Have you ever tasted something that's so good it doesn't seem fair? If you want to share that so-good-it-seems-like-cheating feeling with someone else, hand them a box of these chocolate-stuffed figs. They'll find a surprising amount of rich chocolate both inside and outside of each fig, plus a creamy liqueur filling that provides a little extra kick.
“Chocolate is my passion,” says Norman Love, who dreamed of making chocolate that was visually stunning as well as delicious. Love and a partner perfected a technique in which the colored designs for each candy are hand-painted or airbrushed into chocolate molds, which are then filled with the finest chocolate imported from Belgium, France, and Switzerland. The pumpkin white chocolate bonbon is almost too gorgeous to eat. Using only the freshest ingredients, his recipes call for pureed raspberries, bananas, ginger, caramel, passionfruit, and hazelnuts, to name a few.
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?
Guittard's Grand Cacao Drinking Chocolate is a combination of chocolate and cocoa. It boasts intense flavor, the red-brown color of Dutch process cocoa, and a toasty aroma. Made at its full strength, the drink is super-rich and so thick it’s nearly syrupy and best consumed in small quantities. You can always use less of the mix if you like and still have a very flavorful hot chocolate.
Sometimes, the best chocolate shops around the country have been in business for generations, descended from old-style candy-making facilities. Sometimes they’re no more than a few years old, started by artisanal chocolatiers, some with formal training and others with little more than a love for chocolate and a desire to learn. Sometimes they’re even local branches of large chains.
This South American country may not be the first to come to mind when you think about the world's best chocolate, but it should be. Research suggests that cocoa originated in Ecuador, where it was cultivated and eaten over 5,000 years ago. The most flavorful chocolate produced today comes from aromatic "arriba cacao," from which only 5 percent of the world's chocolate is made. Sixty-three percent of that cacao is grown in Ecuador. One of the country's top three brands, Pacari, continues to collect international awards. Kallari and Republica del Cacao chocolates also have bold Ecuadorian flavors.
To identify the best chocolate shop in each state, 24/7 Wall St. indexed ratings weighted by number of reviews for thousands of chocolate shops nationwide on Yelp and Google. To be considered, a chocolate shop must be in or near a city with a population of at least 100,000 people. In states with few or no cities of this size, chocolate shops in smaller cities were also considered. Ratings are the number of points given by Yelp and Google users out of a possible 5.
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
Kollar Chocolate’s pieces show excellent technique: They have good flavors, the flavors are generally well expressed, the chocolate is good, and the pieces are attractive and physically well crafted. However, I did not get a great sense of depth of flavors or blending of them. By and large, the flavors in each piece seemed distinct from each other and did not combine to form an experience absorbing to the senses.
Owner Alexandra Clark was a student of chocolate economics, so it’s safe to say she knows the business from top to bottom. At Bon Bon Bon, she flavors her bonbons with locally sourced ingredients, uses recyclable packaging (a rare commitment in the industry), and has a crew of internationally trained chocolatiers who call themselves the “Babes Babes Babes.” They put out a massive variety of delightful, open-topped chocolates, including the He Loves Me Not, which is angel tears tea-infused dark chocolate ganache topped with flower petals. The shop ships nationwide. 719 Griswold Street #100, Detroit, MI
Cadbury, anyone? It’s hard to pass up a Cadbury egg when they appear in the grocery store, but the brand originated in the United Kingdom and originally sold tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate in the 1820s. The Cadbury brothers supplied Queen Victoria with chocolate in the 1850s and developed the popular Dairy Milk chocolate, famous for having a higher milk content, in 1905. While you can buy Cadbury Eggs and Dairy Milk bars around the world, we think they taste better while walking down a cobblestone street in the U.K.!
For over 90 years, Esther Price Candies has been making the milkiest, most scrumptious chocolates in Ohio. Based out of Dayton, this local chain’s chocolate-covered caramels are their most popular product, but no trip to one of their seven locations across the state would be complete without picking up a box of their Buckeyes — it’s the most iconic dessert in Ohio, after all.
I am a longtime fan of Legacy's handmade truffles. The chocolate is always the melt-in-your-mouth good and the ganache is divine. Being an avid chocoholic, I have had truffles shipped in from both coasts and still, after all that insatiable curiosity, who do I come back to? Legacy Chocolates. Do your mouth a favor. It’s been well behaved long enough…
One of the house specialties at Fire & Grain is flatbread. Shown is the prosciutto and fig flatbread, which is covered with green onion aioli, prosciutto, figs and arugula, and drizzled with balsamic reduction and garlic oil. “I’ve been making this dough for more than 35 years, and we’ve perfected it,” says chef Michael Cappelli. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Garrison Confections’s main attraction is the Seasonal Collection, which features twelve new flavors about every three months. Generally I like new experiences, so that is fine by me, but do not get attached, because your favorite piece will vanish. I tried the collection in April 2007 and was impressed by some pieces, notably the fruit patés. The Pabana was particularly nice, good flavors blended well, including a novel fruit flavor. The 91% was also very nice, unusual for me since I generally like more than chocolate alone. The pieces with alcohol were less appealing to me, as usual. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie was a bit piquant with a nice balance. The Coffee Almond Praline started well but finished weakly.
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.