You will actually have to visit Amsterdam to sample what may be the best chocolates in the Netherlands. The proprietors of Puccini Bomboni, a delightful cafe and restaurant, hand-make each chocolate on the premises and do not deliver. Exotic combinations of chocolate and spices, concocted from the freshest ingredients, are a specialty. Although the variety isn’t enormous, the quality is truly amazing.
This box of 32 chocolates contains a different sort of treat – Turkish Delight, the chewy Middle Eastern confection. Made from an intense chew flavored with brown sugar and filled with pistachios, they’re covered in intense dark chocolate. This is an ideal choice for anyone who isn’t into overly sweet chocolates, as the intense dark chocolate pairs well with the mildly sweet Turkish Delight.
High-quality chocolate, made from the best cacao beans, is the first step. Next is the filling. When a confectioner makes the conscious decision to make high-quality chocolates, they forgo preservatives and artificial flavors and use natural fruit, nuts, butters, spices and herbs. The end result is something that isn’t as shelf stable as Russell Stover or other drugstore candies. Preservatives in those drugstore offerings affect the flavor of the chocolates. When you pit the long-life brands to more perishable high-end chocolates in a blind taste test, the differences are glaringly clear.
This cozy chocolate lounge and boutique schedules yummy events like a Chocolate & Bubbles Happy Hour and an upcoming “50 Shades of Chocolate” five-course dinner. Its Chocolate Boutique holds innovative fun finds like Chocolate Enrobed Bacon and Chocolate Mood Tubes (with five different cacao percentages). Solid bars such as their signature Some More (aka s’mores) and Strawberry Jammin’ with popping rocks are designed to provide a sensory experience. Stylish single pieces give a boost with bites like goji berry, linzer, banana ginger or cinnamon toffee.
Tessa Halstead grew up in the chocolate business: Her father ran a chocolate shop in Dallas a generation ago. Today in Austin, she’s built Chocolaterie Tessa into a community hub. Halstead and her crew produce chocolates on a larger scale than most, and offer single-origin bonbons in addition to assorted flavors that change seasonally. The always-in-season salted caramel is a favorite, but customers also come for the strawberry basil in the summertime and autumn’s cinnamon spice. Nationwide shipping is available. 7425 Burnet Road, Austin, TX
L.A. Burdick ($40 for 34 pieces, medium-size wood box) was well received, with three second place votes and only one strike against it. The subtle shades of chocolate squares hide a mix of French-inspired ganaches, including plenty of boozy options like Macallan whisky and green Chartreuse. These are safe, middle-of-the-road gifting chocolates that are probably suitable as professional gifts. They are known best for their chocolate mice, which are undeniably cute. L.A. Burdick is based in New Hampshire, with stores in New York City, and Cambridge and Boston.
Troegs Brewing has set the pace of the Hershey craft beer scene since 1997. Founded by brothers John and Chris Trogner, Troegs offers a large selection of lagers, wheat beers, hop-laden ales, Belgian-style ales and seasonal brews. A visit to the tasting room and snack bar is a great way to wrap up a brewery tour, offered daily. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
First time there we tried a few chocolate candies. We started eating them as soon as we left the shop and could not stop! They were so good, we kept walking and eating and didn't pay attention to where we were going. In Venice that can really get you lost! After finding our way back to the shop we bought more candy. This time enough to get us through the rest of the trip.
Cecilia Tessieri — one of the world’s few female chocolatiers — makes some of the most expensive chocolate in the world. Since opening its doors in 1990, the Tuscany-based brand Amedei has contributed to a $27,000 cupcake in Dubai and a $1,000 sundae at New York’s Serendipity. Tessieri also makes an eclectic line of pralines, and excellent bars such as the Cru Madagascar Extra Dark Chocolate (70 percent) or Chuao Bar (70 percent). We like the limited-edition Porcelana bar, which you can get for around $25.
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.
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.
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.
