There is nothing in this world that is more crave-worthy, more scrumptious and more delectable than a beautiful piece of chocolate. Whether you’re eating a confection given to you by a loved one in a heart-shaped box, snuggling up with a box of caramels and watching Netflix on a wintery Friday night or are breaking off a piece of peppermint bark for an after-dinner treat, the moment the oh-so-sweet morsel hits your palate, you’re transported into a world of happiness and true deliciousness, even if only for a moment. To honor the beauty of chocolate and the artistry of the chocolatier, we sought out the best chocolate shops in every state.
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
The Wild Strawberry was also strong, very nice for strawberry. Some pieces were classics like the House Dark and some were playful like the PB & Jelly or the Speculous S’more, and they were all well done, not a false note among them. My biggest flavor criticism might be that the Gianduja Hazelnut was a little sharp for hazelnut, whereas I prefer a broader, smoother flavor.
Included as one of Oprah's Favorite Things in past years, this bean-to-bar chocolate from acclaimed Chef Thomas Keller and renowned Tuscan olive oil producer Armando Manni is, as Oprah says, "pure chocolate bliss." This set includes one antioxidant-loaded dark chocolate bar, a milk chocolate variety, and two dark-milk chocolate blends. Are you drooling yet?

“Birthday cake” is a difficult flavor to convey in a chocolate, but Anna Shea nailed it. The Candied Bacon Caramel also presented the bacon flavor better than other bacon-chocolate attempts I have experienced, but there were still some chewy bits in it that I feel detract from fine chocolate. Other pieces that were excellent without compromise include the Aged Balsamic Caramel, the Haiku (green tea ganache), and Krystle’s Banana Foster.
Included as one of Oprah's Favorite Things in past years, this bean-to-bar chocolate from acclaimed Chef Thomas Keller and renowned Tuscan olive oil producer Armando Manni is, as Oprah says, "pure chocolate bliss." This set includes one antioxidant-loaded dark chocolate bar, a milk chocolate variety, and two dark-milk chocolate blends. Are you drooling yet?
“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.
The packaging is beautiful and modern, with the logo embossed in tonal black on black. The box itself is pretty sexy and, for some reason, reminded me of a black bustier. Inside, the minimally designed booklet explains the flavors, with black and white illustrations of each chocolate. None of the other assortments are presented in such a cohesive package, and we found the Recchiuti’s key of chocolates much easier to decipher than those included with the other brands.

Chocolate fits a lot of moods and personality types. There are the intensely dark, single-origin bars meant for connoisseurs, the whimsical cake pops at a kid’s birthday party and the mass-produced assorted chocolates that your average joe wouldn’t pass up. These Seattle Chocolate candy bars fall somewhere in between. They capture the kid-at-heart sentiment of cake pops combined with some of the same quality ingredients found in high-end chocolate bars.
Donnelly’s chocolates have well-developed chocolate flavors. Many pieces use strong flavors of spices, fruits, or nuts. I recommend identifying each piece before biting into it—the chocolate-banana combination is better when you expect it than when you are surprised. The cardamom piece is similarly better savored when you are prepared to sense the cardamom. (This spice is not used as much as its distinctive flavor and scent warrant. If you are not familiar with it, I recommend smelling and tasting a little separately before trying Donnelly’s cardamom-chocolate combination.)
Assortments include gift boxes, baskets, and samplers, or you could order a chocolate of the month collection for a gift that lasts. Their blue bandana chocolate bars are made from beans sourced directly from the farmers, while the five-star bars are filled with nuts, caramel, fruit, or granola. And that’s just the beginning bars of this chocolate serenade.
For those who don't eat animal products (or just prefer to stay away from dairy), these Amore di Mona vegan chocolates make a delicious and thoughtful gift. They're also free from gluten, wheat, soy, and peanuts, and they come in a 24-piece box complete with a bow. Best of all, reviewers say, it's "very high quality chocolate" and they "taste amazing!"
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
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.

Lindt has been coming up with innovative chocolate recipes for over 165 years. They are known for their meticulous craftsmanship that allows them to produce great tasting and premium quality chocolates. Well, one of these chocolates is the Lindt 7.3 oz. Gourmet Truffles Gift Box. It is made with several flavors including milk, 60-percent extra dark chocolate, dark chocolate vanilla, hazelnut, dark, and white. The chocolate is also Kosher certified, so you can eat it with peace of mind. Each of its pieces is double dipped and then decorated with a smooth melting center.


