Not only does dark chocolate reign supreme in the dessert world for its complex bittersweet taste, but it's also ranked as one of the healthiest superfoods because it's loaded with antioxidants. These powerful antioxidants naturally found in dark chocolate can actually help reduce anxiety and depression — particularly when those experiences are related to or triggered by high stress levels. So if you're experiencing the winter blues, consuming antioxidant-rich foods like dark chocolate can be an effective natural remedy.
Christopher Elbow Chocolates is a Kansas City, Missouri, shop that takes the phrase “artisanal chocolates” to the next level. Each and every piece of candy is painted by hand, making these more like tiny, edible pieces of art than an after-dinner treat. The creativity extends beyond looks; these chocolates come in inventive flavors such as rosemary, Japanese yuzu and calamansi lime as well as an ever-rotating list of limited-edition flavors.
Because Jacques Torres is as serious about technique as he is about fun, it’s possible to walk out of one of his eight New York City stores without a pure, single origin bar of dark chocolate and a bag full of chocolate-covered Cheerios (the idea for which he had when a mother quieted her wailing baby with a handful of the cereal.) His 80 percent Porcelana cocoa bars are unusually sweet and silky for chocolate with such a high cocoa content, but Torres says the qualities of these rare, special beans allow him to ratchet up the cocoa without adding more sugar.
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
Olive & Sinclair isn’t just Nashville’s first bean-to-bar chocolate shop, it’s the first such store in all of Tennessee. This small-batch shop does everything in-house, from stone-grinding their cocoa to finishing up the ethically sourced, organic confections. The results are scrumptious, of course, and include signature Tennessee items like bourbon brittle and caramels alongside duck fat caramels that simply melt in your mouth.
French Broad: This chocolatier opened in Asheville in 2007 and does a nice job of giving the chocolate lover a big truffle for the buck. These were some of the largest truffles we tasted. Their Buddha Collection’s vegan truffle was a favorite (composed of bitter sweet chocolate and coconut cream), lending the truffle a nice exotic edge. The Lavender and honey from the signature collection box—a milk chocolate ganache around a dark chocolate ganache blended with local honey and lavender—was the a delicious riff on lavender. The mole negro—housemade mole in dark chocolate and rolled in sesame seeds—great texture and spice.
Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop is the definition of “off the beaten path.” You won’t find a website for this 420-square-foot shop in Madrid, New Mexico, but if you visit, you’ll find an ever-rotating selection of uniquely flavored chocolates. Mixtures like dark chocolate with pink peppercorns, lavender, lemongrass and merlot salt sound crazy, but chocolatier Harvey Shugarman makes it work.
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).
Chocolate Apéritifs au Fromage is chocolate-covered cheese. That was an unusual combination, new to me. The flavors are balanced and modest, but the cheese prevails. The Boîte Gourmande contains plain square wafers of chocolate, Florentins (chocolate cookies, square wafers covered with a honey and nut confection), mendiants (chocolate disks topped with nuts and dried fruit), and chocolate sticks containing candied orange peel. All are good. These are little chocolate delicacies, to be savored. The dried fruit arrived still fresh and full of flavor.
Chocolate contributes more than $700 million to the Ecuadorian economy. A single 1.8 ounce bar of the finest chocolate divided into 12 squares will set customers back more than $250. For the adventurous chocoholics who want to see chocolate production from seed to bar, the Cacao Route offers the opportunity to visit cacao farms and eventually eat chocolate in a number of dishes as well as sweet and bitter bars. Cacao Route tours take place near the Pacific coast, with options to tour the Organic Cacao Museum, horseback ride along the path and visit plantations and packing facilities, as well as in the Amazon, which features spa treatments at the Papallacta
Elk Candy Company makes fine chocolate and marzipan. I do not think marzipan is very interesting when it is plain or merely coated in chocolate, so it is nice to find a chocolatier that has developed their marzipan further, as Elk Candy Company has done with their flavored marzipan rolls. I like marzipan this way. Elk sells it in slices. Flavors include pistachio, truffle, hazelnut, and orange.
Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate in West Hartford stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one. But the chocolate tortels, truffles and dark chocolate-covered cherries on a milk chocolate heart are luxurious and rich.