Time to Treat Yourself

Kokak Chocolates -- the tiny treats with huge flavor.
Kokak Chocolates — the tiny treats with huge flavor.

Kokak Chocolates

Carol Gancia gave up a gig as producer of KQED’s “Check, Please! Bay Area” for an even sweeter assignment — chocolate maker.

In June, she opened her Kokak Chocolates in San Francisco’s Castro District, specializing in small-batch, single-origin heirloom chocolates.

And what phenomenal chocolates they are — as I recently discovered when I received samples to try.

Gancia crafts her confections with a rare heirloom cacao variety in Ecuador, known as “Nacional,” which traces its origins to the earliest-known cacao trees 5,300 years ago. These old-grown trees are now protected by the Cacao Preservation Fund.

Complex and boasting a long buttery finish, the chocolate stars in truffles made with thin shells and incredibly silky fillings. The Mango Lemongrass, decorated with a Mondrian-inspired design, explodes with profound floral notes. The Passion Fruit made me think I was in Hawaii for a second with its taste of the tropics. The Hazelnut-Caramel tastes like a pound of hazelnuts was somehow squeezed inside a two-bite bonbon. Its flavor is that intense.

These are elegant truffles that will make your eyes and taste buds pop with surprise and delight.

The truffles are $11.95 for a four-piece box, $16.95 for a six-piece, $22.50 for a nine-piece, and $39.95 for a 16-piece collection.

Kokak Chocolates' four-piece "Castro Pride'' box (top) with hazelnut-caramel truffles, and the nine-piece assortment (bottom).
Kokak Chocolates’ four-piece “Castro Pride” box (top) with hazelnut-caramel truffles, and the nine-piece assortment bottom).

Gancia, who is of Irish and Filipino heritages, also molds the chocolate into signature painter’s palettes decorated with a frog mascot ($12) that make for unique gifts. Indeed, Kokak means “ribbit” in Tagalog.

The 70-percent dark chocolate "Artist Palette.''
The 70-percent dark chocolate “Artist Palette.”

She also offers far more treats that can be picked up curb-side, delivered locally at this time or shipped. Those include a dark chocolate mochi donut ($4.95), Umami Shortbread Cookies (featuring schimichi togarashi and candied ginger; $5), and Signature Cacao Porridge (sweet and savory rice porridge made with premium chocolate and topped with Japanese rice crackers, $6.50).

After all that holiday shopping for everyone else, you deserve some Kokak chocolates all to yourself.

Blondery’s Blondies

Pastry chef Auzerais Bellamy staked a career in fine-dining, staging at The French Laundry in Yountville, and Daniel and Per Se, both in New York, before becoming executive pastry chef at Brooklyn’s Pies ‘n’ Thighs, and then at Alain Ducasse’s Benoit Bistro.

But all the while, an urge nagged at the former Hayward, CA native. So in 2015, she left a pastry sous chef position at Bouchon Bakery, set on becoming an entrepreneur to help empower more people of color like herself in the industry.

The result was Blondery, a direct-to-consumer bakery, specializing in everyone’s favorite bar cookie in a host of flavors.

(Front to Back): The Blondery's Red Velvet, Cinnamon Sugar, Pecan and Salted Caramel, and Brooklyn Blackout blondies.
(Front to Back): The Blondery’s Red Velvet, Cinnamon Sugar, Pecan and Salted Caramel, and Brooklyn Blackout blondies.

Bellamy spent 10 years perfecting her blondie recipe, which was inspired by the memory of a favorite pecan praline made by a church elder.

She now bakes them to order in Brooklyn, using free-range eggs, King Arthur flour, and Guittard chocolate.

I had a chance to sample these cute itty-bitty, two-bite blondies that have won over clients such as Netflix and Salesforce.

A four-piece variety box ($25) included the Brooklyn Blackout, which is gluten-free. You’d never guess it lacked anything, though, since it’s fudgy and oh-so-chocolatey, and complete with chocolate sprinkles.

The Cinnamon Sugar one tastes like a snickerdoodle — buttery and redolent of cinnamon. The seasonal Red Velvet has an earthiness from not only cocoa, but red beet powder. A creamy layer of mascarpone filling is sandwiched between two layers of red velvet blondies. The crowning touch is a touch of gold leaf on top.

Bellamy’s Pecan and Salted Caramel truly is outstanding. It’s the blondie you wish you could bake in your own kitchen — chewy and nutty with a salted caramel ganache that completes it.

As an added incentive right now, shipping is on the house.

Olio Verde

There are few things that are so sensational in their simplicity as just-pressed olive oil.

Gianfranco Becchina’s Olio Verde from Sicily never disappoints. The 2020 oil, of which I received a sample has a bold vibrancy like all new oils, plus a real velvety quality on the palate. Pressed from Castelvetrano olives, the oil has grassy, nutty, tomato-leaf, and green tea notes.

New olive oil for the new year.
New olive oil for the new year.

This is an oil to be savored, not used for cooking, but for finishing a dish to maintain its flavor at its fullest. Drizzle it over grilled fish, salads, roasted vegetables, stewed beans, or thick slices of artisan bread.

A 500-ml bottle is $34.95 at Market Hall Foods in Oakland and Berkeley.

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