Famous for its waffles, chocolate, and beer, Belgium is an effortless blend of old and new. Its culture and open-minded attitude are based on the population’s amalgamation of identities. Its capital city, Brussels, serves as the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, making it a hub for government activity and a meeting place for world leaders. Custom university programs to Belgium offer a world of topics to explore. ...Read More
Guests of The Hotel Hershey who arrive via the registration lobby need to know that a more exotic space resides just one floor above. The hotel’s Fountain Lobby is an eye-grabbing, Mediterranean-themed gathering spot. It looks much like it did when it opened in the 1930s, based on a hotel Milton Hershey had visited in the Mediterranean. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Curate the ideal luxury haut-chocolat tower for your lucky gift recipient or stock up on your favorites. Anchored by a 16-piece truffle collection of your choice, a salty-sweet comfort food selection and Exotic Caramels are stacked on top and hand-tied with a our signature purple bow. With over twenty different combinations, you can satisfy every chocolate chocolate desire.
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.
Cake specializes in elegant gourmet cookies that would be right at home on the cover of a Martha Stewart magazine. The cookies and brownies are individually packaged so they remain ultra fresh. Topping it off is the lovely packaging that’s sure to impress anyone lucky enough to receive a gift from Cake. Thanks to its elegance we vote this as an ideal gift to send as a thank you, a client gift, or any occasion where a touch of tea room fanciness is in order.
Alexandra Whisnant, a Boston native, trained at Le Cordon Bleu and Ladurée in Paris before she opened her chocolate business. Its name means “spoiled like girls,” so it’s no surprise that Whisnant doesn’t cut any corners while making her delicate treats. She starts a new batch of pralines or infused ganaches at the beginning of each week, and they sell out by week’s end. Flavors vary weekly, with honey-walnut praline, blackberry ganache, chocolate-mint (made from mint from her aunt’s garden), and whiskey-infused truffles just some of the latest confections to come off of Whisnant’s chocolate dipping table. Call for the day’s offerings. Shipping is limited. Somerville, MA

The flavors we taste-tested ranged from the creamy, caramel-filled Coffee Toffee to the earthy and bitter 100% cacao Peru bar (not for the faint of heart). Our unanimous favorite emerged as the Goji Berries in Sesame Nougat, a milk chocolate bar studded with dried goji berries and filled with layers of green tea ganache, homemade nougat and soy and sesame filling. In addition to creating their hand-scooped chocolates in-house, Zotter is an independent bean-to-bar producer that prides itself on using organic, fair-trade quality cocoa beans and runs the company entirely on eco-power.
Exactly when and where the first chocolate shops opened in America is uncertain, but early contenders for the honor include The Original Velatis, which set up shop selling caramels (some of them involving chocolate) in 1866 in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Govatos, which went into business in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1894 (both are still going strong; see slideshow).

In 2004, Los Angeles chocolatier Valerie Gordon started creating her impeccable, handmade small-batch chocolates and crispy chocolate-covered toffees topped with almonds, fleur du sel or candied fruit. Favorites of F&W’s Tina Ujlaki include the outstanding milk chocolate-dipped nougat and caramel squares. In 2011, Gordon created a line of new tea blends, cookies and petits fours. valerieconfections.com


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 Connoisseur Collection is an assortment of delightful flavors, but it is weak on chocolate. Many of the pieces are very sweet or creamy or fruity but have little or no chocolate flavor. Some do, such as the Aztec with its chocolate flavor that is simultaneously strong and delicate. In spite of the poor representation of chocolate, I would be tempted to recommend the Connoisseur Collection for the other wonderful flavors, including passion fruit, chai tea, orange and pistachio marzipans, and hazelnut. Unfortunately, the product I received weighed 5.5 ounces, much less than the 6.7 ounces claimed. This makes the price $105 per pound, which is hugely overpriced.
Though this taste test determined which cake we prefer, it’s worth noting that there was one ingredient missing—the frosting! It’s easy to imagine that many of these brands would have tasted sweeter, more moist and flavorful with a dollop of creamy frosting on top…unless, of course, you’re on board with the naked cake trend. Even if you don’t have a five-star boxed mix on hand, delicious icing can go a long way toward improving a so-so cake.
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.

Stars with a blast of rich but DRY cocoa powder (the kind used in baking). This fades down into a less powdery and dry cocoa scent, where the vanilla begins to peek through. Unfortunately, the performance of this scent on my skin is fairly weak. It doesn't project off of me at all. Despite the other notes listed, I really only smell the cocoa powder.
Guests of The Hotel Hershey who arrive via the registration lobby need to know that a more exotic space resides just one floor above. The hotel’s Fountain Lobby is an eye-grabbing, Mediterranean-themed gathering spot. It looks much like it did when it opened in the 1930s, based on a hotel Milton Hershey had visited in the Mediterranean. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Why buy your chocolates online from a brand that's available in most big-box stores? Besides being able to access a greater variety of chocolates - especially during times of the year that stores may run out, such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day - Russell Stover's site offers a free Rewards Club. You can earn rewards points that are redeemable both online and at Russell Stover store locations; in addition, you'll hear about new products and get the opportunity to try them sooner than the average chocolate connoisseur. The easiest place to sign up for the Rewards Club Loyalty Program is by using the links at the bottom of the Russell Stover website.
Lifelong enthusiasts, they grew cacao plants in their apartments and made small batches in their Palo Alto garage. After two years of taste tests, they took their handmade dark chocolate public, opening Dandelion Chocolate in 2012. Located in San Francisco’s eclectic Mission district, their factory turns out 2,500 single-origin 70 percent cacao bars per week. Their releases, which change frequently with the season, source cacao from places as far-flung as Venezuela, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea.
Founder Colin Gasko is running a small but ambitious operation. Each single-origin chocolate bar at Rogue is sourced from independent farms in Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras. Unlike other fair-trade chocolate purveyors, Rogue pays more than twice the minimum for some of its cacao order to ensure the lasting success of those farms. Thanks to its small production, Rogue doesn’t always have a wide array available to purchase online, but each bar tastes like something special. Three Rivers, MA
The Godiva website is organized by seasonal, truffles, gifts, business and more and is easy to navigate. Shoppers may further define their selection by price, type of chocolate, special value, collections and more detailed options to expedite their effort. For those specifically looking for a gift, a number of gift boxes and baskets exist that are organized by occasion. Godiva also allows the gift purchaser to select a ribbon to personalize the box or basket. While many of the selections are priced a little higher than other leading chocolate companies, you know with Godiva your gift is sure to leave an impression.
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