Golding operates in a diminutive shared space off El Camino Real in Palo Alto. Her chocolate candies are tantalizingly beautiful, eye-rollingly luscious and made from fresh, organic ingredients, mostly from local dairies and orchards.
She's been making candy for the past couple of years but her Gateau et Ganache (Cake and Icing) company is still a one-woman show. It takes two days to complete a single-batch process. Batches are minute, about 100 pieces of candy, painstakingly made in the finest European tradition.
Anni Golding was born in Sydney, Australia. Her father, a medical doctor, accepted a position in Cleveland and replanted his family when she was 4 years old. Golding earned a degree in technical writing from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and headed to Silicon Valley. She spent 13 years in the trenches of start-ups, close-downs, highfliers and washouts.
The year 2001 proved seminal. A college friend died, and then a family member, and then came the Sept. 11 attacks. Burned out on 60- and 70-hour weeks, Golding reconsidered her direction and decided on an alternate course. She had been making sweets since she was 7 years old as a hobby.
"My mother was not a good cook. I don't have any grandmother stories to relate," she said. "But, why not food?"
She enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley with an eye towards being an artistic cake baker.
"I wanted to be a baker and open a shop on the Peninsula, but rents were beyond belief, and I realized competition was stiff. There are a lot of artistic bakers in the Bay Area," Golding said.
She did a stint at Palo Alto's Evvia as pastry chef before enrolling in candy-making classes in France in 2004 and 2005 to perfect her sweet design.
"I loved the French visuals, the presentation and the locally driven flavors."
She also liked the science of test and retest. Years of detailed technical writing had taught her to be meticulous and orderly. She has reams of notes on confectionary trials and errors.
"I started making marshmallows and raspberry bonbons for friends," Golding said. "I love fruit and chocolate together, that combination of textures with layers of flavors, crunchy on the outside and buttery creamy inside." It was the encouragement of those friends that propelled her to the next step.
European chocolate, Straus Family Creamery's organic cream, and butter form the candy's base. Local berries, organic cinnamon and peppermint, lemon verbena and vanilla-bean creams are hand-piped into bite-size chocolate shells.
"Nothing trendy here, just classic Old World flavors. I never use any preservatives," Golding said. That somewhat limits shelf life but preserves taste. While she includes a small brochure inside each box, there is not a flavor roadmap per se.
"I hate the idea of a roadmap," she said. "It's not a good sign. If flavors are true, directions aren't needed to know what you are eating."
Currently, there are three components to Golding's line: filled bonbons, truffles and marshmallows. Her handmade blackberry marshmallow is feathery light, pale pink, with a delicious subtle berry flavor that puckers the inside of the cheek after a few seconds.
The chocolate marshmallow, though, is the showstopper. About one quarter of the 1 1/2-inch-square confection is dipped in chocolate; the remainder retains its puffy creaminess. It's as if a billowy cloud of candy wafted too close to the Wonka Candy Factory and was singed with scrumptious chocolate spray.
The sensuous textured chocolate truffles, hand-rolled in deep, dark unsweetened cocoa powder, are melt-on-the-tongue creamy. "Chocolate for the sake of chocolate, with a dash of cognac," Golding said.
The bonbon collection is like opening a package from Van Cleef & Arpels. The multi-faceted candy collection shimmers and reflects light as precious stones; dreamy candies glisten in the palm of the hand, begging to be eaten.
The La Cannelle bonbon looks like a rough-cut chocolate diamond. Chocolate ganache is wrapped in a dark- and milk-chocolate shell and infused with organic cinnamon. It hints of holidays, ribbon candy and opulent feasts.
La Vanille resembles a miniature snow-capped mountain. Tahitian vanilla-infused white chocolate ganache with a hint of dark rum is enrobed in a dark chocolate shell. It's exotic, seductive and almost naughty.
La Verveine Citronelle is a bonbon made of white chocolate ganache perfumed with organic lemon verbena and finished in a white chocolate shell with green and yellow accents. It reminds me of the dazzling opalescent cat's-eye marbles I collected from a nearby marble factory as a child.
There are other flavors as well; about 25 of the assorted chocolate flavored gems are seasonally rotated. Approximately 10 flavors are available at any one time with special flavors for major holidays.
Packaging is equally splendid: dark burgundy-colored boxes and containers with handsome ribbons and bows. Truffles are 16 to a carton for $26. Marshmallows vary in price by flavor, $11 to $16 per dozen. Boxed chocolate bonbons are available in five sizes, ranging from a four-piece assortment to a four-tray 36-piece array, with prices from $9 up to $75.
Golding's candies aren't available in retail stores; for now, all sales are generated via the Internet at http://www.gateauetganache.com. Orders are shipped, or arrangements can be made for pickup at her kitchen.
Anni Golding won't be able to be a one-woman show much longer. Once the word is out, her business will deservedly soar. Yet, she will manage the growth, ensuring each nugget of candy is perfect before she sends it out. It's all part of her sweet design.
Gateau et Ganache
Fine Chocolates & Confections
3261B Ash St., Palo Alto