Blink and passers-by could easily miss the Veruca Chocolates cafe and store in Chicago’s sleek Lincoln Park neighborhood. Pediatrician-turned-chocolatier Heather Johnston fills her glass cases with bonbons, caramels, and dipped truffles in a range of flavors every season. The house specialties include a mango and passionfruit-infused ganache bonbon, but don’t miss the almost smoky blackened sugar chocolates, or browned butter bonbons with an addictively nutty flavor. Toasted pumpkin seeds give orange-hued pumpkin caramel truffles a bit of crunch. Veruca ships nationwide. 1332 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL — Ashok Selvam
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
Anna Shea Chocolates is an experience not to be missed. The flavors, ingredients, technique, and artistry are excellent, including an excellent color chart and playful names. The assortment includes a variety of flavors including fruit, cinnamon, liqueurs, and some playful flavors like red velvet and birthday cake. The assortment was light on nut flavors, which tend to be my favorites.
Vosges Chocolate's exotic truffles are made from the finest ingredients offered around the world. Owner/Chocolatier, Katrina Markoff, personally chooses every spice, flower and chocolate that is flown into their Chicago kitchen. Markoff utilizes the original methods of French confectionery artistry which she learned during her training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say that there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of specialty chocolates, and many places have more. There are at least 80 of them in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
Chocolate contributes more than $700 million to the Ecuadorian economy. A single 1.8 ounce bar of the finest chocolate divided into 12 squares will set customers back more than $250. For the adventurous chocoholics who want to see chocolate production from seed to bar, the Cacao Route offers the opportunity to visit cacao farms and eventually eat chocolate in a number of dishes as well as sweet and bitter bars. Cacao Route tours take place near the Pacific coast, with options to tour the Organic Cacao Museum, horseback ride along the path and visit plantations and packing facilities, as well as in the Amazon, which features spa treatments at the Papallacta
My 2005 purchase in San Francisco was slightly underweight. The chocolate felt powdery to me. The Ground Orange Gianduja was good, with orange pervading the piece, and the Hazelnut Gianduja was okay. However, the Marzipan and Honey Crunch were lackluster, and the Buttercrunch Chip was a bit dry. The weight of my 2006 Palo Alto purchase was correct. The White Gianduja was pretty good, medium-strength hazelnut flavor with some crunch.
Planète Chocolat sells most of their chocolates in prepared boxes, so I could not pick out my preferences. Some pieces, mostly truffles, are available separately. The pieces in the box I got had textured tops that I could not match up with the diagram, so I could not tell what was what. Planète Chocolat’s chocolates look fancy, but that does not make them taste fancy, and I would rather pay for taste than looks.
Even if you buy this dark chocolate box for no other reason than the collectible red tin container (from legendary Parisian restaurant Maxim's), you won't be disappointed in the quality of this French chocolate — especially if you're a coffee enthusiast. Each individually wrapped candy consists of a gourmet dark chocolate with a heart of coffee candy. Each tin comes with 24 to 26 pieces, and it's an especially perfect gift for Francophiles or lovers of all things Parisian.
This cozy chocolate lounge and boutique schedules yummy events like a Chocolate & Bubbles Happy Hour and an upcoming “50 Shades of Chocolate” five-course dinner. Its Chocolate Boutique holds innovative fun finds like Chocolate Enrobed Bacon and Chocolate Mood Tubes (with five different cacao percentages). Solid bars such as their signature Some More (aka s’mores) and Strawberry Jammin’ with popping rocks are designed to provide a sensory experience. Stylish single pieces give a boost with bites like goji berry, linzer, banana ginger or cinnamon toffee.
Katalin Csiszar and her husband, Zsolt Szabad, began the award-winning Rozsavolgyi in their home in Budapest in 2004. They source beans from Venezuela growers, and roast them very lightly to preserve their true flavors. Only organic cane sugar and a small amount of of cocoa butter goes in before they are formed into intricate patterns meant to mimic fireplace tiles, and wrapped by hand in paper that looks like your chic grandma’s vintage silk scarf. Purists rave about their Criollo and Trincheras bars, but those who like surprises go for inclusions like olives and bread, and flavors of Japanese matcha, and Indian masala spices.
If you are looking at this product and reviews, chances are you have already eaten a lot of dark chocolate. If you haven’t, this isn’t a great place to start given the cacoa content is so high (I found this out myself the hard way). I used to eat mainly milk chocolate, which is primarily sugar. I initially tried an 85% dark and despised it. I then worked my way up starting with like a 45%, then 60%, than 72%, then 85%, then 88-100%...which worked a lot better as my taste could adapt to the change (for better or worse [better for me as I need to watch my dietary intake and want the health benefits of dark chocolate], standard commercial milk chocolate is now so overly sweet to me that I cannot eat it.)
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Since 1997, this confectionery inside the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero has been putting artistic touches on their small batch yet exquisite chocolates, caramels, bars, sauces, fruit/nut mixes, and truffles. Their top-selling Fleur de Sel Caramels are covered in dark chocolate with a well-blended balance of salt and sweetness. For Valentine’s Day, their Hearts in Motion box provides a whole lot of lovin’—burnt caramel truffles embellished with Picasso-esque images. Grand Amour Box holds three layers of popular truffles like Ginger Heart, Piedmont Hazelnut and Force Noir.
As Saint Valentine's Day rose in popularity, people began sending gifts of flowers, love letters, and other trinkets. Liquid chocolate drinks were understandably not convenient to mail to a sweetheart. In 1847, Joseph Fry invented chocolate you could eat by adding extracted cocoa butter back into the drinking cocoa powder, changing forever how we think of chocolate.
In 1502 Columbus received cocoa beans as an offering from the Aztec society, but it was the conquistador Hernan Cortes who sent the first shipment of cocoa to Spain in 1524. Spanish monks adapted the "chocolha" to the European taste, substituting some of the spicies used in America for honey, sugar and milk. In the Spanish court this beverage was kept as a secret recipe that only monks knew how to prepare.
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
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After I finished looking, I enjoyed the excellent balance of chocolate and raspberry in the framboise. The pistache was great. The noisette had a good hazelnut, but the chocolate was a bit weak. The Chocoblock looks like the chocolate-nut bark you find in so many stores, but it was superb. It contains assorted nuts and particularly brings out the pistachio flavor.
MarieBelle’s chocolates have fun designs, but the flavors did almost nothing for me. The Swiss chocolate is a thin shell around the fillings and contributed little to the taste. Good ingredients were used, and the flavors, when I could detect them, were well done. However, even pieces I would expect to have prominent flavors, like the Pineapple or Mandarin, were weak. The Spices piece was good, and the Hazelnut Praline was good except for the slightness of the flavor. I could not recommend these at half the price, let alone the $100/lb. charged.
American consumers are expected to spend an astonishing $1.8 billion-plus on candy for the holiday this year, and about 75% of that will be on chocolate. Mass-market confectioners like Russell Stover, in business since 1923, will account for most of the sales. (The company, which also owns the Whitman’s brand, is the largest boxed-candy manufacturer in America.) Most smaller chocolate shops prepare special Valentine’s Day assortments and/or other chocolate-related gifts, though, and these tend to offer greater variety and utilize better-quality chocolate.