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François Payard is widely known as a pastry chef, but I was unimpressed by Payard’s chocolates. I enjoyed the Chagall, a praline wafer with excellent structure, good balance, and medium-mild flavors, although it was a bit slow to present flavors. I also liked the Gauguin, in which the cherry and chocolate flavors worked well together, and the Monet, with a strong cinnamon flavor. Most other pieces were okay but unremarkable. The Rodin disappointed because its initial interesting raspberry flavor faded too quickly.

Rich. Luxurious. Decadent. Those are just a few words one can use to describe SPAGnVOLA. This Gaithersburg, Maryland, shop’s signature bonbons are impeccably decorated and boast a variety of classic and innovative flavors (ginger-plum and rosemary olive oil chocolates sit next to caramels). All of the cocoa beans used in the shop’s confections are from a single family estate in the Dominican Republic, ensuring only the highest quality for the handmade bars, bonbons and truffles.

One of the few true bean-to-bar chocolatiers in America, Dandelion also sells macarons, hot chocolate, caramels, and pastries at its San Francisco shop. The single-origin brownies are a popular treat, but the brand’s single-origin chocolate bars, which ship nationwide, have a cult following, and each one feels like a special gift. 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA
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.
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
You can’t go to Belgium and not go to a chocolate shop – there are more than 2,000 throughout the country! What makes Belgian chocolate unique is that it is only cooled at the end of the production process, which allows it to hold onto more of its aroma. Belgian chocolate is also almost entirely handcrafted. These two factors do make Belgian chocolate a little more expensive, but as they say – treat yourself!

What kinds of chocolates can you get at Russell Stover? While you won't find anything overly exotic or gourmet, you'll find an appealing selection of just about everything else. Whether you want milk or dark chocolate, sampler or single-flavor boxes, or you'd like to build your own gift box, the website makes it easy for you to find it. Use the search box, or simply click on the brand you prefer (Russell Stover or Whitman's) at the top of the page, where you'll get a dropdown menu of the available product categories. In addition to chocolates, you'll also find gift baskets (with or without plush animals), hard candies and jelly beans, brittle and chocolate bars, and an outlet for clearance items at a discount.
In researching and testing for this guide, I was surprised to find that expensive doesn’t always mean high quality. Some of the costly boutique chocolates we tried were clearly made from inferior beans, with flavor that just died on the tongue. The Recchiuti chocolates, on the other hand, are worth the money, with the subtle flavors that come from great cacao.
Enjoy trying different flavors, Richart fine chocolates offer unsurpassed taste sensations by bringing together the finest ingredients in time-tested recipes. In addition to other mouth-watering flavors, Richart uses ingredients to add a relatively redolent experience to the taste, such as balsamic to taste the original cacao or roasted to enjoy coffee ganaches and caramel coulis.
Dilettante claims confectionary descendance from Julius Rudolph Franzen, pastry chef to Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. I have only their truffles to judge them by. Unfortunately, I prefer other pieces with a greater variety of components and expression. Truffles are too often an overdose of chocolate and cream. Dilettante may move up on my list when I have more experience with their products, such as their gift box assortment.
Photo Credits: All images under fair use for illustrative purposes unless otherwise noted, 25. luxati.com, 24. everydayparisian.com, 23. toakchocolate.com, 22. www.richart-chocolates.com, 21. xfilexplore.com, 20. cocoastore.nyc, 19. mostlyaboutchocolate.com, 18. eclatchocolate.com, 17. wdwmagic.com, 16. wikimedia commons (public domain), 15. tripadvisor.com, 14. mnogolok.info, 13-12. wowreads.com, 11. candyaddict.com, 10. raredelights.com, 9. Mstyslav Chernov, Handmade cigar production, process. Tabacalera de Garcia Factory. Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic (8), CC BY-SA 3.0, 8. Oderik, ChocoSP, CC BY-SA 3.0, 7. Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, Swarovski crystals (2545857954), CC BY 2.0, 6-5. peimag.com, 4. delafee.com, 3. cazhighlights.blogspot.com, 2. delafee.com, 1. luxexpose.com
For those who don't eat animal products (or just prefer to stay away from dairy), these Amore di Mona vegan chocolates make a delicious and thoughtful gift. They're also free from gluten, wheat, soy, and peanuts, and they come in a 24-piece box complete with a bow. Best of all, reviewers say, it's "very high quality chocolate" and they "taste amazing!"
The truffles are packaged in a row, as in the above image (which unfortunately does not convey the triangular shapes well), in a triangular box. A mild drawback is that the box unfolds and opens flat, which is not convenient for holding the remaining truffles until you can eat them. I recommend trying Telluride once. The price is a bit high, although the reasonable shipping price partly compensates for that.
What kinds of chocolates can you get at Russell Stover? While you won't find anything overly exotic or gourmet, you'll find an appealing selection of just about everything else. Whether you want milk or dark chocolate, sampler or single-flavor boxes, or you'd like to build your own gift box, the website makes it easy for you to find it. Use the search box, or simply click on the brand you prefer (Russell Stover or Whitman's) at the top of the page, where you'll get a dropdown menu of the available product categories. In addition to chocolates, you'll also find gift baskets (with or without plush animals), hard candies and jelly beans, brittle and chocolate bars, and an outlet for clearance items at a discount.
Hailing from France’s Rhône Valley, Valrhona’s wine country influence is unmistakable. The label on each Valrhona cru (single origin bar) bears the name of that bean’s terroir. It is the most exclusive of these being the Vintage Single Origin bars, sold in limited quantities according to crop yield. Valrhona also suggests wine pairings designed to bring out the “notes” in each chocolate’s complex flavor profile. From chocolate pearls to tasting squares, the brand’s nec-plus-ultra chocolate bar selection is available at specialty grocery stores.
Zabar’s is as New York as it gets. Whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas or New Years, Zabar’s bagels, deli meats, and pastries will put you in a New York state of mind. The Black and Whites are particularly fun to eat. Do you eat one side first then the other, or take an equal bite of both sides down the middle? I haven’t decided yet, so I’ll keep practicing.
Can you really find gourmet cookie gifts at Amazon—the same place you turn to to stock up on Chips Ahoy? Turns out you can. Leila Love Macarons are delicate meringue pastry cookies made of almond flour, sugar and egg whites, sandwiched together with delicious fillings made with high quality chocolate or seasonal fruit fillings made with no preservatives or stabilizers. Each cookie is individually wrapped for freshness and presented in a fancy box. But be aware these cookies are not eligible for Amazon Prime (wah wah).
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.
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