Biting into one of Zuzu Candies’ fresh lemon and vodka truffles, you’re hit with something exquisite and, oddly, unexpected: the refreshing kick of real lemon, made smooth and decadent in a fresh dairy ganache, and wickedly easy to consume in its cozy chocolate shell. Just over a month old, Zuzu (not named for the tear-jerking line-deliverer in It’s a Wonderful Life, but from the Urban Dictionary’s slang for “goodies, superfantastically wonderful in a fantabulistic way”) is the creation of chocolatier Valerie Lamke, whose foodie roots date to 1900, when her family emigrated from Austria to San Francisco and opened the Vienna Bakery. Her great-grandfather insisted on the best fruit for his pastries, and, doing what any wildly meticulous sort might, bought some orchards in Petaluma.
Lamke, whose foray into artisan candy-making represents her second-act career (after years in clinical mental health), is similarly fanatic about the quality of her ingredients, the cleanliness of her space (no toxic products here!), and the taste of her treats, which include truffles, caramels, fudge, marshmallows, and, coming in 2014, traditional nougats, including a Persian recipe featuring rose water and pistachios, a French variation of honey and roasted almonds, and the Americana, with vanilla bean and peanuts.
A winner of 2013’s Best Chocolatiers & Confectioners in America Award, Lamke trained at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago, and test-drove her handiwork at Los Angeles’ farmers’ markets, where she’s a certified vendor. But she set her sights on Santa Barbara for her storefront, having fallen in love with the town while two of her three children did time at UCSB. (Also, we have good weather for the delicate diva that is chocolate.)
The space is sleek and minimal, with a window that offers a look into the kitchen and rotating art exhibits adding color to the walls. And while the “big, fat, and luscious” truffles are divine (regulars include coffee and cream, Chambord in lemon ganache; wild cards like passion fruit appear occasionally, or when a neighbor with a passion fruit tree makes a request), and the caramels addictive (rum; vanilla bean with salt; fresh eucalyptus honey), this time of year demands extra attention be paid to two specialties in particular.
First are the marshmallows: particularly the vanilla-bean/dark-chocolate-nib flavor, designed “not for eating,” she says, but for swirling into your hot chocolate. Two other varieties are coconut-crusted, and your standard artisan marshmallow, which stars in the second item of holiday-time note: the “Fudge Snob” fudge. “A snob among its peers,” Lamke says. Made with 64 percent Ghana chocolate and those handmade marshmallows, that fudge has every reason to think highly of itself.
In the New Year, Lamke will begin hosting chocolate parties. Grab some pals, preorder your flavors, and then head to the shop and roll ganache, dip and decorate your truffles, and study your attempt until your gut cries, “Uncle!” You’ll see Zuzu chocolates at some to-be-named Funk Zone tasting rooms and as a concession at the New Victoria Theatre. Tonight she’ll host a party for Jessa Lamoureux of Blushed Concrete, December’s featured artist; look for more of those in the future. And, if you haven’t finished (or started) your holiday shopping yet, she’s taking orders — and offering a “verbal coupon.” Say “Hot Chocolate,” and score 20 percent off.
Zuzu Candies is located at 32 West Anapamu Street. Call (805) 770-7108 or visit zuzucandies.com.