There are a great number of incredible chocolate shops in Chicago and the rest of Illinois, but Katherine Anne Confections in the Windy City takes our top spot. You won’t find flawless chocolates here, but you’ll find homemade treats done absolutely right; you wish your mama could make candies like these. But just because these chocolates are reminiscent of your own hometown chocolate shop doesn’t mean there aren’t sparks of innovation here. Look no further than the truffles, which include classic flavors like hazelnut and citrus right next to fun flavors such as lemon poppyseed and goat cheese walnut.
Varsano’s looks like your average chocolate shop, so I was not expecting much, but their chocolates surprised me. Their uncommon white chocolate peanut butter cup was very nice, and the milk chocolate was good too. Marzipan is a favorite of mine, but only when it is elevated from a plain hard paste to something fluffier and more flavorful, and Varsano’s does that with an excellent chocolate-covered pistachio marzipan. I also liked the chocolate-covered graham cracker. The chocolate they use for covering their pieces is appealing. However, the buttercrunch tasted very weak to me, and the truffles did not impress me in 2006 as they did during my first visit.
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.
And, no surprise, the world winner is also a hit with esteemed makers: "Meeting the wonderful Canadian couple David and Cynthia of Soma Chocolatemaker at the International Chocolate Awards World Championships was a gift," Friis-Holm says. "The rare beans originating from the troubled country of Venezuela that are featured in their Guasare 70% bar make for a very tasty, beautifully executed and worthy world winner."
Ferrero Rocher is perhaps one of the most famous and popular choclate makers in the world with the confectionary produced by the Italian chocolatier Ferrero SpA. The chocolates were first introduced in Europe back in 1982 by Michael Ferrero and is world famous for its truffle bars of milk chocolate and generous hazelnut helpings. The balls consist of whole roasted hazelnuts within a thin wafer shell covered in the best quality milk chocolates and topped off with chopped hazelnuts.
The makers were recently crowned the best of the best at the International Chocolate Awards, the biggest and most comprehensive global competition in the world. Soma Chocolatemaker, based in Toronto, was named best chocolate maker in the world for its dark milk chocolate bar made with cocoa beans from Guasare, Venezuela. Omnom Chocolate from Reykjavik, Iceland, took parallel honors for its milk chocolate bar featuring Icelandic milk powder and cocoa from Nicaragua.
Candinas Chocolatier is a small manufacturer run by Markus Candinas. His truffle assortment includes two very nice nut pieces, with a very fine crunchy texture and good flavors. The truffles have thin shells and medium-strength flavors. Another piece was sweet and fruity, quite appealing. However, without a chart, you do not know what to expect. The web site also offers no selection of pieces. The marzipan piece I liked seems to be gone. Much of the assortment is plain or mild ganaches or other “just chocolate” pieces that do not interest me. Given that, though, the milk chocolate truffle was spot on, and the flavors are nice.
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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.
For the second year in a row, Michel Cluizel ($35 for 15 pieces) made it onto our runner-up list. This assortment makes a safer choice than the Recchiuti if gifting to someone with a less adventurous palate. There are no wildly unique flavor combos, and the chocolates come in more traditional shapes with classic fillings and nutty flavors. The chocolate itself is very smooth and subtle, if a little on the sweet side. The simple French confections are also quite beautiful, reflecting the chocolate maker’s painstaking attention to detail. But we don’t find the flavors in this assortment quite as nuanced as those in our main pick, and the packaging and presentation, although pretty, doesn’t offer the same visual impact.
Taza Chocolate tries to maintain Mexican traditions when crafting its products. Each disc is made from stone ground organic cacao beans to create a bold, rustic chocolate disc. Taza means “cup” in Spanish and the company encourages customers to use the discs to make classic Mexican hot chocolate, which usually has a hint of spice in the mix. The discs in this box each represent their own unique flavor and spice combinations. There are six choices—cinnamon, cacao puro, vanilla, guajillo chili, salted almond and coffee—that chocolate enthusiasts can use in sauces, drinks or desserts.
At this year’s tasting, we again liked Michel Cluizel’s well-executed, classic fillings. This box is sure to please anyone with an affinity for old-style French chocolates. They are the sweetest of our top picks, but they are not as nuanced as those from Recchiuti and lack whimsical flavor combinations (which might be a bonus for some palates). We also found this assortment, dominated by simple squares and circles, less visually exciting than the Recchiuti’s range of unexpected shapes. But for the traditionalist, this box might be just perfect.
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.
Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.