Owner and chocolatier Katrina Markoff chooses every spice, flower, and chocolate that is flown into the Vosges kitchen to be transformed into fine chocolates. She learned the art of French confectionery at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Further inspired by her global apprenticeships, infusions of rare spices and flowers are combined with premium chocolate in truffles such as Mexican vanilla bean and Argentinean dulce de leche.
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.
Chocolate Visions makes excellent chocolates with nice flavors. I tried The Works Collection and generally enjoyed both the pieces with familiar flavors and those with novel combinations. The Hazelnut Trio had an unusual structure that showcases its familiar flavors well. The spice was distinct in the Tarragon, quite unusual, and worked well with the 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.
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.
In 1948, Michel Cluizel took over his family's pastry business in Normandy, France, where travelers still flock to learn the secrets of chocolate-making at his "Chocolatrium." In 2012, Cluizel opened a second Chocolatrium; in West Berlin, New Jersey. (The only other American outlet is their Manhattan storefront.) Visitors to the European and American Chocolatriums (or is that Chocolatria?) are walked through the chocolate creation process and the history of the Cluizel brand, offered a sneak peek into the Cluizel workshop, then feast on fanciful bonbons like caramel mushrooms, "cappuccinos" filled with coffee ganache and macarolats — macaroons with different flavored coatings and fillings.
The selection at Chocolate is vast, everything from a simple chocolate-dipped fortune cookie for less than a dollar, to a 200+ piece Valentine's assortment of gluten-free chocolates for over $300. We did notice that none of their categories included two of the most popular “candy holidays”, Halloween and Christmas, but Easter chocolates are sold year-round.