It's spring, and probably the most welcomed of the season's animals is the bunny — specifically, the chocolate bunny. No mass-produced creatures, these bunnies are made and sold by small, independent chocolatiers and chocolate shops. Grab your Easter bonnet and we'll hippity-hop around the West.
Jean-Michel Carré shapes organic and sustainably grown chocolate from the nearby Santa Barbara Chocolate Co. into refined bunnies and hens as visitors to Chocolats du CaliBressan gaze through a large window into the kitchen. The pink, yellow and green white-chocolate bunnies are filled with smooth dark chocolate and guava ganache. Hollow white or dark chocolate chickens, painted with glossy red and yellow cocoa butter, look as if they should sit on a shelf of antiques, but who would waste such fine confections? Tours and tastings are the third Thursday of the month.
Jessica Foster of Jessica Foster Confections has sculpted two breeds of bunnies made with 72% organic chocolate. She uses no molds, instead hand-forming and hand-cutting her bunnies. One type contains crushed, caramelized almonds and sea salt, and the other is hot and smoky with Spanish smoked peppers and Hungarian paprika. Definitely outside the mold. For her velvety truffles, she likes to buy ingredients, such as blueberries, rosemary and lavender, from the local farmers market. You can make an appointment to buy directly from her or find her sweets at Lazy Acres Market and Whole Foods in Santa Barbara and Pierre Lafond in Montecito.
Jessica Foster Confections, P.O. Box 21332, Santa Barbara; (805) 637-6985, http://www.jessicafosterconfections.com
Maya Schoop-Rutten, owner of Chocolate Maya, an inviting shop painted in bright south-of-the-border reds, golds and greens, makes cute molded light and dark chocolate bunnies from organic and ethically sourced chocolate decorated with cocoa butter tinted pink with beet juice. Breathe in deeply to enjoy the aroma, and check out the fun chocolate bunny with an egg in an old-fashioned convertible race car.
Chocolate Maya, 15 W. Gutierrez St., Santa Barbara; (805) 965-5956, http://www.chocolatemaya.com
Mackenzies Chocolates' shop looks like an English cottage and holds what may be the largest chocolate-bunny hutch in the West. Thema and Colin Mackenzie opened the shop in 1984; now their son, Ian, and his wife, Mary Rose, run the business. If you love to munch bunny ears, check out the milk chocolate rabbit with big ears. They also make chocolate male bunnies that are buffed up, wearing a suit, riding a motorcycle, driving a sports car, playing baseball or carrying a jelly bean-filled basket. Voluptuous female bunnies parade in evening gowns. From the retail area visitors can watch candy makers in the factory pour chocolate ducks and white chocolate lambs.
Mackenzies Chocolates, 1492 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz; (831) 425-1492, http://www.mackenzieschocolates.com
Truckee, Calif., and Reno
If size is your goal, Sweets Handmade Candies creates a solid, 26-inch-tall, 22-pound bunny. Using only natural ingredients and working by hand in small batches, candy makers shape gourmet peanut butter, chocolate, chocolate nut and rocky-road fudge eggs, hand-dip them in silky Belgian chocolate and then individually hand-decorate them. Owner Rebecca Cavender recommends the homemade marshmallow eggs.
Sweets Handmade Candies, 10118 Donner Pass Road, No. 1, Truckee, Calif.; (530) 587-6556, and 4991 S. Virginia, Suite C, Reno; (775) 827-8270, (888) 248-8840, sweetshandmadecandies.com.
Foil-wrapped bunnies at family-owned Euphoria Chocolate Co. have been a local favorite for 30 years, and kids who tasted their first chocolate carrot at Euphoria in the 1980s are now bringing in their own children.
Euphoria Chocolate Co., 6 W. 17th Ave., Eugene; (541) 343-9223, http://www.euphoriachocolate.com Two other Eugene locations, plus a factory store.
The Chocolate Apothecary is decorated with apothecary drawers as well as masks, elephant curios and lots of plants meant to evoke tropical lands where cacao, the basis of chocolate, is grown. "I wanted to reflect the tradition of apothecaries traveling to distant lands and bringing back new treatments and remedies," said owner Susan Davis. Among the Chocolate Apothecary "remedies" are bunnies from Spokane chocolatiers Pixie Dust Chocolates and Chocolate Myracles.
Julia Balassa-Myracle, owner of Chocolate Myracles, uses antique molds and 100% fair-trade chocolate to create her old-European-style laughing bunnies standing among cocoa-butter flowers. The handmade artisan bunnies by Pixie Dust look as if they've been sprinkled with just that — pixie dust. Owner Melissa Barnett uses Food and Drug Administration-approved luster dusts of titanium dioxide and mica to add a bit of shimmer to dark, milk and huckleberry-white chocolate bunnies as well as to hand-painted eggs with golden flowers, pink cherries and blue stars.
Chocolate Apothecary, 621 W. Mallon, Spokane; (509) 324-2424, http://www.chocolateapothecary.com, Pixie Dust Chocolates, Spokane; (509) 220-7554, http://www.pixiedustchocolates.com, Chocolate Myracles, Spokane; (509) 995-1271, http://www.chocolatemyracles.com
Posh Chocolat crafts small milk, dark and white bunnies in baskets from sustainably farmed, fairly traded Ecuadorean and Brazilian chocolate. But it really earns its "posh" status with elegantly swirled hollow chocolate ostrich eggs filled with a quarter-pound of chocolate "coins."
Posh Chocolat, 131 S. Higgins, Suite M1, Missoula; (877) 544-7674, http://www.poshchocolat.com
Denver & Grand Junction, Colo.
For 50 years, three generations of Enstroms of Enstrom Candies have been making chocolate bunnies weighing as much as 10 pounds. They also create jelly bunnies and hand-formed, chocolate-covered eggs filled with peanut butter fudge, pecan fudge or Swiss cream, a rich whipped chocolate. At the Grand Junction store, customers can watch candymakers at work through a large glass window.
Enstrom Candies, 701 Colorado Ave., Grand Junction; (970) 683-1000, and Cherry Creek North, 201 University Blvd. 118, Denver; (303) 322-1005, plus three additional locations in Colorado, http://www.enstrom.com
Santa Fe, N.M.
C.G. Higgins constructs both dark chocolate bunnies and luscious dark chocolate baskets filled with chow-mein noodles drizzled with chocolate; chocolate-dipped citrus peels, chocolate-covered crisped rice, artisan truffles and edible orchids. (But why would you eat a lovely orchid?) Bunnies aren't the only animals welcome at C.G. Higgins. Owner Chuck Higgins has a waiver from the state so that customers can bring their doggies into the pooch-friendly shop, where they snack on non-chocolate treats.
C.G. Higgins, 847 Ninita St., Santa Fe; (505) 820-1315, http://www.cghiggins.com
Buffett's Candies is a chocolate-bunny warren teaming with a 9-inch-tall caramel-corn bunny and 23 types of solid chocolate bunnies, each with its own name. The 35-cent bunny is named Squirt, and the $95 rabbit is named Harvey, in honor of James Stewart's 6-foot-tall rabbit friend in the film of the same name. Family-run Buffett's makes almost as many varieties of individually decorated, cream-filled chocolate eggs as it does bunnies. The eggs' flavors include raspberry, lemon, orange, walnut, divinity, fudge nut, penuche, piñon, date nut, marshmallow, coconut, peanut butter, vanilla and, of course, chocolate.
Buffett's Candies, 7001 Lomas Blvd. N.E., Albuquerque; (505) 265-7731, http://www.buffettscandies.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times