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.
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Traditionally, giving Chocolate as a gift can be a time consuming process. Driving to the local grocery or chocolate store, searching the limited selection, bringing it home, wrapping up the item, and then getting back in your car again to drive to the local Fed Ex or UPS Store to make the delivery actually happen - it can all be a time-consuming and frustrating challenge for anyone.
If you’re looking for something completely different, consider these luxury champagne truffles from the famous British chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker. A small-batch chocolatier known for serving the Queen of England, they’re famous for specialty products including these milk chocolate truffles made with marc de champagne, a French brandy made from champagne grapes. Their strawberry coating adds a pleasing sweetness that counters the intensity of the brandy-flavored filling.
Norman Love Confections: Chef Norman Love’s chocolates always have a tropical high toned fruitiness to them—even his dark selections. We loved his holiday candy cane selection (which comes in a fetching candy cane-shaped box.) The sleek, lustrous very colorful chocolates won big for shock and awe—they also tasted great too. This was one of the most festive and fun collections that we opened.
Most chocolate makers know nothing about where their cacao comes from. A former consultant for a well-regarded European chocolate maker told me that until last year, the firm’s cacao buyer had never been to a plantation. Farmers sell to brokers who sell to bigger brokers; by the time the cacao reaches the factory, nobody knows its story. Sometimes this arrangement allows growers to mistreat workers without accountability. It also can allow them to get the same price for unripe, rotting or generally trashy beans—at their worst, these are known as "dogs and cats"—that they get for the good stuff.
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
I’ve been a fervent consumer of chocolate my whole life, to the point where I can open up almost any box of assorted bonbons and immediately spot the chewy caramel (it’s usually square). Aside from my personal affinity for bonbons and truffles, I tasted many different brands when they crossed my desk while I was working as a food editor at Martha Stewart. I learned how to quickly spot the difference between inexpensive and high-quality chocolates by looking for a perfect temper, examining ingredients, and, of course, tasting.
Hailing from France’s Rhône Valley, Valrhona’s wine country influence is unmistakable. The label on each Valrhona cru (single origin bar) bears the name of that bean’s terroir. It is the most exclusive of these being the Vintage Single Origin bars, sold in limited quantities according to crop yield. Valrhona also suggests wine pairings designed to bring out the “notes” in each chocolate’s complex flavor profile. From chocolate pearls to tasting squares, the brand’s nec-plus-ultra chocolate bar selection is available at specialty grocery stores.
We all know that Belgium is famous for its chocolates and Guylian is the standout confectioner in Belgium. Founded by Guy Foubert in 1958, Guylian is perhaps the most famous in the world for their production of Chocolate Sea shells praline with an assortment of fillings inside. The company was acquired by Lotte Confectionary in 2008 for $164 million but still continues to produce chocolates under the Guylian brand name. Usually a luxury chocolate band selling products in gift boxes , the company specialises in wrapped chocolates chocolate bars and napolitans.
In France it was introduced from Spain in 1615, when infanta Anne of Austria, showed the chocolate drink to her new husband, the King Louis XIII. In Belgium, the Low Countries back then, the production of chocolates started in 1635 under the Spansh occupation. In 1657 a Frenchman living in London opened “The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll“, a shop which sold the first tablets of solid chocolate, that were used to prepare this new drink. Chocolate became so popular that the British government taxed it heavily to the extent that chocolate had a price which was equivalent to two thirds of its weight in gold. Switzerland started to produce chocolate in the middle of the XIX century.
The praline/hazelnut mix starts to emerge in the background quickly after application. Hazelnut alone is more familiar, and I like to think I would've pointed it out without knowing about it ahead of time, but the addition of praline makes for a more nuanced and alien blend, albeit very desirable and certainly not taking much away from the cocoa-dominance of the fragrance.
Chocolate Museum in Bruges, participate in a workshop in Brussels, and even stay in hotels with chocolate bath products. Walking tours of the many chocolate shops will help shave off a few calories. Schedule a factory tour at select producers such as Le Chocolatier Manon, Cyril Chocolat or Chocolaterie Defoidmont, or take in a chocolate- and praline-making demonstration at one of the shops.
French Broad: This chocolatier opened in Asheville in 2007 and does a nice job of giving the chocolate lover a big truffle for the buck. These were some of the largest truffles we tasted. Their Buddha Collection’s vegan truffle was a favorite (composed of bitter sweet chocolate and coconut cream), lending the truffle a nice exotic edge. The Lavender and honey from the signature collection box—a milk chocolate ganache around a dark chocolate ganache blended with local honey and lavender—was the a delicious riff on lavender. The mole negro—housemade mole in dark chocolate and rolled in sesame seeds—great texture and spice.
This best selling chocolate brand produces a premium, round, chocolate sweet. It consists of flat sheets of Wafer, Nutella, and hazelnuts. About 3.6 billion Ferrero Rocher are sold every year in over 35 countries. This brand has had a major impact in China since China allowed foreign businesses to increase the economy. The gold wrapping gave a luxurious and different appearance which the Chinese associated with wealth, which allowed for its popularity in China over other chocolate brands.
