I brought in 20 judges. This way I could ensure that we had a variety of taste testers with different palettes. I had a few rules and one of them was they couldn’t communicate with each other while tasting the brownies. I studied a phenomenon called “group think” in college and know people can be swayed by other people’s opinions. So it had to be less talking and more eating! They were happy to oblige because I was offering them BROWNIES.
“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.
While these chocolates had dustings of flavors that run the gamut from wild fennel pollen to Hungarian paprika on their outer shell, the insides “taste like a blast of dark, straight-ahead chocolate,” said Krader. She noted that the truffles themselves, while tasty, were not necessarily a go-to for chocolate purists: “They use flavorings as an exclamation mark; I'd recommend these for people who pride themselves on their unconventional fashion stylings."
Chocolate making in general is often referred to as an art, but at Dancing Lion in Manchester, New Hampshire, they really are making art. They sell stunning chocolate sculptures that almost look like stonework. You’ll also find beautiful and uniquely flavored chocolate bars such as The Blues, a beautiful blue bar with dark chocolate, blueberries and toasted pecans.
The best chocolates in Texas are hand-crafted by Kate Weiser in Dallas at her namesake chocolate shop. These confections are gorgeous. Her bonbons (which come in inventive flavors such as lavender apricot, yuzu,and buttery popcorn) are bright and colorful. Kate Weiser Chocolate is perhaps best known for “Carl the Snowman.” Named as one of Oprah’s favorite things, this hollow dark chocolate snowman is filled with hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows. It makes the dreamiest hot chocolate you could ever imagine.
Award-winning author and master chocolatier Paul A. Young deserves the accolades he receives for his creativity and mastery with all things chocolate. Walk into his tiny Camden Passage original chocolate shop and inhale the intoxicating aroma of fresh chocolate being made on-site. Young is one of the British chocolatiers who launched the chocolate revolution in London about 15 years ago, casting aside the overly sweet British chocolate of old for the fresh and innovative chocolate offerings that you’ll now find in at least a dozen top-notch chocolatiers in the capital city. Try his dark chocolate sea salt caramel pecan brownies—guaranteed to seduce every unsuspecting chocolate lover. Three locations in London found in Camden Passage, Royal Exchange, and Soho.
This line of chocolates began with an international love affair. After debuting his winning pralines at the World Fair in Brussels in 1910, Greek-American Leonidas Kestekides fell in love with a local Belgian girl and opened a tea room in Ghent. After his pralines again won gold at the Ghent World Fair in 1913, Leonidas began selling chocolates from his storefront "guillotine window," then expanded his operation to tea houses in Brussels and Blankenberge. Today Leonidas sells chocolates at over 1,500 storefronts worldwide, but the prolific brand's humble beginnings are never too far away — "democracy in chocolate" is their motto, meaning that the good stuff isn't only reserved for the rich. Purists will appreciate his Tablette Noir bar, which features 70 per cent cocoa.
John Scharffenberger, already a big name in the wine world, decided in 1997 to try his hand at artisanal chocolate-making. Using a vintage German melangeur — a machine that slowly grinds cacao beans into a chocolate liquor — and personally sampling beans from more than 150 international cacao farms, he and partner Robert Steinberg sought to bring traditional European chocolate craftsmanship to the States, proudly emphasizing cacao content on the bars' labels — a first for American chocolatiers. The San Francisco team also became the first American bean-to-bar manufacturer in 50 years. Now a member of the Hershey family, Scharffen Berger produces a modest but exquisite selection of bars and tasting squares sold at stores like Whole Foods including a crunchy Milk Chocolate Bar with Sea Salted Almonds.
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.
Even if you haven’t been to Switzerland, you’ve probably had Swiss chocolate. Lindt is the most popular Swiss chocolate brand, and can be purchased around the world. What’s especially interesting about the production of Swiss chocolate is that although Switzerland’s climate isn’t conducive to growing cacao plants, they found a way to produce chocolate all the same. It’s also the Swiss who can claim the most chocolate consumption per capita – the average Swiss eats more than 10 kilos of chocolate per year!
