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
Unique flavors like Tarragon Grapefruit, Sesame Nougat, and Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn are part of the mix, as well as safer flavors like Burnt Caramel, Piedmont Hazelnut, and Candied Orange Peel (which is the best chocolate-covered candied orange peel you'll ever have). While unusual flavors can easily become gimmicky and overwhelming, Recchiuti has executed theirs perfectly with subtle, elegant, and rounded blends. This was especially apparent when compared with our previous pick, Christopher Elbow, whose perfume-y flavors almost knock you over.
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.
If you think chocolate all tastes the same around the world, Kyya Chocolate in Springdale, Arkansas, will prove you wrong. This bean-to-bar chocolate shop makes a variety of single-origin dark chocolate treats, allowing customers to taste the subtle differences between offerings from Uganda, Ecuador, Madagascar, and beyond. There’s nothing artificial in this shop, just pure, beautiful flavors.
A new prize given by our founding partners, Maricel Presilla, Martin Christy and Monica Meschini. The Triple MMM (or Mmm…) prize represents products chosen by the founders and Grand Jury because of a personal appreciation of a product tasted during judging. This prize reflects personal enjoyment of the product awarded and is not based on the competition scores.
Our top pick for cake mix comes with a catch. Williams-Sonoma’s devil’s food costs a whopping $15 per box. (Plus you can only buy it online or in-store.) Don’t get me wrong, this chocolate cake was really, really tasty, but is it worth the money and a trip to the mall? That’s for you to decide. If you’ve got a budding baker in your life or want to put together a nice housewarming gift, we recommend this product 110 percent. But if you’re just looking to make a quick, tasty cake, there are other, more accessible brands that fit the bill…or you could always make something from scratch.
Exactly when and where the first chocolate shops opened in America is uncertain, but early contenders for the honor include The Original Velatis, which set up shop selling caramels (some of them involving chocolate) in 1866 in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Govatos, which went into business in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1894 (both are still going strong; see slideshow).
This North End chocolate and nut shop run by two childhood friends features a variety of artisan chocolates by local and national chocolatiers as well as gourmet nut mixes, health bars, and specialty snacks, as well as vegan and gluten-free chocolates. Tasting days give the opportunity to try anything from Pure 7’s dark chocolate peppermint bar to Northlight Baking Co.’s macarons.

Richart’s Intense Valentine Gourmet Chocolates are $77 for a box of 49 chocolates. The real frustration here is that it's 49, not 50, so those of us with a strong sense of symmetry will have to eat them quickly just to cope. However, they are legitimate French Chocolates, each one having one of seven fancy flavors / aromas - floral, spicy, citrus, balsm, roasted, fruity, or herbal. The box also comes with a dark chocolate plaque for your valentine, so maybe that's piece 50.
Considered by many to be the best chocolates in America, Boston’s Beacon Hill Chocolates does everything perfectly. The taste, texture, and look of their confections are world class. This Massachusetts shop's most popular offerings include inventive confections such as a caramel sushi, a red velvet brownie covered in dark chocolate and truffles in the shapes of your favorite animals. These chocolates are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
She walked to the sideboard and pulled down three trays, each arrayed with a different cru. Valrhona was the first to borrow that wine term and apply it to chocolate; Amadei uses it to describe bars made with beans from the same region. Amedei’s Grenada I Cru was quiet and had something about it that reminded me of raspberries. The Jamaica was stronger and made me think of pipe tobacco; so did the Venezuela, but it also had a durable aftertaste of good black coffee. Then Cecilia offered me a tray of the first chocolate she made, called Toscano Black 70 percent. This time, I had trouble picking individual voices out of the choir. I mostly remember the overall sensation of getting all the deliciousness any sane person could want.
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.
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.
The next time you're sharing chocolate, impress your friends with your knowledge of "conching." Before Sprüngli & Son came onto the scene in 1845, chocolate was mainly enjoyed as a drink. The Swiss pioneers paved the way for future confectioners by crafting some of the world's first chocolate candies. Soon after, the company partnered with Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt, the inventor of the conching method, which is still the cornerstone of chocolate-making today. This hours-long churning process incorporates cocoa butter into the cocoa mass, resulting in smooth "melting chocolate" that's easy to mold. Today, Lindt & Sprüngli offers an overwhelming chocolate bar menu. Our favorites include their Excellence 85 per cent Cocoa Bar and Excellence Intense Orange Bar. We used to have to import Lindt bars from Europe, but these days they are ubiquitous, sold at supermarkets and chain stores.
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.

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