The flagship store of this classic American chocolate company opened in 1921 in Los Angeles. Today there are more than 200 locations across the country offering delicious chocolate candies filled with nuts, marzipan and nougat. F&W’s Kate Krader gets nostalgic for See’s Milk Bordeaux ($24.50), candy filled with brown sugar cream and topped with crispy chocolate puffed rice. sees.com
The Tessieris work about 40 miles west of Florence, close to the Arno, and not far from Pisa; the Italian wine and food magazine Gambero Rosso has called this region the Chocolate Valley because of the concentration of chocolatiers who work there—among them Paul de Bondt, Roberto Catinari and Luca Mannori. The Chocolate Valley is not nearly as famous as other parts of Tuscany. For me, this only increased its allure. While other tourists inched through the vineyards of Chianti staring at the exhaust pipe of the rental car just ahead, I would be lazily bobbing along in a rowboat, dipping pieces of bread over the side into the world’s biggest fondue.
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.
Made from high-quality Ecuador cocoa beans, this stunning assortment of twenty brightly colored chocolates combines 70% dark chocolate with five unique flavors – strawberry, mango, ginger, peppermint, and coffee. You bite into the crunchy candy shell, releasing the flavored liquid which combines with the chocolate base. It’s a unique chocolate experience unlike anything else on the market, balancing flavorful candy with high-quality, intense dark chocolate.
Galaxy is sold as Dove in several countries internationally. This brand of chocolate ranges in flavors from milk chocolate, fruit & nut varieties, and bubbles. The Galaxy and Dove brands also market products including hot cocoa powder, cakes, and ice cream. This comes in second to the Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in the best selling chocolate bars in the United Kingdom.
Back in 1857, Jean Neuhaus opened a pharmacy in Brussels, Belgium and decided to coat medicines with chocolate to help them go down better. By 1912, Neuhaus' son had created the praline, and in 1915, his wife designed the first box of Neuhaus chocolates. Fast forward to 2018, and Neuhaus chocolates are still considered among the very best. We've tasted Neuhaus chocolate at its shops in NYC, and it's delicious.

At this year’s tasting, we again liked Michel Cluizel’s well-executed, classic fillings. This box is sure to please anyone with an affinity for old-style French chocolates. They are the sweetest of our top picks, but they are not as nuanced as those from Recchiuti and lack whimsical flavor combinations (which might be a bonus for some palates). We also found this assortment, dominated by simple squares and circles, less visually exciting than the Recchiuti’s range of unexpected shapes. But for the traditionalist, this box might be just perfect.
Even today, the chocolate trade looks a lot like it did in colonial days: Raw materials bought at generally low prices in the tropics are shipped to the developed world and turned into a luxury product. Today, three of the largest importers of cacao to America are fighting a lawsuit filed by a human rights group claiming that they buy beans harvested by child slaves, mostly in the nation of Ivory Coast. Several journalists have contended that the extent of slavery in the cacao industry has been overblown, but it’s hardly comforting to hear that the number of slaves who helped make your afternoon snack has been exaggerated. Without doubt, adults and children on some cacao farms, particularly in West Africa, perform demanding, exhausting work for awful pay.
Baking Notes: I cooked every brownie mix for LESS time than listed on the box. I used cake testers to test the middle to make sure the brownies were done. Click HERE for an inexpensive cake tester. None of them reached even the minimum baking time listed on the box. My advice to you is to ALWAYS set the timer for less time than listed on the box.  If not, you may end up with hockey pucks for dessert!
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Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate in West Hartford stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one. But the chocolate tortels, truffles and dark chocolate-covered cherries on a milk chocolate heart are luxurious and rich.
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.
#2: Betty Crocker Triple Chunk Brownie Mix — The top 2 brownie mixes were the winners by a good margin. Reviewers loved this brownie mix and it received an average of 8.2 points. Reviewers loved the added chocolate chunks which gave it great chocolate flavor. They also loved the chewy texture. This was many reviewers pick as their ultimate winner. I personally have bought this brownie mix for years so I am not surprised that it received such positive accolades.

Ecuador is home to some of the best cacao beans in the world. Only approximately 5% of cacao in the world is labeled as “Fine Aroma,” and Ecuador produces nearly 63% of it. Until recently, Ecuador focused their efforts on exporting their cacao, but in the last few years, they have turned to producing their own chocolate. One brand, Paraci, has won dozens of international awards in recent years, beating out traditional European chocolate makers.
Vosges Chocolate's exotic truffles are made from the finest ingredients offered around the world. Owner/Chocolatier, Katrina Markoff, personally chooses every spice, flower and chocolate that is flown into their Chicago kitchen. Markoff utilizes the original methods of French confectionery artistry which she learned during her training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Christopher Elbow ($35 for 16 pieces) was our top pick for 2014. In a blind tasting, a panel voted it their favorite. In the most recent tasting, the chocolates came across as too sweet and the flavors a little heavy-handed. While they are absolutely beautiful—the chocolates resemble baubles and jewels—they were squeezed out of the top spots by this year’s contenders.
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.

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