Simran Sethi is a journalist who believes food is always part of a bigger story. Named one of the “50 Most Influential Global Indians” by Vogue India and the environmental “messenger” by Vanity Fair, Simran has travelled to six continents for stories that have appeared in Smithsonian, The Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, National Geographic Traveler, The Washington Post and The Guardian. Her book–Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love–was named one of the best food books of 2016 by Smithsonian. Her chocolate podcast–The Slow Melt–was named Best Food Podcast of 2017 by Saveur.
After surveying the options, devil’s food seemed like the best choice for side-by-side testing. Since the key characteristic of a devil’s food cake is its richness, we figured we’d be able to judge more fairly by basing our test on the big brands’ most indulgent offerings. Next, the pros in our Test Kitchen baked each cake according to the directions on its package. To rid our bakers and testers of any preconceived biases, we prepared and compared each brand without its flashy packaging or marketing claims.
Are you a frequent gift-giver? You may want to take a look at the Celebrations Passport: with a yearly fee of $29.99, it includes free shipping from a family of brands that include Cheryl's Cookies, 1-800-Flowers, and Harry & David. Otherwise, expect to pay quite a bit for shipping: for example, on a gift assortment that retails for $139.99, we were given a shipping cost of $18.99. You can see all of the shipping costs by clicking on the blue question mark icon as you begin the ordering process; delivery prices start at $4.99 and go up to 15% of your order total (for orders over $150).
Top chocolatiers generally work with couverture (first-rate chocolate containing a high percentage of cocoa butter) to make their creations, versus fresh cocoa beans, although an increasing number now experiment with bean to bar. Some makers even grow their own cacao beans. Direct contact between growers and makers is the best-case scenario for sustainable, or at the very least fair trade, chocolate.
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.
“You can tell that this chocolate is top-of-the-line,” Krader said. “It’s a very smooth experience.” She described the flavor as “buttery” and expanded on that theme by describing the experience as feeling like you’re “putting on the most luxurious and cushy chocolate robe.” The petite size of the truffles, however, raised a red flag. “I like a chocolate that takes two bites to finish,” she said. “These are a bit small for my taste, though aesthetically, they’re very pleasing.”
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.
“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.
Planète Chocolat sells most of their chocolates in prepared boxes, so I could not pick out my preferences. Some pieces, mostly truffles, are available separately. The pieces in the box I got had textured tops that I could not match up with the diagram, so I could not tell what was what. Planète Chocolat’s chocolates look fancy, but that does not make them taste fancy, and I would rather pay for taste than looks.
If you get a huge box of chocolates and can’t finish them in two weeks, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. After that, the flavors of the creams and ganaches can turn stale. When storing chocolates in the refrigerator, take the same steps you would when refrigerating chocolate bars. Be sure to wrap the box very well in plastic wrap, and seal in a zip-top plastic bag. Prior to eating, let the chocolates come to room temperature before unwrapping to avoid any condensation.