For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
I’ve been a fervent consumer of chocolate my whole life, to the point where I can open up almost any box of assorted bonbons and immediately spot the chewy caramel (it’s usually square). Aside from my personal affinity for bonbons and truffles, I tasted many different brands when they crossed my desk while I was working as a food editor at Martha Stewart. I learned how to quickly spot the difference between inexpensive and high-quality chocolates by looking for a perfect temper, examining ingredients, and, of course, tasting.
The Brownie Taste Test was around the corner, so the first thing I needed to do was to purchase the brownie mixes. I went to four stores,  ensuring that I was getting a good feel for what was readily available at grocery stores around the country. I didn’t want to get specific kinds that some people couldn’t find in their local market. I wanted to test the most popular and recognizable brands.
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.

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