Chocolate

No matter how many times I recited “The Night Before Christmas” as a kid, I never once drifted off to sleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. What I did look forward to were Hershey’s kisses and miniature chocolate bars in seasonally tinted foil wrappers and the homemade fudge my grandmother whipped up every Christmas Eve, studded with pecans and sometimes tiny marshmallows. My tastes are a bit more sophisticated now, but there will always be something deeply satisfying about a chocolate treat, whether it’s an artfully crafted gold leaf-laced square, a truffle blended with exotic ingredients, or a dense wedge of sugary, creamy fudge.

Santa Fe’s chocolatiers are here to help. Each shop I visited has a distinct style, ambience, and specialty, though as you might expect, each shows an allegiance to Santa Fe by offering at least a few confections featuring chile.

The storefront at Chocolate Smith might remind you of your grandmother’s house, with its quaint retro-style displays and pastel-oriented décor. It’s a well-lit, wide-open space, so you can watch as candy makers stir, temper, dip, and cut just beyond the display counter; this also means that chocolate’s heady aroma hits you right as you walk in the door. Chocolate Smith offers a nearly overwhelming range, from covered nuts to caramels, oversized bars, mendiants, and a variety of generously studded barks.

Highlights: green chile pistachio bark, “Mountain Bark” (dark chocolate with marinated cherries, coconut, toffee, white chocolate bits, and toasted almonds), Pecos peanut butter bar, Don Juan pecan bar

In its two shops — one off bustling St. Francis Drive and another a block from the Plaza — C. G. Higgins focuses on fudge and truffles. The Lincoln Avenue location can vary from quiet café (you can order a cappuccino to accompany your confection) to bustling candy shop. You’ll spy truffles in classic flavors — mint, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, lavender, and a traditional Mexican heavy with cinnamon — to ones with more creative partners, like applewood-smoked salt (successful) and St. Agur blue cheese (definitely not). An entire shelf is dedicated to chile-based truffles, from mango-habanero to the Santa Fe Fiesta.

Highlights: plain fudge, traditional Mexican and Santa Fe Fiesta truffles

Señor Murphy is a colorful Santa Fe institution, with outposts in three locations (as well as in the Buffalo Thunder Resort). The case is packed with Tortugas (turtles), nut clusters, toffees, and old-fashioned creams, some of which are available in sugar-free versions. While the chile-pistachio bark packs a punch, Señor Murphy’s famous chile creams have only the mildest of heat, which makes them an ideal treat for friends and family visiting from out of town. The bolitas (balls of fudge rolled in crushed almond) are also popular seasonal favorites, though we found them dry and overly crumbly, and the piñon in both our clusters and Tortugas were past their prime. Other nut-based treats fared well, though, and we fought over the last square of crisp, buttery chocolate-covered toffee.

Highlights: Chile cream, chile pistachio bark, toffee "chips"

In the Sena Plaza Courtyard, packed into what is surely one Santa Fe’s smallest retail spaces, is Todos Santos, a wildly whimsical, dizzying shop, festooned in color and surreal detail that marries Día de los Muertos and Mardi Gras. Hayward Simoneaux’s confections are the most artful in town, ranging from pieces modeled after milagros to bars in elaborate decorative wrappers to bite-size jewels almost too pretty to eat. “Basic” truffles are available, but from there the selection skyrockets, with so many elegant, inventive options it’s hard to keep them all straight. For a more rugged but elemental treat, try the heaping almond cluster with milk chocolate.

Highlights: chocolate-almond cluster, smoked pasilla truffle, coffee truffle, signature dark chocolate truffle

The cabin that houses Kakawa Chocolate House has a rustic, old Santa Fe feel to it, with wonky wood floors, dark vigas, corbels, and equipale chairs. The chocolate has a rustic slant, too, offering you a chance to enjoy cacao in the way it was originally consumed — in the form of aptly named elixirs (traditional Pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican, Mayan, and Aztec; European versions whose recipes date to the 1600s; and Colonial American and Colonial Mexican). If you’d rather chew your chocolate than sip it, you’ll have plenty of options. The case is stocked with solid chocolates, various lovely caramels, and truffles blended with everything from goat cheese and sage to mezcal.

Highlights: red chile caramel, goat cheese truffle, chile elixir