The Connoisseur Collection is an assortment of delightful flavors, but it is weak on chocolate. Many of the pieces are very sweet or creamy or fruity but have little or no chocolate flavor. Some do, such as the Aztec with its chocolate flavor that is simultaneously strong and delicate. In spite of the poor representation of chocolate, I would be tempted to recommend the Connoisseur Collection for the other wonderful flavors, including passion fruit, chai tea, orange and pistachio marzipans, and hazelnut. Unfortunately, the product I received weighed 5.5 ounces, much less than the 6.7 ounces claimed. This makes the price $105 per pound, which is hugely overpriced.
Chocolate Museum in Bruges, participate in a workshop in Brussels, and even stay in hotels with chocolate bath products. Walking tours of the many chocolate shops will help shave off a few calories. Schedule a factory tour at select producers such as Le Chocolatier Manon, Cyril Chocolat or Chocolaterie Defoidmont, or take in a chocolate- and praline-making demonstration at one of the shops.
We wanted to find a wonderful gift for close and very important business associates. You know, the kind that are difficult to shop for because they have everything they need and can buy themselves anything they want. We were thrilled to find monthlyclubs.com, offering the Design Your Own gift club, and selected a unique membership that featured their amazing Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club at incredibly reasonable and affordable prices. The selections are one-of-a-kind delights, at least that's what we heard! Even picky dieters or (gasp) someone allergic to chocolate can enjoy sharing these world class confections.
The second question had an easy answer: Chocosphere, World Wide Chocolate and other very handy Web sites for people who care about cacao content. A carton from Chocosphere containing just over a half pound of Amedei bars and squares ran me $50, with shipping. The next day, the whole box was gone. In my defense, I’ve seen engagement rings that came in bigger boxes. I knew that I wanted more, but at $100 a pound it would be cheaper to fly to Italy and go to the factory myself, which is what I did. This might make me the first traveler in history who went to Tuscany to save money on a candy bar.
The Tessieris did not set out to make chocolate. In the beginning, like the rest of the Chocolate Valley, they made candy. Their parents owned a business in Pontedera that sold pastry ingredients to bakers. Alessio and Cecilia went off on their own, but they didn’t stray far. They rented a small room in town and began to experiment with what they call pralines and we call filled chocolates. Soon enough, they wanted to move to a higher grade—the highest grade they knew. So the brother and sister, who were still in their 20s, went to visit a chocolate maker they greatly admired.
You've seen their chocolates at your local big-box retailer, but did you know you can build your own customized box of chocolates via the Russell Stover website? Although their selection is not gourmet or exotic, shoppers looking for a traditional variety of chocolates will find what they want with Russell Stover, which includes the well-known Whitman brand as well.
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.
To identify the best chocolate shop in each state, 24/7 Wall St. indexed ratings weighted by number of reviews for thousands of chocolate shops nationwide on Yelp and Google. To be considered, a chocolate shop must be in or near a city with a population of at least 100,000 people. In states with few or no cities of this size, chocolate shops in smaller cities were also considered. Ratings are the number of points given by Yelp and Google users out of a possible 5.
I visited Melt while in transit through London and was only able to sample a few pieces. My favorite was the Crispy Croquant, a hazelnut feuillantine with superb texture, excellent hazelnut flavor, and a nice scent. The Raspberry and Mint marvelously combined those flavors with a soft raspberry ganache and crystallized mint leaves in a white chocolate shell. The Sea Salted Praline and Gianduja Dome were also very good. The Sea Salted Caramel trailed a bit behind. It lost points for falling apart when bitten into and a strong note in the caramel that did not quite harmonize with the rest of the piece for me.
Africans consume less than 4% of chocolate sold globally, but Ivory Coast is looking to change that with their handmade, artisanal chocolates. Known as the leader in the production and exporting of cocoa beans, the country has begun producing their own chocolate as the region continues to stabilize and experience economic growth. One company, Instant Chocolat, was launched in 2015 and has experienced tremendous growth in its first few years. Their chocolate, ranging from pralines to bars, is popular both locally and internationally, particularly with corporate clients like Air France and Citibank.
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.
Dilettante claims confectionary descendance from Julius Rudolph Franzen, pastry chef to Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. I have only their truffles to judge them by. Unfortunately, I prefer other pieces with a greater variety of components and expression. Truffles are too often an overdose of chocolate and cream. Dilettante may move up on my list when I have more experience with their products, such as their gift box assortment.
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.
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.