We saved the biggest for last. Levain’s gourmet cookies push the limits of the definition of cookie. They have been described as “Molten Cookie Dough” for their barely baked middles that ooze with warm, sweet goodness. Weighing in at 6 ounces each they are the size of generous muffin tops. Each flavor is rich, buttery, super-decadent. We had the fun of standing in line to enter the teeny tiny New York store to order one of each flavor—Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was lucky to have a posse of eager tasters with me. The edges have a slightly crisp cookie texture that gives way to an interior of cookie/cake-y crumb. The cookie’s center is a barely baked oooey goooey celebration of sweet. This is not a cookie for the faint of heart.
Chloé Doutre-Roussel, the author of The Chocolate Connoisseur and one of the world’s leading authorities on fine chocolate, uses another word to describe what came next: vendetta. “Everything Alessio does, he does with intensity,” Doutre-Roussel says. “So this revenge became his focus. He put everything—the family money, even his sister—on this project.”
If you’re looking for something completely different, consider these luxury champagne truffles from the famous British chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker. A small-batch chocolatier known for serving the Queen of England, they’re famous for specialty products including these milk chocolate truffles made with marc de champagne, a French brandy made from champagne grapes. Their strawberry coating adds a pleasing sweetness that counters the intensity of the brandy-flavored filling.
The chocolatier's new cake truffles, created with celebrity baker Duff Goldman, come in four Ace of Cakes–inspired flavors, including Cookie Dough (cookie dough-flavored ganache with a milk chocolate shell topped with dark chocolate chips) ($16) and Goldman's favorite: Butterscotch Walnut Brownie, a ball of caramel and maple walnut cream, surrounded by milk chocolate and molasses. godiva.com
Galaxy is sold as Dove in several countries internationally. This brand of chocolate ranges in flavors from milk chocolate, fruit & nut varieties, and bubbles. The Galaxy and Dove brands also market products including hot cocoa powder, cakes, and ice cream. This comes in second to the Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in the best selling chocolate bars in the United Kingdom.
Traditional Mexican flavors come alive for popular chef and TV personality José Ramón Castillo, a leader in the evolution of Mexican chocolate. Que Bo! uses only organic ingredients sourced from local producers. Vibrant colored truffles matching their star ingredients, such as orange (mango, chili, and salt) or bright pink (guava). The massive, dipped confit figs soaked in molasses, cinnamon, and sugar can be enjoyed in the chocolateria’s hacienda-style courtyard in central Mexico City. Five locations in Mexico City.
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.
On the other hand, the pieces from Whole Foods Market were not as impressive. The Elizabeth, Antoinette, and Madeleine were good. The Jeanett had a strong mint flavor that overpowered its white chocolate. The Sophie is marzipan with lemon, which is interesting. I wanted more marzipan, but it was good. Not everything worked. The Valentina is a chewy caramel with lavender. Lavender is aromatic, but that was distracting, and it did not contribute a pleasing flavor. The Patricia certainly had chili but was weak on tangerine. These were fine for grocery store chocolates, but lackluster for the price, $51/lb. The box has drawings illustrating the pieces, but I was unable to match several pieces to the drawings.
Our final list of the best chocolate shops in every state celebrates every kind of chocolate maker — from the East Coast, where single-source, artisanal chocolates reign supreme, to cozy, kitschy shops in the Midwest, innovative chocolate stores and factories on the West Coast and everything else in between. If you live in the U.S., there’s the perfect chocolate shop for you (and you don’t have to travel too far).
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.
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).
B.T. McElrath Chocolatier was an artisan chocolatier in Minnesota but has become a part of Annie B’s. (I have not done a new review since the change.) McElrath’s truffle assortment was excellent, with balanced and moderately strong flavors. In most pieces, the flavors remained distinct, working together without losing their own identities. B.T.’s Signature Dark Chocolate Truffle had a full chocolate flavor without any bitterness and without being very sweet. Other flavors include caramel; passion fruit; lavender and pepper; chile and lime, lime, coconut, and ginger; cinnamon and star anise. All were well done. I would ask for a different and stronger caramel flavor, but that is a quibble of personal preference.
Spending a little more on this 28-piece assortment of Belgian chocolates will give your loved one plenty of pleasure back in return. Each one-pound package includes buttercreams, truffles, and pralines coated with ivory, milk, and dark chocolate coverings. Plus, it comes pre-wrapped with a beautiful satin bow, so all you have to do is click 'order' and you'll have everything you need for a thoughtful gift.