Though this taste test determined which cake we prefer, it’s worth noting that there was one ingredient missing—the frosting! It’s easy to imagine that many of these brands would have tasted sweeter, more moist and flavorful with a dollop of creamy frosting on top…unless, of course, you’re on board with the naked cake trend. Even if you don’t have a five-star boxed mix on hand, delicious icing can go a long way toward improving a so-so cake.
#1: Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix — It was neck and neck to the very end. I tallied up the very last judge’s sheet and this Ghirardelli brownie mix won by 1.5 points.  Reviewers said it had a melt-in-your-mouth chewy texture and had phenomenal chocolate flavor. They loved the addition of chocolate chips to give authentic richness.  The high-quality Ghirardelli chocolate put this brownie mix over the top.

Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started in 1994 when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti established a factory in Aubazine, France. There he debuted his trademark chocolate candies shaped as nails and tools. In 2006, Bovetti and five fellow chocolate-makers visited Sao Tome, an African island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon. The island was called the “chocolate island,” which inspired them to found a fair trade association named Roca Cacao. The organization bought harvesting equipment for twelve plantations and ensured a living wage for their 120 employees. Beans from the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti’s high-quality Single Origin bars.
Considered by many to be the best chocolates in America, Boston’s Beacon Hill Chocolates does everything perfectly. The taste, texture, and look of their confections are world class. This Massachusetts shop's most popular offerings include inventive confections such as a caramel sushi, a red velvet brownie covered in dark chocolate and truffles in the shapes of your favorite animals. These chocolates are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
The selection at Chocolate is vast, everything from a simple chocolate-dipped fortune cookie for less than a dollar, to a 200+ piece Valentine's assortment of gluten-free chocolates for over $300. We did notice that none of their categories included two of the most popular “candy holidays”, Halloween and Christmas, but Easter chocolates are sold year-round.

NEW! Ceretto Barolo + Exotic Truffle Collection. For those who appreciate and collect Italian wines. Embark on a guided wine and chocolate tasting through the Langhe region of Piemonte home to Barolo, Barbaresco and the white truffle. Ceretto 2014 Barolo Red Wine is paired with our signature 9 piece Exotic Truffle Collection and nestled in a purple gift box. This is a classic Barolo - light garnet in color with Barolo's quintessential aromas of roses, tart cherries, and hints of truffles. Ceretto's Barolo DOCG is extraordinarily approachable, and it will continue to reward the patient wine drinker as it evolves over the course of several years. Included are guided tasting notes with which you can unlock the stories of each truffle parfum and discover the chocolate and wine pairing experience.
The second question had an easy answer: Chocosphere, World Wide Chocolate and other very handy Web sites for people who care about cacao content. A carton from Chocosphere containing just over a half pound of Amedei bars and squares ran me $50, with shipping. The next day, the whole box was gone. In my defense, I’ve seen engagement rings that came in bigger boxes. I knew that I wanted more, but at $100 a pound it would be cheaper to fly to Italy and go to the factory myself, which is what I did. This might make me the first traveler in history who went to Tuscany to save money on a candy bar.
Anna Shea Chocolates is an experience not to be missed. The flavors, ingredients, technique, and artistry are excellent, including an excellent color chart and playful names. The assortment includes a variety of flavors including fruit, cinnamon, liqueurs, and some playful flavors like red velvet and birthday cake. The assortment was light on nut flavors, which tend to be my favorites.
Within three weeks, the Tessieris decided that they weren’t going to buy chocolate anymore—they would make it. Cecilia apprenticed with bean-to-bar artisans around Europe. At first they bought cacao from brokers, but by 1997, Alessio had begun hunting it himself, from Ecuador to Madagascar to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. This last region was especially rich with cacao of the first rank; a lot of money was at stake, and life could get rough. Four years ago, someone tried to murder a cacao buyer who worked with Valrhona, strafing his car with an automatic weapon and leaving him with a half-dozen gunshot wounds.

