After debuting his winning pralines at the World Fair in Brussels in 1910, Greek-Cypriot confectioner, Leonidas Kestekides, fell in love with a local Belgian girl. He then opened a tea room in Ghent and after his pralines again won gold at the Ghent World Fair in 1913, Leonidas began expanding his operations. He opened tea houses in Brussels and Blankenberge. His nephew, Basilio, pioneered the storefront “guillotine window.” Today, Leonidas sells chocolates at more than 1,500 storefronts worldwide. But, the prolific brand’s humble beginnings are never too far away. “Democracy in chocolate,” their motto, means that the good stuff isn’t only reserved for the rich. Purists will appreciate his Tablette Noir bar, which features 70 percent cocoa.
Christmas is soon approaching and you may want to surprise your loved ones with a unique gift that will not just warm their hearts but also make this coming Christmas a day to remember. And one of the gifts you can consider is a boxed chocolate. Tasty and delicious, a boxed chocolate will no doubt bring joy to the people you love. A good number of them come in well-decorated boxes and tins, and this makes them a stunning gift for anyone who loves chocolate.
In 2012, Cluizel opened a second Chocolatrium; in West Berlin, New Jersey. (The only other American outlet is their Manhattan storefront.) Visitors to the European and American Chocolatriums are walked through the chocolate creation process and history of the Cluizel brand. They are offered a sneak peek into the Cluizel workshop, then feast on fanciful bonbons like caramel mushrooms, “cappuccinos” filled with coffee ganache and macarolats — macaroons with different flavored coatings and fillings.
If you get a huge box of chocolates and can’t finish them in two weeks, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. After that, the flavors of the creams and ganaches can turn stale. When storing chocolates in the refrigerator, take the same steps you would when refrigerating chocolate bars. Be sure to wrap the box very well in plastic wrap, and seal in a zip-top plastic bag. Prior to eating, let the chocolates come to room temperature before unwrapping to avoid any condensation.
I’ve been a fervent consumer of chocolate my whole life, to the point where I can open up almost any box of assorted bonbons and immediately spot the chewy caramel (it’s usually square). Aside from my personal affinity for bonbons and truffles, I tasted many different brands when they crossed my desk while I was working as a food editor at Martha Stewart. I learned how to quickly spot the difference between inexpensive and high-quality chocolates by looking for a perfect temper, examining ingredients, and, of course, tasting.
Owner Patricia Tsai is a self-taught chocolatier whose background in the business world taught her how to avoid the pitfalls of running a sustainable food business. Since 2012, Tsai has been sourcing cacao from a small farm in Tabasco, Mexico. At Chocovivo, she roasts and grinds those beans into chocolate using a grinder made in Mexico; she also has an ancient Aztec stone grinder, which is fascinating to watch in action. The shop sells a variety of chocolate products, including hot chocolate mix and chocolate sauce, but Tsai’s single-origin and blended bars (flavored with locally sourced coffee, spices, and essences) have attracted a loyal following. Three years ago, Tsai expanded her operation to include hair and skin products made from natural cacao and cocoa butter. Chocovivo ships nationwide. 12469 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Richart’s Intense Valentine Gourmet Chocolates are $77 for a box of 49 chocolates. The real frustration here is that it's 49, not 50, so those of us with a strong sense of symmetry will have to eat them quickly just to cope. However, they are legitimate French Chocolates, each one having one of seven fancy flavors / aromas - floral, spicy, citrus, balsm, roasted, fruity, or herbal. The box also comes with a dark chocolate plaque for your valentine, so maybe that's piece 50.
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.
Co-owners Corey and David Menkes spend more time sourcing their chocolate than molding it, ensuring the beans they use come from farms that practice sustainable agriculture and pay their workers fair wages. Today, their operation produces nearly 3,000 bars each month, from simple, barely sweetened single-origin varieties to subtly flavored sweets, like a bar molded with crisp amaranth. A white chocolate bar cleanly flavored with matcha promises a light caffeine buzz. 2835 South Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Many pieces featured nut pralinés or pastes, and there was significant variety, including hazelnut, almond, pistachio, walnut, and various combinations, some with fruit flavors as well. The 3 was the fruitiest, and the most different from the others in the collection, featuring caramel, passion fruit, coconut, and mango in dark chocolate. The passion fruit dominated, and the chocolate flavor seemed a bit lost.
Chocolate Apéritifs au Fromage is chocolate-covered cheese. That was an unusual combination, new to me. The flavors are balanced and modest, but the cheese prevails. The Boîte Gourmande contains plain square wafers of chocolate, Florentins (chocolate cookies, square wafers covered with a honey and nut confection), mendiants (chocolate disks topped with nuts and dried fruit), and chocolate sticks containing candied orange peel. All are good. These are little chocolate delicacies, to be savored. The dried fruit arrived still fresh and full of flavor.
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.
In addition, boxed chocolates come in several pieces to make sure you have plenty of chocolates at your disposal. Most manufacturers also deliver fast, so you can start enjoying your chocolates only a few days after making the order. Plus boxed chocolates tend to include different varieties of chocolates for optimum satisfaction. To help you identify the best package, we unveil the following guidelines.
Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
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.
This box of 32 chocolates contains a different sort of treat – Turkish Delight, the chewy Middle Eastern confection. Made from an intense chew flavored with brown sugar and filled with pistachios, they’re covered in intense dark chocolate. This is an ideal choice for anyone who isn’t into overly sweet chocolates, as the intense dark chocolate pairs well with the mildly sweet Turkish Delight.
This North End chocolate and nut shop run by two childhood friends features a variety of artisan chocolates by local and national chocolatiers as well as gourmet nut mixes, health bars, and specialty snacks, as well as vegan and gluten-free chocolates. Tasting days give the opportunity to try anything from Pure 7’s dark chocolate peppermint bar to Northlight Baking Co.’s macarons.
Known for iconic brands like Godiva Chocolatier and home to two of the world's largest chocolate factories, Callebaut and Puratos, Belgium has a rich chocolate history. Flanders, the Flemish region, is often called the "capital of chocolate," though the country at large holds more than 320 chocolate shops. Production began as early as 1635 when Belgium was occupied by the Spanish who introduced the New World product to the country.
K’s 5-star review: Nama grand mariner and Nama champagne: rich and delicious. Absolutely. Remind me of Burdick's Pave, which are one of my absolute favorites. The Nama are a better value -- more pieces with the benefit of a handy prong to keep all the cocoa dusted pieces from feather off on your fingers. Boxes run $18.00 each as of 4/2014. Potato chips: really didn't click. Tasted greasy and didn't flatter either -- more guilt and less pleasure.
The award-winning Almond Roll Ups, $33, a soft-baked cookie rolled in sliced almonds that wraps around a marzipan center, was a unanimous favorite. Or try the soft butter cookies that sandwich fruit fillings of strawberry, peach, apricot or raspberry, $33. Gluten-free options are available too like the Hazelnut Cookie, and their award-winning dark chocolate dipped Hazelnut Cookie, $38.
Unique flavors like Tarragon Grapefruit, Sesame Nougat, and Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn are part of the mix, as well as safer flavors like Burnt Caramel, Piedmont Hazelnut, and Candied Orange Peel (which is the best chocolate-covered candied orange peel you'll ever have). While unusual flavors can easily become gimmicky and overwhelming, Recchiuti has executed theirs perfectly with subtle, elegant, and rounded blends. This was especially apparent when compared with our previous pick, Christopher Elbow, whose perfume-y flavors almost knock you over.
Stars with a blast of rich but DRY cocoa powder (the kind used in baking). This fades down into a less powdery and dry cocoa scent, where the vanilla begins to peek through. Unfortunately, the performance of this scent on my skin is fairly weak. It doesn't project off of me at all. Despite the other notes listed, I really only smell the cocoa powder.
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.
Vosges ($40 for 16 pieces) is famous for round truffles with exotic, unexpected combinations like wasabi with black sesame and even Taleggio cheese with walnuts. Their bacon bar is beloved by many people we talked to, but their assorted chocolates weren’t as well received. Funniest comment: “Cumin?? That’s a mean trick!” Vosges are available in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
There is a reason why Russell Stover 10 Ounce French Chocolate Mints are regarded as among the best boxed chocolates. First, they arrive in a 10-ounce box, meaning you will get plenty of chocolates for maximum satisfaction. Second, these mints are sweet, cool, and worth savoring. They also come in complimentary seasonal gift wrap, and this makes them a great gift idea. Moreover, these chocolate mints ship fast, so you won’t have to hold your appetite any longer. They are made in the United States and arguably the most delicious chocolate you have ever tasted.
I enjoy finding artisan chocolatiers when I travel. Chocolat Abeille (French for bee) is a gem in downtown Omaha. Their general assortment includes a variety of beautiful pieces including fruit, tea, and other flavors. Among these, the Caramel Ganache presented its chocolate flavor nicely, while others tended to be stronger in their fruit or other flavors. They are made in small batches and may sell quickly; the pieces that were available varied slightly over several visits in the course of a week. My favorite was a larger special piece (priced to match), the Hazelnut Banana Crisp, with a nice balance between its banana, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors.
Christopher Elbow ($35 for 16 pieces) was our top pick for 2014. In a blind tasting, a panel voted it their favorite. In the most recent tasting, the chocolates came across as too sweet and the flavors a little heavy-handed. While they are absolutely beautiful—the chocolates resemble baubles and jewels—they were squeezed out of the top spots by this year’s contenders.
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.
We have a constantly changing curated selection of bars and confections from our favorite makers and chocolatiers often including Alma, Akesson, Amano, Amedei, Arete, Askinosie, Batch PDX, Bonnat, Byrne & Carlson, Castronovo, Chocolate Maker’s Studio, Cluizel, Cocanu, Dandelion, Dick Taylor, Domori, Fran’s, Fruition, Grenada Chocolate, Lillie Belle, Marou, Maverick, Only Child, Palette de Bine, Patric, Pump Street, Pralus, Smooth Chocolator, Soma, Ranger, Recchiuti, Ritual, Valrhona, Woodblock, Xocolatl De David.
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.