#3: Great Value (Wal-Mart Generic Brand) Fudge Brownie Mix — the underdog and least expensive brownie mix killed it in the brownie mix challenge, much to the surprise of the judges. One judge even gave it a perfect score and deemed it the favorite. It consistently received a few solid 8’s, a few 9’s, and one 10. It also received a 2 and several 4’s so it wasn’t a favorite across the board. Most reviewers like the soft, chewy texture with flaky top. They enjoyed the fudgy flavor. Some thought it was slightly artificial tasting and wouldn’t eat it again. It scored well enough to nab the #3 spot. What a shocker!
This best selling chocolate brand produces a premium, round, chocolate sweet. It consists of flat sheets of Wafer, Nutella, and hazelnuts. About 3.6 billion Ferrero Rocher are sold every year in over 35 countries. This brand has had a major impact in China since China allowed foreign businesses to increase the economy. The gold wrapping gave a luxurious and different appearance which the Chinese associated with wealth, which allowed for its popularity in China over other chocolate brands.
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.
After debuting his winning pralines at the World Fair in Brussels in 1910, Greek-Cypriot confectioner, Leonidas Kestekides, fell in love with a local Belgian girl. He then opened a tea room in Ghent and after his pralines again won gold at the Ghent World Fair in 1913, Leonidas began expanding his operations. He opened tea houses in Brussels and Blankenberge. His nephew, Basilio, pioneered the storefront “guillotine window.” Today, Leonidas sells chocolates at more than 1,500 storefronts worldwide. But, the prolific brand’s humble beginnings are never too far away. “Democracy in chocolate,” their motto, means that the good stuff isn’t only reserved for the rich. Purists will appreciate his Tablette Noir bar, which features 70 percent cocoa.
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.
Artist Christine Sarioz started working with chocolate years ago, but only opened her first shop this year. Molded chocolates, filled with dense, deep chocolate ganache or pistachio praline, look like elegant miniature children’s building blocks, perhaps in a set designed to honor Brutalist architecture; some are gilded in metallic dust for extra sparkle. Her signature item is a hazelnut praline-filled chocolate bar: Shiny, snappy, and wrapped in gold paper, it’s what Wonka would peddle if he’d gone to design school. 9414 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Bissinger’s toffee is pretty good. The pieces in their French Collection and Signature Classic assortments were good quality but did not have a lot of flavor for me. For example, I did not taste much blackberry in the Blackberry Caramel, and the Pecan Nut Ball was too sweet with not enough nut flavor. The price is high for Standard chocolates; you can get some nice Fine chocolate at the same price.
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 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.
Kollar Chocolate’s pieces show excellent technique: They have good flavors, the flavors are generally well expressed, the chocolate is good, and the pieces are attractive and physically well crafted. However, I did not get a great sense of depth of flavors or blending of them. By and large, the flavors in each piece seemed distinct from each other and did not combine to form an experience absorbing to the senses.
K’s 4-star review: Champagne Truffles are amazing. When you shop in the store, they have "mini" truffles which are even better. I absolutely recommend these as a highlight of a trek along 5th Ave (among other distractions). Other chocolates from the case weren't as impressive (or disappointing: the triple-layer gianduja was dry and crumbled apart in the bag). Oh, and don't expect that the chocolate will be packaged nicely with a self-selected assortment: you get a clear plastic baggy like you just bought bulk dime store candy. Otherwise, staff was courteous and helpful. So, yay! I'm a fan of one piece! Rather generous rating for one piece ... ah well.
“Wow,” said Krader, biting into one of the company’s flat, square truffles. “This is definitely the chocolate with the most distinct point of view.” By that, she meant that it had perhaps the most unusual flavor of the bunch, with distinctly fruity notes. “This is from someone who’s redefining what truffles can be,” she said. “The flavorings don't punch you in the face, and it tastes like it was just made.” In other words: advanced chocolatiering. “There’s a sophistication about them,” she said. “Truffle neophytes might want something more general.”
These Wockenfuss artisan truffles are not just absolutely delicious, they’re also gorgeously crafted. There are 12 truffles in the box, each with unique fillings, made with dark chocolate and milk chocolate. The onyl complaint you’ll have with these gourmet chocolates is that they are so beautifully decorated you’ll find it difficult to actually eat them.
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.
