American confectionery has come a long way since the Whitman's Sampler.
There are those who will claim that the finest chocolates can only come from beyond American shores, but we thought it was long past time to put this theory to the test. So, we sampled assorted chocolates from some 50 producers, based all over the United States—many of them making chocolates on a par with the best of Switzerland or Belgium.
Believe it or not, the task of tasting them was not always pleasant; some of the most expensive chocolates were all but indistinguishable from their drugstore counterparts. But we persevered, eventually settling on 10 star chocolate makers, each producing unique creations that were truly divine to eat. Almost every one of their boxes, incidentally, includes an illustrated cheat sheet that identifies varieties by shape or design. This, of course, eliminates the fun of puncturing a bonbon’s bottom in search of a favorite flavor.
CANDINAS—Swiss-trained, Wisconsin-based Markus Candinas makes simply decorated chocolates in traditional flavors—from Irish cream to caramelized hazelnut—with fillings that meld beautifully with the rich chocolate exteriors.
CHOCOLATE SPRINGS—Chocolate maker Joshua Needleman, based in the Berkshires, specializes in distinctive flavors, like tangerine-ginger tea. His buttery caramel is unparalleled, and his sunshine chocolate—filled with a fresh lemon zest ganache—is zingy.
JOHN & KIRA’S—Pennsylvania chocolate makers John Doyle and Kira Baker-Doyle use natural and locally grown ingredients for their chocolate fillings. The star of the collection, mint, is made with leaves from an elementary-school garden.
MARIEBELLE—Manhattan-based chocolate maker Maribel Lieberman designs colorful mosaics and silhouettes for each chocolate. There are 26 flavors of ganache filling; lavender and pineapple are our favorites.
NORMAN LOVE CONFECTIONS—Norman Love, owner of a chocolate shop in Fort Myers, Florida, has captured the essence of the Sunshine State. His chocolates have bright tropical flavors, like macadamia, key lime, and piña colada.
POCO DOLCE—San Francisco’s Poco Dolce chocolate “tiles” come in four flavors: double-roasted almond, crystallized ginger, burnt caramel toffee, and Aztec chile—all generously sprinkled with gray Brittany sea salt.
RECCHIUTI—Michael Recchiuti, also based in San Francisco, makes chocolates that are stylishly restrained but disguise poetic flavors within, like star anise, pink peppercorn, Piedmont hazelnut, spring jasmine tea, and a sublime burnt caramel.
SANS SOUCI—Laure de Montebello and Angela Fields of Port Jefferson, New York, offer exquisite European-style fresh cream truffles. The raspberry truffles are a must, as are the irresistible Marquis Bars—each like a bite-size flourless chocolate cake.
VALERIE CONFECTIONS—At their Los Angeles store, Valerie Gordon and her partner, Stan Weightman, specialize in handmade hard toffee. They blend the toffee with fresh ingredients, creating eight flavors, such as ginger, gianduja, and hazelnut.
WOODHOUSE—The old-fashioned shapes of these Napa Valley chocolates hint at the flavors inside: a fan for Thai ginger, a coffee bean for espresso … Special mention: the honey, filled with a creamy honey butter, and the fresh mint.