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Exploring the seasonal wonders of Raleigh's Escazu Chocolates

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A tiny ghost haunts the small space of Raleigh chocolatier Escazú. Grape-size and glossy white, with a zigzag mouth, it has to be captured quickly before it disappears forever—or perhaps for a year.

Actually, any of the shop's chocolates, ghoulish or not, are prone to vanish; such is the reality of an artisanal kitchen. With its "bean-to-bar" mission, Escazú is about as artisanal as it gets. Hallot Parson uses an antique stone grinder to turn cacao beans into chocolate, which Danielle Centeno then turns into various confections, like my beloved white chocolate ghost, whose tummy is filled with salty pistachio butter. From painting to filling to capping, each item takes multiple days to make. In other words, if someone snags the last piece of a particular confection before you walk in the door, you will have to give up on the ghost for a few days at least.

Since Escazú opened in 2008, it has accumulated hundreds of flavors available for rotation. This summer, for instance, the staff experimented with garden-grown hot peppers and fresh herbs. When the leaves started to fade from green to gold, I swung by to taste the autumnal options. Don't miss these.

Pumpkin Spice: Cinnamon, clove and nutmeg accentuate a caramel-enriched pumpkin puree in a shimmering orange-hued shell.

Juniper Berry: "If you don't like gin," says Centeno, "you won't like this." I love that and this. The ganache is infused unabashedly with juniper berry, bits of which fleck the center like confetti.

Sweet Potato Vodka Molasses: I don't, however, like vodka. Still, I relished this drunk confection, made with North Carolina-distilled Covington. Subtly sweet and very strong, it's not kid-friendly.

Caramel Apple: I'll take this over a caramel apple. A jammy center conjures cinnamon-scented applesauce before hitting you with bitter caramel.

Pecan Pie: Made with Big Spoon's peanut-pecan butter and dark molasses, this crunchy concoction feels like Thanksgiving dinner in the world's littlest candy bar.

Maple Nutmeg Caramel: Get a box of this gooey, drippy and dark delight. Put on a thick sweater. Go to a snowy cabin. Snuggle in front of a fireplace.

Maple Orange: Bright, brazen citrus notes make this a must-try for all lovers of marmalade and curd.

The Ghost: My favorite. This whimsical chocolate turns into a snowman for Christmas, a heart for Valentine's Day and a bunny for Easter. I celebrate none of these holidays, but I will collect their mascots.

If you're craving a particular flavor, call ahead and see if it's in stock. Or, as Parson says with a smile, "You'll just have to come in more frequently."

Eat This is a recurring column about great new dishes and drinks. Had something you loved? Email food@indyweek.com.

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