The Corso was the most novel piece, combining olive oil, salt, and chocolate. I was skeptical, but the olive oil was presented nicely and worked well with the chocolate. My sensations of the Pietra alternated between the chocolate and hazelnut flavors; they were balanced nicely. Generally, Hermé’s pieces had good chocolate and nice flavors, although I did not agree with all of the balances. I did not taste the caramel or salt very much in the Makassar, and the raspberry in the Ispahan could have been stronger.
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.
You will actually have to visit Amsterdam to sample what may be the best chocolates in the Netherlands. The proprietors of Puccini Bomboni, a delightful cafe and restaurant, hand-make each chocolate on the premises and do not deliver. Exotic combinations of chocolate and spices, concocted from the freshest ingredients, are a specialty. Although the variety isn’t enormous, the quality is truly amazing.
If you want a truly unique chocolate experience, this American chocolatier with Venezuelan roots has created a flavor assortment with more varieties than any other. Thirty-six mini-bars come in twelve flavors – Firecracker, Honeycomb, Baconluxious Chocolate, Potato Chip, Caramel Apple Crush, Salted Chocolate Crush, Totally Tangy Mango, Cheeky Cheeky Churro, Spicy Maya, Pop Corn Pop, Oeange-a-go-go, Sweet and Salty, Strawberry Waffle Wild, and Cinnamon Cereal Smooch. At just over a dollar a bar, it’s a great way to try a wide range of flavors, but the company also offers an eight-count sampler for those on a budget.
I gave each of them a ranking sheet where they could rank each brownie mix on a scale of 1 – 10 points. I also encouraged them to take notes and describe in detail their takes on the brownies. The brands were left anonymous and each type of brownie mix was given a number so we could track the scores. I gave them a few descriptive words to help while judging such as moist, chewy, fudgy, cakey, dense, too sweet, spongy, oily, weird aftertaste, fake flavor, lacks flavor, weird aftertaste, etc. They also had to circle their favorite chocolate brownie mix. The results may surprise you!
If you like variety in your box of chocolates, you’ll love Belgian chocolatier Godiva’s classic variety box. This nineteen-count Belgian chocolate selection includes an assortment of dark, milk, and white chocolates with classic fillings including dark chocolate truffle, hazelnut praline, nut crescents, and coconut macaroon. It comes in an elegant gold box with a bow on top, making it easy to open and close and perfect for a gift.
This company was incorporated in 1852. In America, it the third-oldest chocolate company. It is one of the only chocolate companies in the United States which is in control of all aspects its own manufacturing process. Its bar version is cut into several squares and comes in many flavors which include caramel filling, caramelized almonds, salt and almonds, and peppermint bark.
We saved the biggest for last. Levain’s gourmet cookies push the limits of the definition of cookie. They have been described as “Molten Cookie Dough” for their barely baked middles that ooze with warm, sweet goodness. Weighing in at 6 ounces each they are the size of generous muffin tops. Each flavor is rich, buttery, super-decadent. We had the fun of standing in line to enter the teeny tiny New York store to order one of each flavor—Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was lucky to have a posse of eager tasters with me. The edges have a slightly crisp cookie texture that gives way to an interior of cookie/cake-y crumb. The cookie’s center is a barely baked oooey goooey celebration of sweet. This is not a cookie for the faint of heart.
Who would think we would be singing the praises of Canadian chocolate? Soma, which began in 2003, describes itself as a place to "eat, drink, and worship chocolate". Visitors can experience their small-batch chocolate-making up close at the micro-factory on the Toronto store's premises. Their menu boasts an impressive display of mind-blowing creativity, like "Sparky" Gianduja pralines laced with Pop Rocks, Gooderham Worts Whiskey truffles and the 8-Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar truffles. Bars are available in rectangle or circle form — Soma's Chocolate Possible Worlds bars come as 200-gram oversized disks, such as the "Ruby Red" bar topped with wild cherries, cranberries, barberries and dusted with Sumac powder. O Canada!
The Maison du Chocolat packaging, while very sophisticated, is pretty conservative and not as sexy as our top pick. The textured box mimics pebbled brown leather and has the logo stamped on the back. The adjective that comes to mind is “professional”; it looks luxe but understated and reserved. We think this box of chocolate would be great as a corporate gift, or for your mother-in-law.
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.
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.
Anette’s Chocolate Factory has a nice variety of chocolates, more than your usual Standard assortment. Examples include the Peach Cobbler, Roasted Hazelnut Morsel, Mint Truffle, Triple Berry, and Himalayan Salted Caramel. They were a bit hit and miss for me, but I would say their milk or dark Ensemble (12 truffles, 18 others) or Anette’s Assorted (30 others) boxes are a good deal.
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 that there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of specialty chocolates, and many places have more. There are at least 80 of them in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.