The Mom’s Apple Pie Truffle had a good apple flavor, a background of pie crust flavor, and was well accompanied by white chocolate. I did find it too playful with non-chocolate flavors to take it seriously as a chocolate piece. The Chocolaterie also has simpler and more direct flavors, such as the Epicurean Truffle and the Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt Butter Caramel.
Chocolatier and pastry chef Marc Aumont has been crafting fine chocolates for decades, taking over his father’s business in France at the age of 16. Today, Aumont makes the desserts at chef Gabriel Kreuther’s restaurant in midtown Manhattan and commandeers the chocolate shop next door. The chocolate room itself is encased in glass so patrons can see each bonbon as it rolls off the enrobing conveyor belt, a mesmerizing process. Aumont is known for his macaron-flavored bonbons, but the whole line, from the addictive macadamia nut toffee to the filled and multi-flavored chocolate bars, is worth sampling. 43 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
“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.
Chocolate fits a lot of moods and personality types. There are the intensely dark, single-origin bars meant for connoisseurs, the whimsical cake pops at a kid’s birthday party and the mass-produced assorted chocolates that your average joe wouldn’t pass up. These Seattle Chocolate candy bars fall somewhere in between. They capture the kid-at-heart sentiment of cake pops combined with some of the same quality ingredients found in high-end chocolate bars.
Top-quality chocolate from Africa? Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti moved to Aubazine, France, in 1994 to debut his trademark chocolate candies shaped as nails and tools. In 2006, Bovetti and five fellow chocolate-makers visited Sao Tome, an African island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon called the "chocolate island," which inspired them to found a fair trade association named Roca Cacao. The organization bought harvesting equipment for twelve plantations and ensured a living wage for their 120 employees. Beans from this, the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti's high-quality Single Origin bars. The company crafts an impressive collection of more than 150 different kinds of chocolate bars, boasting ingredients like ginger and lavender petal, or for the truly adventurous, dried tomato and chili. Other savory-sweet products include Apéritif Chocolates featuring chocolate-coated fennel, anise seed, rosemary, coriander and mustard.
Anna Shea Chocolates is an experience not to be missed. The flavors, ingredients, technique, and artistry are excellent, including an excellent color chart and playful names. The assortment includes a variety of flavors including fruit, cinnamon, liqueurs, and some playful flavors like red velvet and birthday cake. The assortment was light on nut flavors, which tend to be my favorites.
Stars with a blast of rich but DRY cocoa powder (the kind used in baking). This fades down into a less powdery and dry cocoa scent, where the vanilla begins to peek through. Unfortunately, the performance of this scent on my skin is fairly weak. It doesn't project off of me at all. Despite the other notes listed, I really only smell the cocoa powder.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of chocolates. There are at least 25 in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
You’ll find the best chocolate shop in Georgia at the Krog Street Market in Atlanta. Xocolatl makes single-origin bean-to-bar chocolates that are sustainably and ethically sourced from Peru, Madagascar, Nicaragua and beyond. Their confections are presented in beautiful, simple paper, but the flavors inside are anything but basic. Xocolatl’s best-selling chocolates include the Kissed Mermaids (dark coconut milk chocolate with vanilla-infused sea salt and crunchy cacao nibs sprinkled) and Go Nuts (dark chocolate with dry-roasted almonds and vanilla-infused sea salt), which are decadent and delightful.
In researching and testing for this guide, I was surprised to find that expensive doesn’t always mean high quality. Some of the costly boutique chocolates we tried were clearly made from inferior beans, with flavor that just died on the tongue. The Recchiuti chocolates, on the other hand, are worth the money, with the subtle flavors that come from great cacao.
The milk-chocolate-covered toffee was very good. I do not think the dark chocolate or white chocolate showcase the toffee as well. Lest my praise and high marks for the Chocolate Dream Box make you giddy, let me note that not everything was perfect. The crunch of the Hazelnut Crunch felt just a bit soft, and the chocolate flavor in the Lion Heart was blunted. And the price is high.
Vosges ($40 for 16 pieces) is famous for round truffles with exotic, unexpected combinations like wasabi with black sesame and even Taleggio cheese with walnuts. Their bacon bar is beloved by many people we talked to, but their assorted chocolates weren’t as well received. Funniest comment: “Cumin?? That’s a mean trick!” Vosges are available in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
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.
There’s no shortage of treats out there for purchase — especially of the mass-market variety that Hershey’s, Mars, Whitman’s, and Godiva peddle. The trick, then, is in distinguishing the handmade and carefully crafted from the mass-produced marketing hype. Here’s where to buy a truly excellent box of chocolates, organized by category of confection.