You’ll find the best chocolate shop in Georgia at the Krog Street Market in Atlanta. Xocolatl makes single-origin bean-to-bar chocolates that are sustainably and ethically sourced from Peru, Madagascar, Nicaragua and beyond. Their confections are presented in beautiful, simple paper, but the flavors inside are anything but basic. Xocolatl’s best-selling chocolates include the Kissed Mermaids (dark coconut milk chocolate with vanilla-infused sea salt and crunchy cacao nibs sprinkled) and Go Nuts (dark chocolate with dry-roasted almonds and vanilla-infused sea salt), which are decadent and delightful.
Ki' Xocolatl, meaning "rich delicious chocolate" in the Mayan and Nahuatl (Aztec) languages, lives up to its name. Belgian owners collaborated with locals to cultivate beans from the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula using ancient techniques. Then artisanal chocolate meets Maya ingredients like baked corn chips, peppers, and almonds, flavored with homegrown spices. Ki' Xocolatl also presents a unique lineup of cocoa-based spa products, including chocolate shampoo, lotions, and soap, all highlighting the natural moisturizing and detoxifying qualities of cacao beans. Save time to sip traditional Mexican hot chocolate made from organic cocoa paste, natural cinnamon, and cane sugar in the art-filled Mérida café at Parque de Santa Lucía. Three retail locations in Mérida.
Since she was a little girl, F&W’s Kate Krader, a New York City-native, has looked forward to this classic 1923 chocolate shop’s perfect homemade milk chocolate balls, wrapped in colorful foil, and available only during the holidays. “They remind me of my childhood,” says Krader. Another nostalgic favorite is the super-rich old-fashioned fudge that’s made daily. li-lacchocolates.com
The Whitman’s 40 Ounce Jumbo Assorted Chocolates Box is ideal for snacking, gifting, and candy dishes. It also makes a great minty and sweet treat at work, home or on the go. Additionally, the Whitman’s 40 Ounce Jumbo Assorted Chocolates Box is made in the United States. And it does not contain gluten, meaning it is perfect for everyone. If you are looking for a gift for any of your loved one, the Whitman’s 40 Ounce Jumbo Assorted Chocolates Box is the product to go for.
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.
Shuddering at the thought of using a mix? We don’t blame you. Like blue jeans and coffee beans, the options seem endless, and making the wrong choice invariably leads to disappointment. Some mixes result in dry or bland cakes, while others can pass pretty easily for homemade. With a team of cake-loving Taste of Home staffers, we compared five of the most popular cake mix brands in a blind taste test.
Quirky and delicious with a nod to your favorite tastes of childhood best describes the colossal and craggy cookies served up by Milk Bar, the sister bakery to the Momofuku Restaurants. Corn flakes, Lucky Charms, Fruity Pebbles, Cap’n Crunch—all have made appearances in Momofuku Milk Bar cookies. Or maybe you’ll enjoy the chocolate and butterscotch chips, potato chips and pretzels in their famous Compost Cookies. (Here’s the recipe compliments of head baker Christina Tosi if you’re interested.) These are the perfect cookies to order for the kid in all of us.
K’s 5-star review: Through a narrow lobby and off the street, Chocolat Moderne is tucked on the 9th floor off the beaten path. Please do not let this discourage your New York chocolate trekking -- it is worth taking the extra step (or, if preferred, elevator ride) to visit. This chocolatier is absolutely stocked with a decadent selection (and I do mean selection and decadent) hosting rack after rack of freshly created bonbons. The lady herself, Joan Coukos, and her hubby were the hands-on reps at the counter, so the charming customer service was stellar. Bonbons are painted in perfectly tempered shell molds (Valrhona has never been in better form) with filled centers that absolutely ooze with a bravado of focused flavors -- from the trending and expected sea salt caramel and liquor-splashed ganaches, to oreintal persuasions such as persimmon peach and shiso lime. Pieces were $2.5-$3.5. Bars $8. Chocolat Moderne has middle man retailers such as D&D and Whole Foods that offer some of their products. However, I would strongly recommend visiting the NY location if it's available to your schedule -- you deserve it!
K’s 5-star review: Nama grand mariner and Nama champagne: rich and delicious. Absolutely. Remind me of Burdick's Pave, which are one of my absolute favorites. The Nama are a better value -- more pieces with the benefit of a handy prong to keep all the cocoa dusted pieces from feather off on your fingers. Boxes run $18.00 each as of 4/2014. Potato chips: really didn't click. Tasted greasy and didn't flatter either -- more guilt and less pleasure.
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.
French Broad Chocolate is a must-try shop located in Asheville, North Carolina. It has chocolates that have won numerous awards at the International Chocolate Awards and Good Food Awards. The confections, which range from single-source bars to vegan lemongrass and ginger truffles, are made with local ingredients and sustainable, wholesome cacao beans.