FEAST YOUR EYES on this Top This chocolate bar, featuring gummy eyeballs, sprinkles and M&Ms. Photo by Leilani Polacek
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Halloween is going the way of every other holiday this year, thanks to the sinister specter of COVID-19. Popular events have been modified, moved online or canceled altogether, and many a tear will be shed for the haunted houses, costume parties and trick or treating not taking place this year. Health officials are urging the public to find safer ways to celebrate — and one way to do that is to treat yourself to some quality Halloween treats to be enjoyed at home. Count on local bakers and confectioners to craft diabolically delightful chocolates, cookies, cupcakes and more to raise the spirits of ghosts and goblins of all ages.
Ex Voto Chocolates and Confections
2646 E. Main St., Ventura
Artisanal chocolate is the name of the game at Ex Voto, and mother-daughter owners Jennifer Smith and Sophia Smith-Grunder have always embraced Halloween with style.
“We always bring back our frogs,” Jennifer Smith says, noting that customers can choose from artful amphibians in vegan, salted caramel and caramel with marshmallow cream options.
Ex Voto will also have creepy confections like eyeballs, owls and skulls in a variety of flavors, plus fall favorites such as apple cider caramel bonbons, pumpkin seed nut butter cups, pumpkin spice pecan turtles and chai bonbons.
New this year is a special blend made with genmaicha (green tea mixed with roasted brown rice) and white chocolate. Ex Voto adds candied rice puffs and black sesame seeds to make a delectable, sophisticated, Japanese-inspired treat very loosely based on the Nestle Crunch bar.
“Genmaicha isn’t really a Halloween flavor, but it’s green!” Smith says with a laugh. She’s shaped it into witch fingers that are equal parts gruesome and toothsome, and blended it into a special October ice cream, too.
Be sure to check out the spicy pumpkin seed toffee as well. The spice blend includes habanero and ancho chiles and cinnamon, so it definitely brings the heat — perfect for cool autumn evenings.
Missy’s Cupcake Creations
2950 Johnson Drive, #119, Ventura
Missy Drayton is still working on her October menu for Missy’s Cupcake Creations, but there’s one thing she knows she’ll have for sure at her Ventura bakery.
“We’re doing the do-it-yourself donut kits,” she says. “It will be Halloween themed.”
She came up with these collections of plain donuts, frosting and decorations during the pandemic as a fun and easy activity kids could do at home. The concept has become so popular that she’s kept it, switching out the colors and decorations with the seasons.
In addition, Drayton is offering a “sack of donut holes in Halloween treat bags,” a variety of sugar cookies (ghosts, bats, skulls and more) and her donuts topped with black, green, orange and purple sprinkles.
For cake lovers, “we have pumpkin pie cupcakes,” she adds. “It’s a pumpkin cake with a pumpkin mousse filling and maple cream cheese icing.”
She’ll get more of her cupcake case season-ready in the coming days, so be sure to check out the shop (or her drool-worthy Instagram page) to see what else is fresh from the oven.
Tifa Chocolate and Gelato
Agoura Hills, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village
With several locations under the Tifa banner, Ventura County locals can easily take advantage of the chocolates, pastries, coffee and gelato offered by this purveyor of all things delicious.
When chilly October mornings and marine layer give way to sunshine, cool off with a cup of Tifa’s much-beloved gelato. In the case right now are pumpkin almond swirl, almond mascarpone biscotti, cinnamon panna cotta and even a whiskey gelato (which despite the name has no alcohol in it).
Gourmet truffles and bonbons come in numerous flavors, which are great any time of year. But in the fall, you might consider hazelnut, fig balsamic with black pepper and Bordeaux. Newly added to the chocolate menu is Mexican hot chocolate, offering the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. More autumn-inspired flavors will be coming soon.
Towards the end of the month, however, Tifa’s Thousand Oaks shop (1730 E. Avenida de Los Arboles, Suite D) will have something a little more special to offer.
“We’re doing a Harry Potter-themed event during the weekend of Halloween,” says Lexi Hartsuyker. “We’re going to decorate the store . . . We’ll have banners and candles and the staff will be dressed up in Hogwarts-themed clothing.”
In addition, on Oct. 31, kids under 12 that come in costume to the Agoura, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village locations will receive a free gelato.
The Camarillo location will not be giving away gelato on Halloween, but it is throwing a costume party and contest on Oct. 31.
All locations are hoping to provide a fun and exciting opportunity for families to enjoy the holiday in a safe, socially distanced manner. Remember that while Halloween masks are optional, COVID-19-compliant face coverings are a must.
Top This Chocolate
1559 Spinnaker Drive, #109, Ventura Harbor
The county’s only customizable chocolate creator celebrates its one-year anniversary this month, and is going all out for the haunted holiday.
“We have all kinds of crazy Halloween-themed toppings,” says owner Shana Elson.
Top your choice of milk, dark or white chocolate bar with frightfully fun candies like gummy eyeballs, skulls, Ghoul’s Mix M&Ms, candy corn and more. In addition, the shop (located in scenic Ventura Harbor) will also have chocolate mummy pops, witches on pretzel sticks, chocolate pumpkin heads and marshmallow witches.
New this year is a special Halloween Chocolate Experience Tote. A reusable black and orange bag comes filled with a selection of treats, including a mummy pop, 12 chocolate squares, chocolate covered Oreos, a bag of candy and a full-sized chocolate bar with your name on it. The package is $35 — a very reasonable price to pay for the quantity and quality of handmade chocolate.
“We have things that are so unique; you can’t get them anywhere else,” Elson says. “We make all the products here in front of your eyes. It’s a fun alternative to trick or treating . . . to make your own creation.”