"Double-Dutch" Cocoa Powder
The secret in savvy brownie, cupcake and cake-bakers' pantries everywhere. This Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa ($8.95 for a 16-ounce bag), is a proprietary blend from King Arthur Flour made with dutch-process cocoas and "black" cocoa powder (the kind they use in Oreos) to yield a rich, dark, velvety chocolate taste. Anyone you know who loves to bake is going to want to have some of this around.
Chocolates and Confections at Home Cookbook
Peter Greweling's companion piece to the original professionally-slanted Chocolates and Confections, this one's aimed at home cooks. Greweling's expertise is unmatched, and Chocolates and Confections at Home ($34.95) is practical, incredibly informative, and easy to read. Any home confectioner, aspiring or experienced, will find loads to love about this book—and, chances are, their friends will end up reaping the benefits. (hint, hint.)
The magic wand for anyone who's tried tempering at home with frustrating results. Unlike tempering-specific thermometers, which tend to be analog (and therefore need to be kept in the chocolate while you're stirring and generally making a mess), these infrared digital thermometers ($31.78) give you an instant read on the temperature without having to dip anything anywhere.
It's indispensable for practicing until you learn what chocolate looks and acts like at the proper stages. After that, it's really fun to point at your friends and read their surface temperatures.
Pralus' Barre Infernale
It's pretty rare that, as someone who's around chocolate all the time, my mind gets completely blown. But that's what happened when I first tried the Pralus Barre Infernale ($19.99 for 6.4-ounce bar). The finest, creamiest hazelnut praliné paste you've ever tasted, studded with whole roasted hazelnuts or almonds, it's enrobed in premium, super-smooth dark or milk chocolate. Unbelievably rich, and divine in its simplicity; expensive like a gold brick and worth every penny. This is classic French chocolate at its finest.
Pure Chocolate Extract
We all have vanilla extract hanging around the cupboard somewhere; but chocolate extract? This magical 4-ounce bottle ($8.99) holds a distillation of the "top notes" and other more volatile chocolate flavors that tend to get burned off or altered during normal processing. Add a bit to your cakes, cookies, ice creams and—well, pretty much anything—and be amazed at how the extract broadens the spectrum of chocolate flavor. A great idea for the cook who has everything (well, everything except this).
Custom Chocolate Bars from Chocomize
My brother and I spent hours coming up with our own Wonka-esque candy bars as kids, filled with everything from peanut butter to sour worms to beef jerky. On Chocomize's website, you pick the chocolate, the additions, and the decorations, then send it off to be manufactured. The beauty of it is the variety. Not sure what to get your sugar-crazed nephew? Try milk chocolate with cookie dough, marshmallows, and Pop Rocks. For great-aunt Dottie? Maybe dark chocolate with dried raspberries and gold dust. (They really do offer beef jerky, too.) Even better, Chocomize donates 1% of proceeds to charity, and you have the option of adding a little more. What's more holiday spirited than that?!
A Chocolate Vacation
If you're looking to go the full monty for someone (maybe you forgot their birthday too?) consider my dream vacation: going on a chocolates-of-Paris tour with David Lebovitz. Or, if you're feeling a little more tropical, think about heading to Belize's Cotton Tree Lounge for gorgeous riverside jungle lodging, tours of local cacao farms, and the chance to make your own chocolate bar at their tiny factory by the ocean.
Staying closer to home? Google "chocolate walking tour." Chances are, someone's offering a local chocolate tour not too far from you.