mom would invite family over ostensibly to celebrate Lauren’s sister’s birthday, but before long she’d bring out a batch of cooled caramels and suggest that since everyone was there anyway, why not help by cutting and wrapping the sweet morsels? Over time the recipient list has grown, requiring more and more caramel gatherings. Everyone pitches in, either by assembling ingredients, stirring batches, cutting the cooled caramels, or hand wrapping the finished product.
Over Super Bowl weekend in 2012, with holiday caramel making sessions still fresh in her mind, Lauren decided to turn her mother’s longtime dream into a reality, and Caramels de Bouchard was born. It didn’t take long for her to create a web site and Facebook page for the new company because, in addition to being an experienced caramel maker, Lauren is a professional photographer with experience in marketing and social media.
The caramel business has taken off quickly, so she no longer produces them in her home but in a shared kitchen in Amesbury, Massachusetts. As she contemplates her next steps, she hopes to have her own kitchen space as well as a storefront for both retail and wholesale business. Since Caramels de Bouchard caramels have such deep family roots, though, any potential change geared toward increasing production is debated exhaustively. A recent discussion centered on whether she would continue the labor-intensive practice of twisting the caramel wrapping or switch to folding. Lauren’s not yet sure which option she’ll chose—making a decision is not easy when you feel the eyes of generations of caramel makers watching your every move.
Making caramels the traditional French Canadian way is labor intensive and requires a dry environment. Humidity, Lauren explains, is the enemy. The largest single batch that she can make comfortably at one time now is six pounds. Before it’s ready for cooling in a climate controlled environment, the fragrant, creamy liquid must be stirred continuously for one hour and reach two separate critical temperature points, which she measures with an analog thermometer. So far, only Lauren makes the business’ caramels, although others do help with the cutting and wrapping. Getting the caramels to reach the correct temperature, she explains, can be tricky, and is a hard thing to teach. She’s been at this for so long that it’s easy for her to tell if adjustments need to be made, so, for now at least, creating the confections is entirely her job.
Caramels de Bouchard’s flavors have expanded beyond the original two and include locally sourced spices and flavorings where possible. Some popular current flavors include “Belle Face” (cashew with chocolate sea salt), “My Cherry Amour,” “Isabella Trail Mix,” and “Jackie O’Lantern” (pumpkin). Each caramel, Lauren explains, has its own personality and she takes great pride in the company’s unique flavor combinations. Most importantly, she’s careful to ensure that the family recipe’s traditional caramel flavor shines through even with the additional ingredients. Not surprisingly, the caramels are named after friends and family, and she’s planning on giving each one its own unique logo.
Caramels de Bouchard’s caramels are available online at caramelsdebouchard.com.
This story appeared in the Winter 2013 issue.