Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate in West Hartford stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one. But the chocolate tortels, truffles and dark chocolate-covered cherries on a milk chocolate heart are luxurious and rich.
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After surveying the options, devil’s food seemed like the best choice for side-by-side testing. Since the key characteristic of a devil’s food cake is its richness, we figured we’d be able to judge more fairly by basing our test on the big brands’ most indulgent offerings. Next, the pros in our Test Kitchen baked each cake according to the directions on its package. To rid our bakers and testers of any preconceived biases, we prepared and compared each brand without its flashy packaging or marketing claims.
The chocolatier, William Dean Brown, plays with a variety of flavors in the assortment. The pieces included Cappuccino, Apple Pie, Hazelnut, Grapefruit and Tarragon, Strawberry Caramel, and more. I regard the Apple Pie highly for execution of its theme; it contained an apple layer and a crumb layer that were faithful to the theme, but the chocolate had a minor role in that piece. Indeed, the amount of chocolate flavor in the assortment varied and was not always the star.
The chocolate in these pieces was subdued. Mostly, I prefer a balance between chocolate and other flavors. In Richart’s pieces, chocolate does not contribute enough for me. Since it was weak, I tasted the chocolate by itself first before biting into a couple of pieces. The chocolate was slightly bitter without a lot of flavor. That is perhaps not unusual for French chocolate (and I prefer Belgian), but, at this price, I want chocolate to knock me over.
You’ll forget you’re in Provo, Utah, when you walk into Taste, which is simply and elegantly decorated in black, white and gold. Once you’re in the store, you’ll never want to leave. The highlight here is their chocolate and vinegar tastings. At these events, you will try seven of Taste’s eight chocolate bars, sourced from Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Madagascar. If you think chocolate all tastes the same, then you’ll definitely think again after a visit to this shop.
Garrison Confections’s main attraction is the Seasonal Collection, which features twelve new flavors about every three months. Generally I like new experiences, so that is fine by me, but do not get attached, because your favorite piece will vanish. I tried the collection in April 2007 and was impressed by some pieces, notably the fruit patés. The Pabana was particularly nice, good flavors blended well, including a novel fruit flavor. The 91% was also very nice, unusual for me since I generally like more than chocolate alone. The pieces with alcohol were less appealing to me, as usual. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie was a bit piquant with a nice balance. The Coffee Almond Praline started well but finished weakly.
In addition, it performs very, very well, I dare say exceptionally, even among other similar cold-weather-leaning fragrances in the house that are generally strong, its dark juice selling its strength fairly convincingly. Its boastful projection of a few feet for at least a couple hours followed by a good scent cloud thereafter, suggests high value.
Owned by a couple for 30+ years, this beloved shop focuses on both chocolates and pastries. The confectionery menu features a plethora of truffles, fondants, and marzipans, as well as specialty treats such as marzipan critters, florentines, and meringue balls. Pâtisseries also make for good eye candy, from chocolate cakes to fruit tartelettes and French macarons.
If you’re looking for something a little simpler but still well within gourmet chocolate range, we suggest these caramels. Made with an infusion of sea salt, the caramels manage to merge a chewy texture and sweet notes with crunchy and bold sea salt. The salt doesn’t overwhelm the senses and instead provides a way to enhance the base flavors and textures of the caramel for a truly unique gourmet experience. These caramels are made with real butter and salt along with fresh cream for an authentic taste at an affordable price.
Maison du Chocolat’s smallest online offering is a box of 28, which we also think is better to share with a larger group rather than with just one other person. Recchiuti’s offering of 16 chocolates feels more appropriate for sharing between a couple over the course of a few days or a week. And although these chocolates aren’t much more expensive per piece than the Recchiuti, having to buy a bigger box really bumps up the price. You can purchase smaller boxes in Maison du Chocolat stores, but that doesn’t help if you’re not in New York, Paris, or other larger cities where the shops can be found.
These chocolates are unusual, to say the least. Richard Donnelly likes to push the chocolate experience by combining its rich tones — he uses Belgian and French chocolate — with ingredients such as lavender, chipotle, saffron, cardamom, and Earl Grey tea. Such innovation helped Donnelly win the Best Artisan award at the prestigious Euro Chocolate Festival in Perugia, Italy, just ten years after he opened his shop. To maintain quality and ensure freshness, Donnelly produces no more than 50 pounds of chocolate a day. If you need a break from the exotic and unusual flavors, try Donnelly’s white chocolate macadamia nut or a honey vanilla caramel.
Committed to quality, the French chocolate-maker Richart guarantees you the most refined chocolates from the most refined ingredients. Richart recipes, developed and tested by the Richart family, have won France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, the Ruban Bleu, seven times. Having perfected the art of chocolate making, Richart now focuses on enhanced flavors and distinctive designs and colors. A box of assorted chocolates is visually stunning. If you really want to impress, splurge on the $850 burlwood vault with seven drawers of chocolate — complete with temperature and humidity gauges.