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.
The Richart family started making gourmet chocolates and French macarons in Lyon, France in 1925 and has consequently gone on to become one of the world’s best chocolate brands. The chocolatier has gained highly coveted accolades for his work: National Geographic’s Inside Travel named him one of the world’s top chocolatiers, and has been awarded the Ruban Bleu, France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, a total of seven times.
Owned by a couple for 30+ years, this beloved shop focuses on both chocolates and pastries. The confectionery menu features a plethora of truffles, fondants, and marzipans, as well as specialty treats such as marzipan critters, florentines, and meringue balls. Pâtisseries also make for good eye candy, from chocolate cakes to fruit tartelettes and French macarons.
We reached out to some of the world's best makers to learn more about the chocolates they love. These aren't the kinds of confections you'll find wedged between gum and mints at the check-out counter. They are craft chocolates, known for their attention to quality and celebration of the wide range of flavors found in cocoa beans from different origins.
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.
Many pieces featured nut pralinés or pastes, and there was significant variety, including hazelnut, almond, pistachio, walnut, and various combinations, some with fruit flavors as well. The 3 was the fruitiest, and the most different from the others in the collection, featuring caramel, passion fruit, coconut, and mango in dark chocolate. The passion fruit dominated, and the chocolate flavor seemed a bit lost.
Great list! There are only two I haven’t hit. I will say that Cavanaugh’s Cherry Chocolates are the best ever! For fun at V Chocolates you must get a package of the Chocolate Frogs, the Harry Potter in you will be so happy. Cummings’ Chocolate Pecan Turtles are so right, I don’t want to be wrong! Hatch’s!!!! Went to school with Steve. Every Christmas his family would visit and bring a box of their homemade delights, where the original goodness started! Great post, thanks for sharing!
Mom’s birthday celebration continues! She just received her first shipment of chocolates from Monthly Clubs today. It’s getting harder to surprise mom these days, but your website made it super easy for me to find something very special that would continue to delight mom once her birthday celebration came to an end. Indeed the gourmet chocolates seemed to delight her. Thanks to you, mom thinks of me as her perfect child who worked at coming up with the perfect gift. In reality, you couldn’t have made it easier for me. Thanks Monthly Clubs!
With locations in Montrose and West University, this shop/café is a dessert haven with in-house made ice cream, cakes, pies, cookies—and, yes, chocolate. On the menu, find four-layer or rich mousse cakes like crowd favorite Aunt Etta’s chocolate cake or Night & Day, which is complimented with white chocolate icing. There are plenty of chocolates to choose from: triple crème truffles, dipped fruit or cookies, clusters, bars, and special shapes. There’s even a frozen hot chocolate.
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.
The chocolatier, William Dean Brown, plays with a variety of flavors in the assortment. The pieces included Cappuccino, Apple Pie, Hazelnut, Grapefruit and Tarragon, Strawberry Caramel, and more. I regard the Apple Pie highly for execution of its theme; it contained an apple layer and a crumb layer that were faithful to the theme, but the chocolate had a minor role in that piece. Indeed, the amount of chocolate flavor in the assortment varied and was not always the star.
I discovered this wonderful chocolate brand more than a year ago in one of my Amazon Sweet Surprise boxes and immediately started searching for more. Hands down, this is the best chocolate I’ve ever had, European or American. The flavors in this selection are among my all-time favorites made by Seattle Chocolate. If I could give it 10 stars I would. And so nice to know that a portion of revenue goes to charitable causes. Thanks so much, Seattle Chocolate!
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.
Decadent is the first word that comes to mind when describing these Swiss milk chocolate truffles. The inside is filled with rich, smooth chocolate that melts in your mouth — and the outside is covered by a crunchy chocolate shell. You'll get the benefits of both textures in one delicious treat. And talk about value: this 60-count box will keep your gift recipient high on chocolate for weeks.
When we heard she was debuting Wild Ophelia, an American-inspired “sister” line to Vosges, we were excited to try it for ourselves. Intended as an “American road trip through chocolate,” Wild Ophelia aims to connect the American farmers’ movement with chocolate. The 41 percent cacao milk chocolate bars feature all-natural ingredients such as New Mexican pecans, California almonds and Michigan cherries sourced directly from small farms across the USA. Markoff first gained fame with offbeat creations like the Mo’s Bacon Bar, so it’s no surprise that Wild Ophelia features unexpected flavors such as BBQ Potato Chips, Beef Jerky and Peanut Butter & Banana.
L.A. Burdick ($40 for 34 pieces, medium-size wood box) was well received, with three second place votes and only one strike against it. The subtle shades of chocolate squares hide a mix of French-inspired ganaches, including plenty of boozy options like Macallan whisky and green Chartreuse. These are safe, middle-of-the-road gifting chocolates that are probably suitable as professional gifts. They are known best for their chocolate mice, which are undeniably cute. L.A. Burdick is based in New Hampshire, with stores in New York City, and Cambridge and Boston.
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.
At their Brooklyn, New York, factory, the bearded brothers Rick and Michael Mast create fantastic single-origin dark chocolate bars that are wrapped in custom-printed paper and named after the sources of the cacao beans, such as Papua New Guinea, Moho River, Sambirano Valley, and La Red de Guaconejo. “They’re interesting, and certainly showcase the tangy, tropical, terroir-driven flavors of chocolate,” says F&W’s Kristin Donnelly. mastbrothers.com
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
John Scharffenberger, already a big name in the wine world, decided in 1997 to try his hand at artisanal chocolate-making. Using a vintage German melangeur — a machine that slowly grinds cacao beans into a chocolate liquor — and personally sampling beans from more than 150 international cacao farms, he and partner Robert Steinberg sought to bring traditional European chocolate craftsmanship to the States, proudly emphasizing cacao content on the bars' labels — a first for American chocolatiers. The San Francisco team also became the first American bean-to-bar manufacturer in 50 years. Now a member of the Hershey family, Scharffen Berger produces a modest but exquisite selection of bars and tasting squares sold at stores like Whole Foods including a crunchy Milk Chocolate Bar with Sea Salted Almonds.
This winter, put down that sad can of powdered hot cocoa and embrace the wonder of drinking chocolate—small pieces of real chocolate that you melt in hot milk or water. The result is a richer, denser cup of hot chocolate that will definitely warm you up on a chilly night. This 55% dark drinking chocolate from Theo Chocolate is the perfect introduction to the joys of homemade hot chocolate. It’s single origin (from the Democratic Republic of Congo), organic and certified fair trade, which means you can be sure that producers and farmers are being paid fairly and using sustainable practices. Gift a box to your eco-warrior friend for a cozy night of Netflix bingeing.
Most chocolate makers know nothing about where their cacao comes from. A former consultant for a well-regarded European chocolate maker told me that until last year, the firm’s cacao buyer had never been to a plantation. Farmers sell to brokers who sell to bigger brokers; by the time the cacao reaches the factory, nobody knows its story. Sometimes this arrangement allows growers to mistreat workers without accountability. It also can allow them to get the same price for unripe, rotting or generally trashy beans—at their worst, these are known as "dogs and cats"—that they get for the good stuff.
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
Considered to be some of the very best chocolate in all of New England, Lake Champlain Chocolate is a Burlington, Vermont, staple that carries wonderfully executed gourmet chocolates. Their hot chocolate is some of the most indulgent and delicious of its kind, and that luxurious texture and flavor of chocolate extends to all their handcrafted treats.
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.