In case you woke up this morning wondering where is the best place in the county to get exquisite French caramel, I’m here to tell you: it’s El Cajon.
1181 Pioneer Way, El Cajon
Don’t look surprised. Only a few years ago, the answer would have been Santee. That’s where France natives Christen and Vincent Kugener originally opened their wholesale business, Le Caramel, ten years ago. Business has apparently been bon bon for the brand, whose caramel reportedly supplies large-scale manufacturers of ice cream, snacks, and dessert toppings. Le Caramel has grown into larger El Cajon digs, and for the past couple years offered a small retail component for those among us who enjoy getting our European candy from the source.
The brand’s web site tells how the Kugeners spent a year learning the art of making the sweet stuff from one of France’s top caramel makers, particularly the salted caramel cream made famous by Isigny, a big dairy region in Normandy. (Fun fact: d'Isigny is the derivation of the name Disney).
Bottles of the creamy caramel are offered in the shop, along with non-dairy caramel syrup, bags of caramel popcorn, caramel fudge, and candies. Some of these products are flavored with salt, chocolate, maple, or pumpkin spice, and pretty much every single one is going to be delicious, especially different takes on that salted caramel cream, a luxuriously smooth sauce packaged in jars for dipping, or in squeeze bottles to pour over ice cream, etc.
Also, because the Kugeners bought gift basket company The Basket Corner last year, the small counter shop offers caramel- and non-caramel-themed gift baskets.
However, if you’re looking for an excuse to head over there, do so on a Wednesday. That one day of the week Le Caramel serves waffles. Time it right and the latest batch will be warm and pliant within the lightly crisped, sweet Belgian waffle crust, which you may have drizzled with caramel sauce. Once in the shop, you won’t be able to resist stocking up on caramel candies and sauces, and I can attest it takes some willpower to keep the shopping excursion from getting out of hand.
My waffle was gone in an instant, but that salted caramel cream is going to find itself drizzled over just about every cookie, piece of fruit, or bowl of ice cream I bring home for the foreseeable future.