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
Within three weeks, the Tessieris decided that they weren’t going to buy chocolate anymore—they would make it. Cecilia apprenticed with bean-to-bar artisans around Europe. At first they bought cacao from brokers, but by 1997, Alessio had begun hunting it himself, from Ecuador to Madagascar to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. This last region was especially rich with cacao of the first rank; a lot of money was at stake, and life could get rough. Four years ago, someone tried to murder a cacao buyer who worked with Valrhona, strafing his car with an automatic weapon and leaving him with a half-dozen gunshot wounds.
Today the Teuscher kitchens in Zurich make more than 100 varieties of chocolates using these original recipes, which have been handed down from father to son. Only the finest and most expensive natural ingredients are used, and absolutely no chemicals, additives, or preservatives are added. The house specialty is a champagne truffle, a blend of fresh cream, butter, and chocolate with a champagne cream center, dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Chocolates are flown to Teuscher stores worldwide weekly.
Famous in New York and internationally as an uncompromising chocolatier, Jaques Torres makes gourmet chocolate chip cookies that are an elegant and rich version of everyone’s favorite cookie. Each cookie measures 5 inches in diameter. Jacques uses his rich, house blend 60% dark chocolate baking discs, which means this cookie skews to the adult tastes, or kids with a discerning palate.
Neuhaus uses non-GMO ingredients to make its high-end chocolates, and this 25-piece box includes some of the very best milk, dark, and white chocolates the chocolatier has to offer. The box is filled with pralinés, ganaches, caramels, and more so there's something for everyone. Best of all, you can order this box with two-day shipping if you're in a rush.
However, it is the chocolate that counts here. Norman Love falls short. Although the pieces were visually great, quite polished, and perfectly executed, they did not use chocolate well. Perhaps a third had a good chocolate presence. There were quite good non-chocolate flavors, including peanut butter, pistachio, lime, and pumpkin. The Peanut Butter & Jelly was very good but not good enough to justify putting them in an expensive confection.
I enjoy finding artisan chocolatiers when I travel. Chocolat Abeille (French for bee) is a gem in downtown Omaha. Their general assortment includes a variety of beautiful pieces including fruit, tea, and other flavors. Among these, the Caramel Ganache presented its chocolate flavor nicely, while others tended to be stronger in their fruit or other flavors. They are made in small batches and may sell quickly; the pieces that were available varied slightly over several visits in the course of a week. My favorite was a larger special piece (priced to match), the Hazelnut Banana Crisp, with a nice balance between its banana, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors.
Late last year, I grew curious about an Italian chocolate brand called Amedei. I mean curious in the same sense that sharks are curious about surfers. Amedei, founded in 1990, is the joint project of a 42-year-old Italian named Alessio Tessieri and his younger sister, Cecilia; he buys the cacao and she turns it into dark, glossy bars. In November, a competition in London awarded a gold prize to one of Cecilia’s handiworks, a single-plantation chocolate called Chuao. Two other Amedei products tied for silver.
The Wild Strawberry was also strong, very nice for strawberry. Some pieces were classics like the House Dark and some were playful like the PB & Jelly or the Speculous S’more, and they were all well done, not a false note among them. My biggest flavor criticism might be that the Gianduja Hazelnut was a little sharp for hazelnut, whereas I prefer a broader, smoother flavor.
Thankfully, with the availability of online chocolate stores, purchasing a delicious and wonderful chocolate gift only requires about 5 minutes of your time. Buying chocolate on the internet provides a quick and efficient way to select from a long list of great options that fit your budget and gift giving needs. Plus, you can do it from the comfort of your own home.
The Pecan Penuche also plays on local products, Georgia pecans. Its flavor makes nice use of pecans but is a little sweeter than I would like. Two pieces make excellent use of spices. The Aztec has a deep chocolate flavor, strong enough to stand up to the blend of six chilies and spices that kick in after a few seconds. In the Cayenne Passion Fruit, the cayenne and passion fruit play nicely with and against each other and with the chocolate. I often find that “hot” spices detract from chocolate, but Hard has blended these well.
Nandy’s Candy is a small, family-owned business and a much-beloved Jackson, Mississippi, institution. The shop is perhaps best known for chocolate-covered strawberries, which are dipped by hand as you order them. Other fun confections, such as chocolate-dipped Oreos, chocolate popcorn and fudge, will fulfill your chocolate cravings, no matter what form they take.
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.