#3: Great Value (Wal-Mart Generic Brand) Fudge Brownie Mix — the underdog and least expensive brownie mix killed it in the brownie mix challenge, much to the surprise of the judges. One judge even gave it a perfect score and deemed it the favorite. It consistently received a few solid 8’s, a few 9’s, and one 10. It also received a 2 and several 4’s so it wasn’t a favorite across the board. Most reviewers like the soft, chewy texture with flaky top. They enjoyed the fudgy flavor. Some thought it was slightly artificial tasting and wouldn’t eat it again. It scored well enough to nab the #3 spot. What a shocker!
At her beautiful Atlanta boutique, owner Kristen Hard refuses to use anything but dark chocolate in her amazing bean-to-bar chocolates and playful desserts, such as a chocolate faux salami flecked with biscotti. To win over milk chocolate lovers, she says she “slowly ratcheted up the cacao percentages, and no one noticed.” Many chocolate artisans spend years training with masters, but Hard is almost completely self-taught. “It used to make me feel insecure,” she says. “But it’s also why I’m unique.” She now spends six weeks abroad each year sourcing beans directly from farmers, creating outstanding bars like one with Venezuelan cacao and raw sugar. cacaoatlanta.com
Along with the Chocolate Chip cookies, you can choose from the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt (a brownie-like cookie made with Valrhona dark cocoa and Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. It delivers a subtle and delightful “ting” of salt on the tongue), the clever Lemon Blueberry White Chocolate Chip, the White Chocolate Cherry Chip which is baked with tart Montmorency dried cherries, and a hefty Oatmeal Raisin.
The lucky residents of Sacramento have a treasure in Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates. The Hazelnut Praline was excellent, with evocative hazelnut. The Almond Rocher had a great texture. Its almond was well balanced with the choolate although it could have been stronger. The Peanut Butter Croquant also had an excellent balance with the flavors brought out well, including a little zip to the peanut butter.
Italy is another country with famous chocolate-makers, including Baci Perugina, Guerrero and Cioccolata Venchi. The first chocolate license was granted by the House of Savoy in 1678, and what we now call Nutella was first created in the mid-19th century in Turin. Perugia, however, is the best-known city for chocolate tourism in Italy thanks to Baci, meaning "kisses."
What’s fun about ordering cookies from Milk Jar is the ability to create a custom box and choose from 15 different flavors that include Banana Split, Birthday Cake, Rocky Road, and White Chocolate Raspberry. Or skip the pressure of choosing and just order the popular assorted box. Order as few as a half dozen ($15) to up to two dozen for online orders ($60). Need more than two dozen? Just give them a call.
After gaining recognition for the adorable almond-eared chocolate mice he provided to New York City’s Le Cirque and Bouley in the 1990s, chocolatier Larry Burdick moved to Wapole, New Hampshire, where he opened a cheery yellow café. Today, there are L.A. Burdick locations in New York City, Boston, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, serving his fantastic handmade chocolate candies, from ganache-filled truffles to the chocolate bunnies Burdick makes each spring, an Easter variation on his famous chocolate mice. burdickchocolate.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.
This Italian chocolatier specializes in hazelnut-flavored chocolate pralines, combining a hazelnut chocolate cream and a whole hazelnut with a crisp chocolate shell in either milk or dark chocolate. It’s a decadent chocolate experience, but with a complexity and mild bitterness from the hazelnut that makes it a more adult experience. Perfect for nut lovers.
Chef Oscar Ortega is making some truly otherworldly chocolates at his Jackson, Wyoming, chocolate shop Atelier Ortega. His truly artisanal chocolates come in classic flavors (Tahitian vanilla, walnut) and inventive varietals (oregano and Earl Grey tea). And if these stunning chocolates don’t do it for you, then consider stopping in to America’s best old-school candy shops.