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.
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.
Probably the most compelling reason to buy from the Ghirardelli website, as opposed to shopping in person, is the frequent promotional discounts. If you click on the Promotion FAQs link at the bottom of the page, you can see if there are any current offers at the time of your order as well as any discounts they've offered in the past few months. For example, we found discounts of 20% on all caramel-filled chocolates, expedited shipping for certain holidays, and discounts of up to 25% on orders over $150.
The chocolates of Kee’s Chocolates had generally good compositions; the chocolate was combined well with other flavors. The Black Sesame was particularly novel, crunchy sesame seeds with prominent flavor and somewhat subdued chocolate. The flavor of the Smoked Salt was also unusual, an interesting sensation. Others were more ordinary. Unfortunately, I did not find them good enough to justify the price.
Famous in New York and internationally as an uncompromising chocolatier, Jaques Torres makes gourmet chocolate chip cookies that are an elegant and rich version of everyone’s favorite cookie. Each cookie measures 5 inches in diameter. Jacques uses his rich, house blend 60% dark chocolate baking discs, which means this cookie skews to the adult tastes, or kids with a discerning palate.
Troegs Brewing has set the pace of the Hershey craft beer scene since 1997. Founded by brothers John and Chris Trogner, Troegs offers a large selection of lagers, wheat beers, hop-laden ales, Belgian-style ales and seasonal brews. A visit to the tasting room and snack bar is a great way to wrap up a brewery tour, offered daily. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Elk Candy Company makes fine chocolate and marzipan. I do not think marzipan is very interesting when it is plain or merely coated in chocolate, so it is nice to find a chocolatier that has developed their marzipan further, as Elk Candy Company has done with their flavored marzipan rolls. I like marzipan this way. Elk sells it in slices. Flavors include pistachio, truffle, hazelnut, and orange.
Launched in 2006, the Seattle-based Theo Chocolate was the first chocolate manufacturer in the US to be both 100 percent organic and fair-trade. (The Fair Trade Certificate goes only to eco-friendly products made by workers who are paid enough to cover their basic needs and reinvest in their operations.) Theo’s conscientious chocolates are delicious: nuanced and intense, like dark, single-origin bars from nations such as Ghana and Madagascar. Founder Joseph Whinney is so passionate about chocolate that he hired a biologist to genetically map Theo’s beans. Not all of Theo’s endeavors are so serious: 3,400 Phinney bars, named for the factory’s street address, come in whimsical flavors like the salty-sweet Bread and Chocolate ($7), featuring dark chocolate mixed with bread crumbs; it’s perfect with afternoon coffee. theochocolate.com
This month’s selection of Green Mountain Chocolates is amazing. My daughter (who gave me the membership as a Christmas gift) advised me that they are rated as one of the top three chocolates in the country. What could be better than sitting in the massage chair and enjoying wonderful chocolates? Thanks for getting the shipment to me in time for holiday relaxation and indulgence.
The Galaxy and Dove brands cover a wide range of products including chocolate bars in milk chocolate, caramel, Cookie Crumble, and Fruit & Nut varieties, Minstrels, Ripple (milk chocolate with a folded or “rippled” milk chocolate centre), Amicelli, Duetto, Promises, Bubbles and Truffle. Related brands in other parts of the world include “Jewels”, and “Senzi” in the Middle East. The Galaxy and Dove brands also market a wide range of products including ready-to-drink chocolate milk, hot chocolatepowder, chocolate cakes, ice cream and more.
The Richart family started making gourmet chocolates and French macarons in Lyon, France in 1925 and has consequently gone on to become one of the world’s best chocolate brands. The chocolatier has gained highly coveted accolades for his work: National Geographic’s Inside Travel named him one of the world’s top chocolatiers, and has been awarded the Ruban Bleu, France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, a total of seven times.
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.
The Brownie Taste Test was around the corner, so the first thing I needed to do was to purchase the brownie mixes. I went to four stores,  ensuring that I was getting a good feel for what was readily available at grocery stores around the country. I didn’t want to get specific kinds that some people couldn’t find in their local market. I wanted to test the most popular and recognizable brands.
Unlike many places on this list, Sweenor’s Chocolates is shockingly affordable; a 1-pound box of assorted chocolates will only cost you $23.50. But don’t take their low prices as an indication of low quality! Their versions of classic treats (chocolate-covered raisins, malted milk balls) blow your concession stand snacks out of the water. It’s worth a trip to Cranston, Rhode Island, for this sweet shop.

It is truly an honor and a privilege to work with a fundraiser company like World’s Finest Chocolate for our fundraising needs. The products they have to offer are always of the finest quality, making it easy for our students to raise needed funds throughout the year. World’s Finest Chocolate is a first class organization and one we are happy to partner with.”
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.
La Chatelaine Chocolat Co: Located in, of all places, Bozeman Montana, owners JP Wlady Grochowski and Shannon Hughes Grochowski are most inspired by nature. Says Shannon, “We walk through a small forest each day to work, and feel inspired each time, whether it’s the color of the leaves, deep green of the spruces or the scent of sage, or the local snow-capped Bridger Mountains. We also find a lot of inspiration in France, where we spend each summer with our children and Wlady's maman and cousins.” Top taste was the Absinthe in dark chocolate ganache and the dark and rich Arriba truffle —composed of 72% dark chocolate made from Forestero beans of Arriba origin.
I was trying to think of something to give my parents for their anniversary that was different since they seem to have everything. I came across the Chocolate of the Month Club and after looking through their website, I decided to give it a try for a couple of months. When they received their gift announcement, they were thrilled and couldn’t wait for their shipment to arrive. When they got their first shipment they immediately called me and sent me pictures. After my two month gift to them was over, they called customer service right away to keep it going on their own and it hasn’t stopped since, that was three years ago! I couldn’t have gotten them a better gift!
I discovered this wonderful chocolate brand more than a year ago in one of my Amazon Sweet Surprise boxes and immediately started searching for more. Hands down, this is the best chocolate I’ve ever had, European or American. The flavors in this selection are among my all-time favorites made by Seattle Chocolate. If I could give it 10 stars I would. And so nice to know that a portion of revenue goes to charitable causes. Thanks so much, Seattle Chocolate!
Xocolatti’s globally-inspired truffles and slates (very thin versions of chocolate bark ($28) with layers that recall slate rock) come in seven exotic flavors like mango and paprika with white chocolate. “In India, we usually eat fruit with spices on it, and one of the most popular combinations is mangos with paprika on top,” says founder Shaineal Shah. xocolatti.com
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.
I love Milkboy chocolate. It is honestly the best chocolate bar I've ever tasted. I tried it for the first time after I purchased one bar at a specialty food store when I was on vacation. I had to have more, so I searched for it everywhere in my town, but with no luck. I'm so happy I found this online, and I hope they start distributing in more locations soon.
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