Hand-dipped bonbons are a specialty for Alma, one of Portland’s standout chocolate shops, but only its toffees, molded chocolate figures, and chocolate bars are shipped nationwide. Stop in for a taste of owner Sarah Hart’s Thai peanut butter cups and rose caramels — the filling contains just the right amount of salinity to offset the drop of rosewater that’s inside each one. Or, order in advance of the holidays to snag a hazelnut or peanut butter crunch bar, caramel-pecan bar, or mocha almond nibby. Alma ships nationwide. 140 NE 28th Avenue, Portland, OR
L.A. Burdick ($40 for 34 pieces, medium-size wood box) was well received, with three second place votes and only one strike against it. The subtle shades of chocolate squares hide a mix of French-inspired ganaches, including plenty of boozy options like Macallan whisky and green Chartreuse. These are safe, middle-of-the-road gifting chocolates that are probably suitable as professional gifts. They are known best for their chocolate mice, which are undeniably cute. L.A. Burdick is based in New Hampshire, with stores in New York City, and Cambridge and Boston.
The next time you're sharing chocolate, impress your friends with your knowledge of "conching." Before Sprüngli & Son came onto the scene in 1845, chocolate was mainly enjoyed as a drink. The Swiss pioneers paved the way for future confectioners by crafting some of the world's first chocolate candies. Soon after, the company partnered with Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt, the inventor of the conching method, which is still the cornerstone of chocolate-making today. This hours-long churning process incorporates cocoa butter into the cocoa mass, resulting in smooth "melting chocolate" that's easy to mold. Today, Lindt & Sprüngli offers an overwhelming chocolate bar menu. Our favorites include their Excellence 85 per cent Cocoa Bar and Excellence Intense Orange Bar. We used to have to import Lindt bars from Europe, but these days they are ubiquitous, sold at supermarkets and chain stores.
Starting off in 2004 with six flavors of chocolate-dipped toffee, this boutique/factory just outside of downtown L.A. now also produces chocolates, petits fours, preserves, cakes and pastries. Though their line of petits fours rightfully shine with flavors like rose petal, their equally tasty toffees, truffles, mendiants and caramels also make for excellent gifts. Plus, for Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped bittersweet or milk chocolates are available in an assortment of boxes.
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.
François Payard is widely known as a pastry chef, but I was unimpressed by Payard’s chocolates. I enjoyed the Chagall, a praline wafer with excellent structure, good balance, and medium-mild flavors, although it was a bit slow to present flavors. I also liked the Gauguin, in which the cherry and chocolate flavors worked well together, and the Monet, with a strong cinnamon flavor. Most other pieces were okay but unremarkable. The Rodin disappointed because its initial interesting raspberry flavor faded too quickly.
Also known as home to the Little Chocolatiers from former the hit TLC show, Hatch’s is at the top of our list when it comes to the best chocolates in Salt Lake City. The quality of chocolate that you consume here whether it be with a caramel apple, inside some of their homemade ice cream, or melted in a cup of hot cocoa is truly top notch. Some of Hatch Family go-to’s are their chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate covered raspberries, and aztec salted caramels.
Sweet Girl Cookies will make you feel like a kid again, that is, if you’re like me and always tried (and still try) to choose the biggest cookie on the cookie plate. These gourmet cookies are generously big—4.4 ounces, and they cry out to be enjoyed with a big glass of milk or cup of coffee for dunking. Each cookie tends toward a dense cake-like rather than chewy texture, and each flavor is packed with chips. The middle of these cookies (even their “smaller” 2 ounce cookies) is one inch thick. We measured.
The Peanut Crunch started with a good light crunch and revealed distinct but light toasted peanut flavor. That was my favorite, and I also enjoyed the Apricot Cream, Marshmallow Cream, and Tart Cherry. I would prefer stronger chocolate flavors in Anette’s chocolates. The Dansk Bar sounded promising with “chocolate truffle layered over marzipan and vanilla caramel,” but I was disappointed. The flavors were not brought out well, and the texture was firmer than I expected. I also found the Triple Berry Cream too sweet to enjoy the fruit and chocolate flavors, so I recommend you select your favorite pieces from the case if you are in the store.