Moonstruck isn’t all about the liquor, though. You’ll find caramels, toffee, bars, and truffles in a wide variety of flavors from espresso to orange. There are also whimsical shapes like black cats, ladybugs, and lambs as well as classic shapes and designs. If that’s not enough, there are a variety of hot chocolate mixes as well to tickle your palate and warm your heart.
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.
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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
People were surprised when Anthony Bourdain's Good & Evil chocolate bar debuted in 2012 at more than $100 a pound, but Amedei's Venezuelan-sourced Porcelana bar already weighs in at more than $160 per pound. Cecilia Tessieri — one of the world's few female chocolatiers — makes some of the most expensive chocolate in the world. Since opening its doors in 1990, the Tuscany-based brand Amedei has contributed to a $27,000 cupcake in Dubai, as well as a $1,000 sundae at New York's Serendipity. Tessieri also makes an eclectic line of pralines, the filled chocolate bonbons that inspired her to go into business in the first place, and excellent bars such as the Cru Madagascar Extra Dark Chocolate (70 per cent) or Chuao Bar (70 per cent). But her creations are not for the budget-conscious!
You will actually have to visit Amsterdam to sample what may be the best chocolates in the Netherlands. The proprietors of Puccini Bomboni, a delightful cafe and restaurant, hand-make each chocolate on the premises and do not deliver. Exotic combinations of chocolate and spices, concocted from the freshest ingredients, are a specialty. Although the variety isn’t enormous, the quality is truly amazing.
Hand-dipped bonbons are a specialty for Alma, one of Portland’s standout chocolate shops, but only its toffees, molded chocolate figures, and chocolate bars are shipped nationwide. Stop in for a taste of owner Sarah Hart’s Thai peanut butter cups and rose caramels — the filling contains just the right amount of salinity to offset the drop of rosewater that’s inside each one. Or, order in advance of the holidays to snag a hazelnut or peanut butter crunch bar, caramel-pecan bar, or mocha almond nibby. Alma ships nationwide. 140 NE 28th Avenue, Portland, OR
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.
Hédiard was my favorite of the fine chocolate stores I visited in my first trip to Paris. (It was later bested by Côte de France and Chocolat Michel Cluizel.) The tea (Thé) piece is good and brings out the chocolate flavor well. A hazelnut piece has good texture and a nice taste that develops after a moment. The flavors are strong but not overpowering, and the flavors in the assortment I bought were distinct from each other.
"Commence your tasting with the white chocolate, macadamia nut and Cointreau Ambrosia truffle; with your second sip give our milk chocolate Wink of the Rabbit truffle a whirl. Rosé Champagnes are a tad fuller bodied than their golden counterparts and in general, tend to stand up better to darker chocolates. Cheers to an eternal life of wine + chocolate!"
Do you agree with the Best Brownie Mix winner? I would love to hear your favorites. What brownie mix do you stand by? I have to admit that I have always loved Ghirardelli and Betty Crocker Triple Chunk so I wasn’t too surprised. The beauty of it is that I had 20 willing judges who didn’t confer with each other. There were definitely clear-cut winners.
Some pieces I liked were the dark chocolate Palets d’Or, Le Cocktail (with a blend of nuts, was what fine chocolate should be but not the oustanding piece I expected from Bernachon’s reputation), Le Métis (praline, marzipan, and pistachio, was an unusual melange and interesting), L’Aveline (hazelnut praline, was very good with sharp flavors that were not overpoweringly strong), La Truffe (a very good truffle), Le Chuao Pepitos (strong chocolate), La Nougatine (good caramel), and La Truffette (an orange flavor that blends well with the chocolate).
The milk-chocolate-covered toffee was very good. I do not think the dark chocolate or white chocolate showcase the toffee as well. Lest my praise and high marks for the Chocolate Dream Box make you giddy, let me note that not everything was perfect. The crunch of the Hazelnut Crunch felt just a bit soft, and the chocolate flavor in the Lion Heart was blunted. And the price is high.
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.
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