For this year’s update, I brought in 11 brands, including our 2014 picks. We took the past year’s suggestions from our Wirecutter commenters and input from other Wirecutter staffers. In the end, we tasted Jacques Torres, Neuhaus, Francois Payard, Maison du Chocolat, Tumbador, Leonidas, Fran's, and John and Kira’s against our 2014 picks, Christopher Elbow, Recchiuti, and Michel Cluizel.
If you like chocolate bark covered with fresh fruits and nuts, you will go nuts for the chocolate of Paul de Bondt. He was born in Holland and married an Italian, Cecelia. The couple makes international chocolate with flair. Try their lemon lime 64 percent bar made from Madagascar’s finest cacao. Although one can find several outstanding chocolate makers in Tuscany, de Bondt proves noteworthy for his scientific approach to chocolate, offering various percentages of the same cocoa in a series of bars that lets you find just the right nuances for your chocolate preferences. Chocolate and tea shop in Pisa.
Ginger Elizabeth Hahn has produced molded and flavored chocolates since 2007. Today, her shop specializes in bonbons in California-inspired flavors like Eureka lemon, raspberry rose geranium, brown butter, buttermilk lime, and olive oil sea salt. Macarons, chocolate bars, and ice cream are also on offer, though only the chocolates ship coast-to-coast. Orders are shipped the day after they’re received, with the exception of Thursday through Saturday orders, which ship the following Monday. 1801 L St. Suite 60, Sacramento, CA
In the lofty strata where Tessieri operates, “making chocolate” means that you make the chocolate. You import cacao beans from plantations. You roast them and husk them and grind the cacao nibs into a fine paste. You add sugar and grind some more. Finally you swirl the mixture in open tanks called conches, which smooths the texture while helping to blow off acids and other nasty flavors. It’s complicated, demanding work, and few small companies even attempt it.
In 2004, Los Angeles chocolatier Valerie Gordon started creating her impeccable, handmade small-batch chocolates and crispy chocolate-covered toffees topped with almonds, fleur du sel or candied fruit. Favorites of F&W’s Tina Ujlaki include the outstanding milk chocolate-dipped nougat and caramel squares. In 2011, Gordon created a line of new tea blends, cookies and petits fours. valerieconfections.com
This cozy shop/café takes an artistic approach to crafting decadent chocolates. Their hand-painted bonbons are a marvel to look at and taste: Black Forest Bacon Bites, Coconut Lime, and Strawberry Balsamic, among others. Truffles also reflect fun names and flavors like Yes, Yes, Yes (layers of white, milk and dark chocolate) and Bite Me (with a brownie ganache). Other fine confections include French macarons, toffees made with Texas pecans, and rich cakes and pastries.
All-Around Favorite: Chocolopolis: The defining difference between these chocolates and others we tasted was the utterly complex and rich ganache inside each different truffle. Chocolopolis has one of the largest collections of craft chocolate bars in the world—many of which they incorporate into their truffles. The Champions Box (my favorite) features all of their award-winning truffles. Lacquered and glossy, each truffle delivers serious taste, (think lemon-lavender white chocolate or the Madagascar dark chocolate). The top taste was the Dominican Republic House Blend truffle, made from their proprietary blend of select Dominican Republic couvertures (cacao). Chocolopolis founder Lauren Adler notes, “I’d compare our style of confections to the French tradition, where it’s really about the quality and the flavor of the chocolate.” Her caramel cups dusted with a cluster of sea salt are worth a bite too.
You can never have too many choices when it comes to chocolate. This Belgian chocolate box provides an amazing assortment of dark, milk, and white chocolate in an elegant gold box with a bow on top. You'll get 19 chocolate pieces that include favorites like 50 percent dark demitasse, chocolate hazelnut praline, praline crescents, and coconut macaroons covered in dark chocolate. If 19 pieces simply aren't enough to satisfy your taste buds, you can trade up for a 140-piece box (or one of the many sizes in between).
The most famous Venezuelan cacao of all comes from Chuao. The trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Doutre-Roussel calls the region “one of the jewels of the earth.” Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao. First it’s fermented to develop the compounds that will later blossom into rich aromatics, then it’s laid out on the parvis in front of the village church to dry slowly in the sun. Because the farmers worked together as a cooperative, Chuao is one of the only places where a chocolate maker could buy, at one stroke, 9 to 10 tons of uniformly excellent cacao. Until recently, that chocolate maker was Valrhona. Today every last kilo of cacao from Chuao goes to Amedei.
If you are looking at this product and reviews, chances are you have already eaten a lot of dark chocolate. If you haven’t, this isn’t a great place to start given the cacoa content is so high (I found this out myself the hard way). I used to eat mainly milk chocolate, which is primarily sugar. I initially tried an 85% dark and despised it. I then worked my way up starting with like a 45%, then 60%, than 72%, then 85%, then 88-100%...which worked a lot better as my taste could adapt to the change (for better or worse [better for me as I need to watch my dietary intake and want the health benefits of dark chocolate], standard commercial milk chocolate is now so overly sweet to me that I cannot eat it.)