For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
You'll pay a little more at Ethel M, even compared with other hand-crafted chocolatiers. For example, the least expensive design-your-own box is $39.99 plus shipping. Standard shipping will cost you $9.99 unless you're ordering $100+. The good news is that their "standard" shipping is 2-day and includes insulated mini-coolers with cold packs, to keep your chocolates unmelted.
If you're looking for chocolate as a gift, you'll want to look in the Gifts & Baskets section of the site. You'll find arrangements ranging from less than $10 to over $200. Personalized gift-giving options with Ghirardelli are fairly basic. You can choose from gift cards in four amounts, all with the same brown Ghirardelli-brand design; we would have liked to see cards with different themes for birthdays, wedding gifts, and so forth. You can also make a custom mix, but again, your options are limited: five designs of small tins that hold 15 Ghirardelli squares.
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The Thai peanut butter cups at Alma Chocolate in Portlandm Oregon, are what make this shop famous, but don’t discount their other offerings. Their bonbons are some of the best in the country and come in beautiful flavors such as fig and marzipan and passion fruit caramel. They also pay homage to chocolate’s Latin roots by making hand-crafted chocolate icons, made with 74 percent single-estate dark chocolate and painted with 23-karat edible gold.
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.
Ecuador is home to some of the best cacao beans in the world. Only approximately 5% of cacao in the world is labeled as “Fine Aroma,” and Ecuador produces nearly 63% of it. Until recently, Ecuador focused their efforts on exporting their cacao, but in the last few years, they have turned to producing their own chocolate. One brand, Paraci, has won dozens of international awards in recent years, beating out traditional European chocolate makers.
As with most types of chocolate on the market today, there are many options available when it comes to gourmet chocolate. So many, in fact, that it might be easy for you to become overwhelmed by the finely crafted chocolates and all the decorative, eye-catching gift boxes. If you’re looking for some of the best gourmet chocolates for your next party or you just want to sample some of the finest chocolate out there, our list of the ten best gourmet chocolates can provide you with the variety you need.

French Broad Chocolate is a must-try shop located in Asheville, North Carolina. It has chocolates that have won numerous awards at the International Chocolate Awards and Good Food Awards. The confections, which range from single-source bars to vegan lemongrass and ginger truffles, are made with local ingredients and sustainable, wholesome cacao beans.
Master chocolatier Christopher Curtin makes incredible salted caramel truffles and bonbons filled with Shiraz-infused ganache at Éclat Chocolate, but his pretzel bar, infused with the flavor of Pennsylvania Dutch pretzels, might be the ultimate salty and sweet chocolate concoction. Shipping options vary, depending upon distance; see order guidelines for details. 24 South High Street, West Chester, PA
If you are either passionate about chocolate or just like trying new and different chocolates, this is definitely the way to go. My wife is a self-proclaimed “Chocaholic” and for years I would have to scour the depths of malls or online searching to find her new chocolates, until I bought her this gift one year. Monthly you receive top quality chocolates from around the world and enjoy learning about the different chocolatiers, ingredients, etc. The fun for us is not just the chocolate (which is always amazing), but discovering new producers and ingredient combinations. It’s a great program that has even turned this non sweet-tooth person into someone who can truly appreciate the incredible variety and nuances of fine chocolate (ok, maybe even a “chocaholic”). And thankfully I no longer have search, someone else has done that for me and I can truthfully say that I trust their judgment on what is a fine chocolate way better than my previous guess work.
Anchorage, Alaska, is known for its stunning views of the aurora borealis, and Sweet Chalet is known for its similarly remarkable aurora bonbons. Each bonbon is hand-painted, so no two are alike in their beauty. The appearance of the aurora bonbons is only half of their appeal; they come in unique flavors ranging from caramelized pear with saffron to raspberry rosewater.
After I finished looking, I enjoyed the excellent balance of chocolate and raspberry in the framboise. The pistache was great. The noisette had a good hazelnut, but the chocolate was a bit weak. The Chocoblock looks like the chocolate-nut bark you find in so many stores, but it was superb. It contains assorted nuts and particularly brings out the pistachio flavor.
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Review: One of our tasters summed these little treats up in the following words: "soft, creamy and totally different." Not gonna lie, we weren't big fans of the idea of strawberries and cream in lieu of chocolate for Valentine's Day but one bite and we stuffed our faces. The truffles are creamy and sweet and surprisingly decadent. These are a perfect option for someone who *gasp* doesn't like chocolate (they are rare but they do exist) but you manage to love anyway.
“Birthday cake” is a difficult flavor to convey in a chocolate, but Anna Shea nailed it. The Candied Bacon Caramel also presented the bacon flavor better than other bacon-chocolate attempts I have experienced, but there were still some chewy bits in it that I feel detract from fine chocolate. Other pieces that were excellent without compromise include the Aged Balsamic Caramel, the Haiku (green tea ganache), and Krystle’s Banana Foster.
The Pecan Penuche also plays on local products, Georgia pecans. Its flavor makes nice use of pecans but is a little sweeter than I would like. Two pieces make excellent use of spices. The Aztec has a deep chocolate flavor, strong enough to stand up to the blend of six chilies and spices that kick in after a few seconds. In the Cayenne Passion Fruit, the cayenne and passion fruit play nicely with and against each other and with the chocolate. I often find that “hot” spices detract from chocolate, but Hard has blended these well.
Review: Dove chocolates are simple and they opted to stick to what they know for this Valentine's Day heart. The chocolates come in an assortment of milk chocolate peanut butter, dark chocolate truffle, and creamy caramel. The flavors aren't revolutionary but the soft suppleness of the chocolate is totally worth. This is the perfect box for someone who wants to skip the frills and just enjoys chocolate of the melt-in-your-mouth variety.
Erin Andrews started making chocolate nearly a decade ago from a small market stall; now, she presides over a sizable cafe and confectionary that specializes in single-origin chocolate bars. Indi’s chocolate bark and single-origin nibs are also on offer, as are body lotions and oils made from cocoa butter. Indi ships nationwide. 1901 Western Ave. Ste D., Seattle, WA
My husband Evan got me a subscription to your gourmet chocolate of the month club as a gift. It was one of the best gifts I've ever gotten - our whole family looks forward to each month's new arrival of chocolates. We share the pieces, savoring every bite. Each one is better than the last! Our 2 year old son Calder gets so excited whenever he sees the beautiful packaging, he loves to keep the "presents" even long after the chocolates have been devoured. Of course he is even more excited by the "special treats" inside. Thank you for bringing so much joy into our home each month!

