Can you really find gourmet cookie gifts at Amazon—the same place you turn to to stock up on Chips Ahoy? Turns out you can. Leila Love Macarons are delicate meringue pastry cookies made of almond flour, sugar and egg whites, sandwiched together with delicious fillings made with high quality chocolate or seasonal fruit fillings made with no preservatives or stabilizers. Each cookie is individually wrapped for freshness and presented in a fancy box. But be aware these cookies are not eligible for Amazon Prime (wah wah).
Sometimes, the best chocolate shops around the country have been in business for generations, descended from old-style candy-making facilities. Sometimes they’re no more than a few years old, started by artisanal chocolatiers, some with formal training and others with little more than a love for chocolate and a desire to learn. Sometimes they’re even local branches of large chains.
The makers were recently crowned the best of the best at the International Chocolate Awards, the biggest and most comprehensive global competition in the world. Soma Chocolatemaker, based in Toronto, was named best chocolate maker in the world for its dark milk chocolate bar made with cocoa beans from Guasare, Venezuela. Omnom Chocolate from Reykjavik, Iceland, took parallel honors for its milk chocolate bar featuring Icelandic milk powder and cocoa from Nicaragua.
The Quatre Epices was well balanced blend of four spices. Wild Cherry had a nice piquant cherry flavor the first time I tried it but was milder on a later occasion. The Praline Noisette was good with a sharp hazelnut flavor, and the Mocha Cream was good, but some of the other gianduja pieces were mild or weak. The Honey had mild flavors with not much honey shining through. The cinnamon of the Cinnamon Toast was present but stood alone, not partnering well with the chocolate.
Zak’s Chocolate is a small-batch chocolate shop located in Scottsdale, Arizona. What makes them so unique? They source all their cocoa beans from a single, ethical source and roast the beans themselves, allowing Zak’s to carefully control the production of their sweets. They then turn the beans into elegantly flavored chocolates, with delicacies such as a blackberry lychee bonbons, a brownie flight and a cacao nib caramel.
The only drawback that we found is that Simply Chocolate's prices are often considerably higher than the competition. For instance, many of the chocolates made by Vosges can be purchased directly from that retailer at a significant savings, even when factoring in Vosges' higher shipping costs. You'll want to shop around a bit, especially if your chocolate purchase includes a brand that may be sold elsewhere for less.
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Donnelly’s chocolates have well-developed chocolate flavors. Many pieces use strong flavors of spices, fruits, or nuts. I recommend identifying each piece before biting into it—the chocolate-banana combination is better when you expect it than when you are surprised. The cardamom piece is similarly better savored when you are prepared to sense the cardamom. (This spice is not used as much as its distinctive flavor and scent warrant. If you are not familiar with it, I recommend smelling and tasting a little separately before trying Donnelly’s cardamom-chocolate combination.)
Norman Love Confections: Chef Norman Love’s chocolates always have a tropical high toned fruitiness to them—even his dark selections. We loved his holiday candy cane selection (which comes in a fetching candy cane-shaped box.) The sleek, lustrous very colorful chocolates won big for shock and awe—they also tasted great too. This was one of the most festive and fun collections that we opened.
The 36-piece assortment I ordered from William Dean Chocolates contained a broad selection of chocolates and flavors, from the familiar peanut butter or even childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly, to fine lavender or port and plum. The Port and Plum was one of my favorites of the box. The flavors interplayed nicely and had some depth. The Mexican Mango was a very nice mango puree with a little bit of spiceness. The PB Krunch had a strong peanut flavor roasted just right. The WD 64%, a straight chocolate piece, was another of my favorites.
As a professional courtesy, we’ll do the math for you: If you order a dozen of these 4.4 ounce cookies…hold on while we cipher…that’s over three pounds of cookies. Too much? No worries. You can also order the smaller, (but still big!) 2 ounce, 10 cookie assortment in the Sweet Bite Gift Box. We know, that’s still over a pound of cookies, but you or the lucky gift recipient won’t regret it.
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.
Assortments include gift boxes, baskets, and samplers, or you could order a chocolate of the month collection for a gift that lasts. Their blue bandana chocolate bars are made from beans sourced directly from the farmers, while the five-star bars are filled with nuts, caramel, fruit, or granola. And that’s just the beginning bars of this chocolate serenade.
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.
Shuddering at the thought of using a mix? We don’t blame you. Like blue jeans and coffee beans, the options seem endless, and making the wrong choice invariably leads to disappointment. Some mixes result in dry or bland cakes, while others can pass pretty easily for homemade. With a team of cake-loving Taste of Home staffers, we compared five of the most popular cake mix brands in a blind taste test.
Woodhouse Chocolate ($50 for 24 pieces), a Napa Valley-based chocolatier, was the number one pick over at Consumer Reports. The chocolates are colored with only natural chocolate colors in shades of brown and white, the assortment nestled in robin’s egg blue crinkle cups and boxes. With one first place and one third place vote, it didn’t make a big impression with the first panel of tasters. The one thing it had going for it, though, was that it didn’t get any last place votes.
After trying several Fine chocolatiers that have been recommended highly, I tried Burdick again and realized his work is significantly above other artisan chocolatiers. Do not miss this. If you cannot get to the cafés in Harvard Square, Walpole, or New York, call or order on the web to have chocolate shipped to you. Burdick Chocolate is well priced for this quality and reasonable for shipping and makes an excellent gift.
Committed to quality, the French chocolate-maker Richart guarantees you the most refined chocolates from the most refined ingredients. Richart recipes, developed and tested by the Richart family, have won France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, the Ruban Bleu, seven times. Having perfected the art of chocolate making, Richart now focuses on enhanced flavors and distinctive designs and colors. A box of assorted chocolates is visually stunning. If you really want to impress, splurge on the $850 burlwood vault with seven drawers of chocolate — complete with temperature and humidity gauges.