A long, long time ago, the Aztecs used to sip something they called Xocolatl as a health tonic. This not-so-sweet beverage derived from cacao seeds (which they believed were a gift from the gods) paved the way for today’s much sweeter version of chocolate. Fast-forward to the late 19th-century and Swiss chocolatiers developed the conching technique to produce the smooth feel of solid chocolate we now know and love.
The praline/hazelnut mix starts to emerge in the background quickly after application. Hazelnut alone is more familiar, and I like to think I would've pointed it out without knowing about it ahead of time, but the addition of praline makes for a more nuanced and alien blend, albeit very desirable and certainly not taking much away from the cocoa-dominance of the fragrance.
Both gluten-free and kosher, this 24-ounce box of American chocolate includes 60 pieces, all made with real milk or dark chocolate. You'll get an assortment of chocolate with nuts, chewy centers, and (of course) classic cherry-centered chocolates. Made in the USA, this is a classic American box of chocolates that's been around for ages and may inspire major nostalgic feelings.
Garrison has other novelties, but the toffee was best. The Ultimate Nougat Bar suggested something I would like to see chocolatiers try—remaking classic candy bars with fine ingredients. Unfortunately, the Nougat Bar fell short. It felt too empty of flavor, and the first three ingredients do not impress (dried egg whites, sugar, and potato starch).
One of the house specialties at Fire & Grain is flatbread. Shown is the prosciutto and fig flatbread, which is covered with green onion aioli, prosciutto, figs and arugula, and drizzled with balsamic reduction and garlic oil. “I’ve been making this dough for more than 35 years, and we’ve perfected it,” says chef Michael Cappelli. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Those were my favorites of the Bean to Truffle Collection. They are novel enough that I am pleased to have tried them once, but the exceptional price prevents me from recommending the collection. The other pieces in my box were well done but not highlights for me. The Pistachio Marzipan did not present the pistachio or marzipan flavors well, the Nougat Torrone does not feature much chocolate flavor, and the Gianduja seemed very slightly bitter.
You can't make a list of popular chocolate brands without including Mars. This incredibly famous worldwide brand is responsible for Snickers, Galaxy, Dove, M&M'S, Milky Way, Twix, 3 Musketeers, and Mars bars. Like Nestlé, Mars focuses on candy bars and confectioneries instead of plain chocolate products. But it definitely offers a combination of chocolate, nougat, caramel, or other ingredients that you won't be able to say no to.
Using natural ingredients like cream from a herd in central Illinois and local wildflower honey, this sweet shop produces hand-dipped truffles, soft honey-caramels and pillowy marshmallows with seasonal or year-round flavors. Inventive flavors include a goat cheese walnut truffle, a banana bourbon caramel, and champagne marshmallow. The shop’s European-style drinking hot chocolates mixes are made with ground chocolate, in offering a cup of full of “wow.” Order one to sip there—Salted Caramel and Mexican, Chai Tea or Hazelnut—and then pick up a canister to go.
Cadbury makes chocolate bars, Christmas and Halloween candy, desserts, baking items, and beverages. However, what is available near you depends on where you live, since the company sells different items in different regions. One thing is for sure, though: when it comes to Cadbury chocolate, you can always find an egg, no matter where you are or what time of year it is.
I was introduced to Alegio Chocolate on a chocolate crawl and bought a selection to taste at home. The Raspberry had a good balance with strong raspberry and good chocolate working together. The Orange was similar but slightly milder. The Santa Domingo is an unusal combination of green olive, licorice, currants, and apricot. Those flavors actually stood to the side a bit to present the chocolate at center stage. The Espresso worked well with a slightly salted caramel. The Habeñero had a little bite to it, while the Honey was of course sweet. Throughout the pieces, distinct chocolate flavors were presented well.
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.
Chuao Chocolatier: (pronounced chew-wow) This company specializes in textural surprise. The whiz kid behind the firecracker truffle (chipotle caramel fudge with sea salt and popping candy) likes to thread in a secret layer of heat that doesn’t hit until the finish so you get the full-on rich chocolaty pleasure with a spank of fun at the end. The other favorite in this tasting was the Salted Chocolate Crunch with toasted panko breadcrumbs, olive oil ganache and a dusting of sea salt—a truly devilish bit. Owners (and brothers) Michael and Richard Antonorsi. also hail from Venezuela.
After surveying the options, devil’s food seemed like the best choice for side-by-side testing. Since the key characteristic of a devil’s food cake is its richness, we figured we’d be able to judge more fairly by basing our test on the big brands’ most indulgent offerings. Next, the pros in our Test Kitchen baked each cake according to the directions on its package. To rid our bakers and testers of any preconceived biases, we prepared and compared each brand without its flashy packaging or marketing claims.