Marti Chocolatt: Chocolatier Tonet Tibay was inspired to combine her Philippine heritage with the finesse and sophistication of the French way of making chocolates and confectionery. Her surprising and unexpectedly delightful combinations are at the heart of her chocolates—consider the Kalamansi (zesty Phillipine lime and dark chocolate) is a piquant surprise with a decadent core. We also loved the silky Buko Pandan (a major award-winner) with young coconut bits with pandan leaf infusion in milk chocolate. Marti Chocolatt was awarded Best Chocolatier in America in 2012 and 2013 by International Chocolate Salon.
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.
Nice little place on Mass Ave with a variety of truffles and other small chocolates, as well as pre-wrapped gift items. Selection is solid and quality is great -- I think it could very well live up to its name, particularly for locally produced candies. If you're in the area and craving to satisfy that sweet tooth, I don't think you'll be disappointed here.
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Pastry chef and chocolatier Kate Weiser hasn’t been making chocolates for that long, but has already won wide acclaim. Though Weiser offers an array of gorgeous, hand-painted chocolate bonbons, her candy bars are the real draw. Bars in flavors like milk n’ cookies (milk stout ganache layered with Biscoff gianduja and sea-salted chocolate chip cookies) and passion praline (passion fruit cream and crunchy hazelnut gianduja) show Weiser’s skill in marrying flavor and texture. Chocolates ship nationally from November through May. Two-day and overnight shipping is available. 3011 Gulden Lane #115, Dallas, TX
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.
François Payard is widely known as a pastry chef, but I was unimpressed by Payard’s chocolates. I enjoyed the Chagall, a praline wafer with excellent structure, good balance, and medium-mild flavors, although it was a bit slow to present flavors. I also liked the Gauguin, in which the cherry and chocolate flavors worked well together, and the Monet, with a strong cinnamon flavor. Most other pieces were okay but unremarkable. The Rodin disappointed because its initial interesting raspberry flavor faded too quickly.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of chocolates. There are at least 25 in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
Fittingly, the chocolate takes center stage from the onset, not a more familiar dense semi-dark chocolate but rather, almost exactly as another has put it, like milk chocolate cocoa powder, somehow at the very intersection of sweet and dry. It's plenty sweet but not over the top, and the sharpness of the cocoa powder is somehow there. Another similar analogous experience is the smell of a milk chocolate bar when first being unwrapped. A brilliant capture by Sarah.
Susanna Yoon used to make the chocolates at Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred Per Se, where each meal ends with a tableside buffet of bonbons. Yoon spun her craft into Stick With Me, a shop in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Inside a space roughly the size of one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, she sells two dozen different types of bonbons, eight different types of soft caramel candies, and a handful of packaged brittles, toffees, nougats, and marshmallows. Each dome-shaped bonbon is a study in flavor pairings: The sunshine-like burst of yuzu against the soft sweetness of a white chocolate shell; nutty black sesame alongside tart passionfruit; or the dual-layered mint chocolate chip, with a flavor that unravels as it melts. 202A Mott Street, New York, NY
This is a box of confections for an adventurous chocolate lover. Every piece is memorable. The sesame nougat was the first one we tried and it still sticks out as one of my favorites. It has the perfect texture of chewy caramel, a little crunch from toasted sesame seeds and the snap of perfectly tempered dark chocolate. The Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn starts with the licorice-like star anise and finishes with the pink peppercorn, the flavors unfolding on the tongue like a sensory short story. While I don’t think any of the flavors would be offensive, some people might be scared off by the esoteric flavor combos. (Those palates will be happy with our well-made runner up.)
American consumers are expected to spend an astonishing $1.8 billion-plus on candy for the holiday this year, and about 75% of that will be on chocolate. Mass-market confectioners like Russell Stover, in business since 1923, will account for most of the sales. (The company, which also owns the Whitman’s brand, is the largest boxed-candy manufacturer in America.) Most smaller chocolate shops prepare special Valentine’s Day assortments and/or other chocolate-related gifts, though, and these tend to offer greater variety and utilize better-quality chocolate.