When she was a little girl, Sarah Dwyer was able to find the caramels in each box of chocolates. And when she did, she made sure she was the one who ate them. This love for anything with a caramel center led her to leave a well-paying job in the financial industry to attend the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu’s pastry school in Paris. It was there that she learned the skills to create some of the best caramels. At the same time, she also picked up the idea for the name of her business – “chouquette.”
Choquette translates to “little cabbage” and it’s also one of the first pastries you learn at pastry school. It’s a basic dough that is sold in local pâtisseries in France. Sprinkled with pearl sugar or sometimes dipped in chocolate and filled with custard, these French pastries take simple ingredients and turn them into something extraordinary – something Dwyer is very familiar with and does with each and every one of her caramels.
Her caramels use only the best ingredients. They begin with the very best chocolate. Dwyer tasted 45 different chocolates before settling on Guittard chocolate. Guittard is a family owned company that uses only fair-trade chocolate and has been doing so for 145 years. The chocolate is masterfully tempered by Dwyer and carefully molded into different shapes based on their filling. The chocolate is just thick to create the perfect ratio of chocolate and caramel.
The caramel itself is rich and buttery. It’s thick enough that it doesn’t rush out of the chocolate (or down your chin) and it has the perfect amount of chew. The caramels get their unique taste from flavor-infused cream added at just the right moment. Flavors range from the classic vanilla salted caramel to unique flavors like apple pie or balsamic vinegar – the one that started the whole business. She uses locally-sourced ingredients, including seasonal fruits and other flavors from the very farmer’s market she sells her caramels at – the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market.
There are stories behind each caramel. Whether it’s describing and executing the perfect texture for the pecan pie caramel or how a strange idea turned into one of the weirdest – yet most successful – caramels; the caramel with Old Bay. But one of the best stories is the one behind Dwyer’s favorite flavor, rosemary lemon. When we asked about her favorite flavor, she lit up and began describing a perfect day in France. A day that included wine, French food grilled over rosemary and the scent of lavender in the breeze. Her goal was to take that day and put it in a caramel. After tasting that caramel, we wished we were in that same town in France, experiencing that same day; and in some ways, we knew we had experienced just a little bit of it.
The artistry behind the caramels is just one part of Chouquette, the other is the care that goes into the business. It’s a small operation that works out of a kitchen in Gaithersburg two days a week. Dwyer enlists the help of high school students who become her apprentices. There, they learn skills that help them in the real world in addition to getting an inside look to the caramel-making process. Even with all of their help, Dwyer still has a hand in making each and every caramel that she sells. And, occasionally, she can be found at the farmer’s market selling her chocolates and remembering her customers by name.
Dwyer took a small space at the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market and expanded it to a 10 X 12′ space that’s staffed three days a week. You can also find her caramels at 21 stores across the DC Metro area. (For more on retail locations, you can find a full listing on Chouquette’s website.) One day, Dwyer’s dream is to find a townhome-like space where she can make her caramels on the lower level, sell them on the second and live on the third – just like they do in France. While that still be a dream, it might not be that far off.
The farmer’s market in Bethesda is open three days a week. Or, you can order online. Currently, Chouquette is selling their seasonal pie collection featuring pumpkin, pecan and apple pie flavored caramels. (They’re as good as they sound!) They make great hostess gifts – especially if baking isn’t your speciality! Dwyer can also customize caramels using colored cocoa butters and edible gold dust, and you can find chocolate twigs and caramel sauce if you’re looking for something a little different. The possibilities are endless – and absolutely delicious.