Varsano’s looks like your average chocolate shop, so I was not expecting much, but their chocolates surprised me. Their uncommon white chocolate peanut butter cup was very nice, and the milk chocolate was good too. Marzipan is a favorite of mine, but only when it is elevated from a plain hard paste to something fluffier and more flavorful, and Varsano’s does that with an excellent chocolate-covered pistachio marzipan. I also liked the chocolate-covered graham cracker. The chocolate they use for covering their pieces is appealing. However, the buttercrunch tasted very weak to me, and the truffles did not impress me in 2006 as they did during my first visit.
Cookie Love’s gourmet cookie flavors include the classics like Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal with dried Cranberries, but you’ll also be tempted by Mocha Chocolate Chip, or how about their heartiest cookie named Enduring Love that combines organic coconut with almonds, oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried cranberries. With loyal customers across the country and rave reviews, Vermont Cookie Love is the place to order rich, all natural cookies and frozen cookie dough for lovers of just-out-of-the-oven home baked cookies.
You could spend eternity staring at the stunning chocolates at Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier in Charleston, South Carolina. The luxurious treats here are all hand-painted, resulting in bold morsels that are some of the prettiest little things you’ll ever lay eyes on. But, of course, you’ll want to eat these chocolates in addition to looking at them. Flavors range from the standard (praline, raspberry) to the subtle (Earl Grey, lavender caramel) to the extraordinary (bleu cheese).
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.
Hand-dipped bonbons are a specialty for Alma, one of Portland’s standout chocolate shops, but only its toffees, molded chocolate figures, and chocolate bars are shipped nationwide. Stop in for a taste of owner Sarah Hart’s Thai peanut butter cups and rose caramels — the filling contains just the right amount of salinity to offset the drop of rosewater that’s inside each one. Or, order in advance of the holidays to snag a hazelnut or peanut butter crunch bar, caramel-pecan bar, or mocha almond nibby. Alma ships nationwide. 140 NE 28th Avenue, Portland, OR
At Sucré in New Orleans, everything is simultaneously decadent and delicate. The shop’s signature chocolates feature playful flavors like peanut butter and jelly and German chocolate cake. The macarons, which include chocolate, almond and lavender flavors, are famous throughout Louisiana. Of course, the shop’s standout offerings are sold during Carnival,which include a selection of gold, green, and purple chocolates in iconic flavors (creme brulee, Southern pecan praline, and bananas Foster).
Theo Chocolate can be found at many higher-end markets but a visit to its shop guarantees a taste of hard-to-find flavors, like a bonbon filled with caramel that’s flavored by the smoky heat of a ghost chile. Theo, which ships its chocolates nationwide, uses only organic and certified fair-trade chocolate for all of its creations. 3400 Phinney Avenue N, Seattle, WA 98103
Krader appeared genuinely surprised after biting into Teuscher’s hefty, dark-chocolate truffle. "It’s very dense,” she said. “A powerhouse.” Krader didn’t take to the truffle— “not my favorite,” she said—but acknowledged that many people would. “I think this is for people who go big, who want the triple-decker burger—the highest pile of truffles on their pasta,” she said.
This is a delicious handmade product produced at their store in Lucerne, but you can also purchase at their store in Zurich. The chocolate here far exceeds the taste and quality of other chocolatiers in both Zurich and Lucerne. If you happen to go to Lucerne, be sure to taste the homemade ice cream only available here. While the chocolate ice cream was excellent, the cherry was my favorite.
I'm not a huge chocolate fan but when I get a craving, I can always come here to satisfy it. I don't think I've tried any truffles that weren't made perfectly. Not only are they beautiful but you can tell their fresh with quality ingredients. It looks like they're expanding now and it'll be a great space to hang out and eat your chocolate or eat your ice cream once it warms up! If you have someone in your life that you love or appreciate, you can't go wrong gifting them chocolate from this place! Fairly priced, beautifully packaged and delicious!
Chocolate making in general is often referred to as an art, but at Dancing Lion in Manchester, New Hampshire, they really are making art. They sell stunning chocolate sculptures that almost look like stonework. You’ll also find beautiful and uniquely flavored chocolate bars such as The Blues, a beautiful blue bar with dark chocolate, blueberries and toasted pecans.
I recommend Bridgewater’s assorted chocolates, including the toffees, which you can buy separately. However, their marzipan, truffles, and bars do not impress me the same way, although nothing is particularly wrong with them. The truffles had an airy mousse-like filling. The orange truffle was pleasant, but the hazelnut and raspberry were distant in those truffles. The bars with bits of various fruits, nuts, or other items had a more appealing chocolate flavor than most chocolatiers’ bars. The fruits added a bit to the flavor but were a minority portion. The marzipan was standard.
“We became convinced it was impossible to become number one in the world buying beans from brokers,” Alessio says. “The broker cannot tell you who grew the beans, or how it was done.” I don’t take Alessio for a weepy humanitarian, and yet he practices enlightened self-interest when it comes to the people who grow his cacao. He has invested in Chuao, agreeing to pay off the farmers’ mounting debts and buying baseball uniforms for the local team. He needs their best work so that he and Cecilia can do their best work.