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.
The Pistachio Marzipan and Bandol Breeze (apricot pâte de fruit and marzipan) were too weak for my taste, but most of Jacques Torres’ pieces had both good non-chocolate and chocolate flavors. The Golden Espresso was another very good piece. Mom’s Chocolate Peanut Brittle did not quite work for me, but Grandma’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch was excellent, with a great roasted peanuts flavor and complementing chocolate. In spite of my few quibbles I, most of Torres’ pieces are done to near perfection, and I would class Torres with Burdick. Both are near the same quality. Burdick uses a bit more exotic flavors while Torres takes familiar flavors to great heights.
After years in the test kitchen, Michael Recchiuti was ready to introduce Americans to real chocolate in 1997. With his wife, Jacky, he founded Recchiuti Confections. Their idea: when you introduce people to truly exquisite truffles and confections they will be won over instantly. Everyday, we strive to create the best chocolate experience possible, from handcrafting smooth ganaches infused with fresh herbs from California, to blending single-origin chocolates for one-of-a-kind tasting experiences. And just like our start 20 years ago, we never add preservatives.
Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
There’s no shortage of treats out there for purchase — especially of the mass-market variety that Hershey’s, Mars, Whitman’s, and Godiva peddle. The trick, then, is in distinguishing the handmade and carefully crafted from the mass-produced marketing hype. Here’s where to buy a truly excellent box of chocolates, organized by category of confection.
The selection at Chocolate is vast, everything from a simple chocolate-dipped fortune cookie for less than a dollar, to a 200+ piece Valentine's assortment of gluten-free chocolates for over $300. We did notice that none of their categories included two of the most popular “candy holidays”, Halloween and Christmas, but Easter chocolates are sold year-round.