Unlike many of the boxed chocolates we've tried, the Recchiuti offer a full sensory experience, which is part of the reason to give boxed chocolates in the first place. The flavors really set this selection apart from the competition. Classic concoctions, such as Burnt Caramel and Piedmont Hazelnut, offer just the right balance of sweet and bitter, while more adventurous flavors, such as Tarragon Grapefruit and Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn, are never overpowering (a problem we've found with most other flavored chocolates). And the black-on-black packaging—sexy, but not over the top or too obvious—looks and feels much more elegant than offerings from every other brand we looked at. Inside, the jewel box holds shapes and textures far more intriguing than the monotonous square candies in most other assortments. Overall, these bonbons are far more well-rounded than others we've tried.
Christopher Elbow ($35 for 16 pieces) was our top pick for 2014. In a blind tasting, a panel voted it their favorite. In the most recent tasting, the chocolates came across as too sweet and the flavors a little heavy-handed. While they are absolutely beautiful—the chocolates resemble baubles and jewels—they were squeezed out of the top spots by this year’s contenders.
As Saint Valentine's Day rose in popularity, people began sending gifts of flowers, love letters, and other trinkets. Liquid chocolate drinks were understandably not convenient to mail to a sweetheart. In 1847, Joseph Fry invented chocolate you could eat by adding extracted cocoa butter back into the drinking cocoa powder, changing forever how we think of chocolate.
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.
The Connoisseur Collection is an assortment of delightful flavors, but it is weak on chocolate. Many of the pieces are very sweet or creamy or fruity but have little or no chocolate flavor. Some do, such as the Aztec with its chocolate flavor that is simultaneously strong and delicate. In spite of the poor representation of chocolate, I would be tempted to recommend the Connoisseur Collection for the other wonderful flavors, including passion fruit, chai tea, orange and pistachio marzipans, and hazelnut. Unfortunately, the product I received weighed 5.5 ounces, much less than the 6.7 ounces claimed. This makes the price $105 per pound, which is hugely overpriced.
Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
Named after Venezuela’s legendary cacao-producing region, Chuao Chocolatier specializes in “fusion chocolate.” Founded in 2002 by Venezuelan master chocolatier and chef Michael Antonorsi, and his brother Richard, Chuao (pronounced chew-wow, as it turns out) aims to dazzle and delight taste buds by pairing ethically sourced chocolate with natural — and oftentimes surprising — ingredients such as chile peppers, popcorn, potato chips, bacon and honeycomb.
Blue’s Chocolates (formerly Chocolatier Blue) features fine chocolates of diverse flavors. One of my favorites was the Sweet Potato Casserole, for its novel flavor. The sweet potato flavor was well presented and balanced with the chocolate. The Hazelnut was also excellent. Hazelnut is a traditional flavor in chocolates, but the natural hazelnut flavor shone in this piece without being bitter. Other favorites included 75% Dark, Lemon, Pistachio, Passion Fruit Caramel, Candy Cane, and Pear. The PB Crunch was crunchy and had a nice peanut flavor with a pleasant tang.
The Mint Chocolate Cookie had good flavors, but I did not find the composition as compelling as in the other pieces. It seemed a little incohesive, although the components were good. The Raspberry Rose was not as strong as other pieces but was still excellent. The pieces were in thin shells of white, milk, or dark chocolate. All of the shells contributed good flavors, but I might like a little more of them.
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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.
When I spoke with Eric Case of Valrhona Chocolate, he made a point to differentiate filled chocolates from chocolate bars: “Chocolate and chocolates. Chocolate is something made from a bean, to give to someone that then creates a bonbon, or a confection, or a candy. ‘Chocolates’ are all kinds of things that happen to use chocolate in the ingredients, but they also have marzipan, toffee, nuts, or fruit.” Because of these additions, the shelf life of a quality box of chocolates is (generally) much shorter than that of a bar.
My son, Justin, treated me to a subscription to the Chocolate Club for my birthday this year. His message says it all..."I have often tried to describe you to people...haven't quite figured out how yet, but invariably the description includes chocolate in one of its sumptuous forms!" So, it was with great anticipation that I waited for my first delivery. One morning I was relaxing in my hot tub enjoying a beautiful spring morning, thinking that life couldn't get much better...when suddenly it did! The FedEx delivery man arrived with my chocolates in hand...life is good...and the chocolates are yummy!
The Swiss came up with the idea to add cocoa butter and the method to do it which gave chocolate a much nicer texture. The Belgians invented the praline, the chocolate truffles and many different exotic fillings. There are several differences between Swiss and Belgian chocolates. The beans for Belgian chocolate come mainly from Africa. The Swiss acquire them from both Africa and Latin America. Texture, storage and the use of milk in chocolate are other distinctive features of these great chocolates. The Swiss chocolate has usually a smoother texture and would rather avoid using artificial emulsifiers. Swiss tend to produce milk chocolate, and in general they contain more sugar and less cocoa than Belgian chocolates, which are often dark. Belgian chocolatiers have a competitive advantage when it comes to pralines.
Chocolate is a guilty pleassure made of the mass of roasted cocoa beans and cocoa butter processed with powdered sugar. This sweet is hundreds of years old. The word cocoa derives from the Aztec word "cacahualtl". According to the legend the cocoa was the most beautiful tree in the Aztecs' paradise. They believed the cocoa beans provided wisdom and helped cure diseases. These trees originaly grew in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. The Mayans started to cultivate cocoa more than 2,500 years ago. They used the cream of cocoa to cure wounds and as both stimulant and relaxing medicine. They also created a bitter beverage called "chocolha" with the seeds of cocoa and some local spicies which was only consumed by the nobles.
Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.