People love chocolate. People love bacon. Vosges founder Katrina Markoff decided to marry the two, and Mo's Bacon Candy Bars were born. Choco-bacon pancake mix, truffles and caramel toffees soon followed, putting the Chicago-based company on the map. The pioneer in experimental chocolate who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris combines our favorite candy with curry for her Naga bar, and ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds for the Black Pearl Bar. You can find her whimsical recipes at boutiques in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City and Chicago.
Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
Kollar Chocolate’s pieces show excellent technique: They have good flavors, the flavors are generally well expressed, the chocolate is good, and the pieces are attractive and physically well crafted. However, I did not get a great sense of depth of flavors or blending of them. By and large, the flavors in each piece seemed distinct from each other and did not combine to form an experience absorbing to the senses.
I was not satisfied at Pierre Marcolini. The Massepain Pistache was unremarkable. The dark chocolate in the Noisettine Fondant was so strong it almost overpowered the hazelnut. The ingredients and components in the piece were good, but the composition was not great. In the Trianon Fondant, the dark chocolate exterior did overpower the filling, and the wafers were soggy, not crisp.
Founder Colin Gasko is running a small but ambitious operation. Each single-origin chocolate bar at Rogue is sourced from independent farms in Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras. Unlike other fair-trade chocolate purveyors, Rogue pays more than twice the minimum for some of its cacao order to ensure the lasting success of those farms. Thanks to its small production, Rogue doesn’t always have a wide array available to purchase online, but each bar tastes like something special. Three Rivers, MA

My 2005 purchase in San Francisco was slightly underweight. The chocolate felt powdery to me. The Ground Orange Gianduja was good, with orange pervading the piece, and the Hazelnut Gianduja was okay. However, the Marzipan and Honey Crunch were lackluster, and the Buttercrunch Chip was a bit dry. The weight of my 2006 Palo Alto purchase was correct. The White Gianduja was pretty good, medium-strength hazelnut flavor with some crunch.
The pieces in a one-pound box were quite varied in appearance, with few repetitions. Most pieces have full flavors of moderate strength. The designs were elegant but not as ornate as Burdick’s. The cinnamon-ginger piece was very good, and the chocolate-coconut mixture is notable. Some pieces are somewhat ordinary, not entirely worthy of a fine chocolatier.

Along with the milk and dark bars, there are bite-sized ChocoPods, drinking chocolates, bonbons and truffles. For a real textural experience, try the vegan-friendly Ooh Ahh Almond bar. It blends dark chocolate and crunchy almonds that have been kettle-cooked in sea salt and sugar. Or heat things up with the Spicy Maya bar that fuses cayenne and pasilla chile with creamy dark chocolate. If you want to get in on the latest Chuao flavor, then you have to try Strawberry Waffle Wild, a mix of crunchy waffle bits, strawberries and milk chocolate.


Candy — and especially chocolate — has been associated with Valentine’s Day since the 19th century. English confectioner Richard Cadbury started packaging his chocolates in heart-shaped boxes adorned with Cupids and rosebuds as early as 1861, and by the early 20th century, what had originally been a religious holiday had become fully commercialized. Candy shops (and florists) reaped the benefits.
Anna Shea Chocolates is an experience not to be missed. The flavors, ingredients, technique, and artistry are excellent, including an excellent color chart and playful names. The assortment includes a variety of flavors including fruit, cinnamon, liqueurs, and some playful flavors like red velvet and birthday cake. The assortment was light on nut flavors, which tend to be my favorites.
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