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.
Our own country is the world’s biggest producer of chocolate. One thing that sets American chocolate apart? The frequent use of peanuts and almonds. There are a number of artisan chocolate shops across the country, but Hershey’s in the country’s largest producer of the candy. And of course, there’s Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a popular family destination for both thrill rides and all the chocolate and confections one can handle!
On the other hand, the pieces from Whole Foods Market were not as impressive. The Elizabeth, Antoinette, and Madeleine were good. The Jeanett had a strong mint flavor that overpowered its white chocolate. The Sophie is marzipan with lemon, which is interesting. I wanted more marzipan, but it was good. Not everything worked. The Valentina is a chewy caramel with lavender. Lavender is aromatic, but that was distracting, and it did not contribute a pleasing flavor. The Patricia certainly had chili but was weak on tangerine. These were fine for grocery store chocolates, but lackluster for the price, $51/lb. The box has drawings illustrating the pieces, but I was unable to match several pieces to the drawings.
All-Around Favorite: Chocolopolis: The defining difference between these chocolates and others we tasted was the utterly complex and rich ganache inside each different truffle. Chocolopolis has one of the largest collections of craft chocolate bars in the world—many of which they incorporate into their truffles. The Champions Box (my favorite) features all of their award-winning truffles. Lacquered and glossy, each truffle delivers serious taste, (think lemon-lavender white chocolate or the Madagascar dark chocolate). The top taste was the Dominican Republic House Blend truffle, made from their proprietary blend of select Dominican Republic couvertures (cacao). Chocolopolis founder Lauren Adler notes, “I’d compare our style of confections to the French tradition, where it’s really about the quality and the flavor of the chocolate.” Her caramel cups dusted with a cluster of sea salt are worth a bite too.
Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
Olive & Sinclair isn’t just Nashville’s first bean-to-bar chocolate shop, it’s the first such store in all of Tennessee. This small-batch shop does everything in-house, from stone-grinding their cocoa to finishing up the ethically sourced, organic confections. The results are scrumptious, of course, and include signature Tennessee items like bourbon brittle and caramels alongside duck fat caramels that simply melt in your mouth.
With five café locations—including one at their factory—this chocolate company handcrafts signature treats that taste exquisite but also look exceptional. Their assortment of bars pep up traditional milk or dark choices with options like a Milk Chocolate Crispy Orange Brulee Bar, Dark Chocolate Espresso Bean, or even the Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Fennel Bark. The gourmet dark, milk and ivory truffles feature fun sweets like the Strawberry or Raspberry Love Bug and Cookies and Cream Cone. Caramels and toffees are touched with sea salt or vanilla, and gourmet hot cocoa mixes go from simple to spicy. A specialty line of liqueur truffles are derived from Oregon’s finest craft distillers. Plus, their tumbled chocolate balls taste of blueberry, hazelnuts, sea salt caramel and even a German roasted malted wheat berry used in beer making.
Are you a frequent gift-giver? You may want to take a look at the Celebrations Passport: with a yearly fee of $29.99, it includes free shipping from a family of brands that include Cheryl's Cookies, 1-800-Flowers, and Harry & David. Otherwise, expect to pay quite a bit for shipping: for example, on a gift assortment that retails for $139.99, we were given a shipping cost of $18.99. You can see all of the shipping costs by clicking on the blue question mark icon as you begin the ordering process; delivery prices start at $4.99 and go up to 15% of your order total (for orders over $150).
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?
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.
I was introduced to Alegio Chocolate on a chocolate crawl and bought a selection to taste at home. The Raspberry had a good balance with strong raspberry and good chocolate working together. The Orange was similar but slightly milder. The Santa Domingo is an unusal combination of green olive, licorice, currants, and apricot. Those flavors actually stood to the side a bit to present the chocolate at center stage. The Espresso worked well with a slightly salted caramel. The Habeñero had a little bite to it, while the Honey was of course sweet. Throughout the pieces, distinct chocolate flavors were presented well.