If you’re looking for a delicious box of high-quality chocolates to give to your one-and-only this Valentine’s Day (or any other holiday, for that matter), we recommend Christopher Elbow Assorted Chocolates ($40 for a 20-piece heart). In a tasting against ten other filled chocolates, six out of nine blind taste testers placed this collection in their top three. These chocolates are not only fresh and made of high-quality ingredients; they are each a visual work of art, which makes them a perfect gift. Or, if you’re more the bar type, take a look at our guide to the best chocolate bar.
How we picked and tested
There are an infinite number of choices and an equally daunting number of “best” and “must-have” lists. We read reviews of chocolates in Consumer Reports, polled colleagues and friends in the business, and sought advice from Mark Bitterman, owner of The Meadow.
We took into account availability and usability of online stores: for example, Kee’s Chocolates from New York City came highly recommended from colleagues and editorial publications, but isn’t available online, and our goal was to find something that is accessible to most people. Overall we came to a well-edited list of eleven of the most highly-rated samples to put in front of a blind tasting panel of nine friends and food experts.
I bought the smallest assortment boxes that each company offered. We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while limiting palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when, in the middle of a large tasting, your taste buds fail you after being overstimulated. To try and limit this, there were Saltines and club soda set out to help tasters pace themselves.
Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes but without brand names showing. While not completely blind, we felt that the presentation should factor in the judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized a brand by the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
That said, my tasters could pick out the cheapies quite easily, even though I removed the plastic trays from the boxes because they seemed too obvious.
I asked my tasters to choose their first, second, and third picks. They were also asked to call out their least-favorite sample.
His chocolate collections can be purchased in amounts from 4 to 48 pieces. If diving into a box of assorted flavors isn’t really your bag, the company also offers bars, chocolate nuts, pate de fruit, toffee, and turtles. If you have a lot more money to spend, there’s the Luxury Gift Box or the Ultimate Luxury Gift Box, which include assorted chocolates, chocolate nuts, bars, and drinking chocolate.
For delivery by Valentine’s Day, order by February 11th for ground shipping, 12th for 2-day air, or 13th for premium overnight shipping.
Two great alternatives
Some weren’t so impressed, calling it “not refined or complex,” “chocolate is average,” and “smooth texture, but a little too sweet.”
What else did we look at?
Woodhouse Chocolate ($48 for 24 pieces), a Napa Valley chocolatier, was the number one pick over at Consumer Reports. The chocolates are colored only with natural chocolate colors in shades of brown and white, the assortment nestled in robin’s egg blue crinkle cups and boxes. With one first-place and one third-place vote, it didn’t make a big impression on my tasters. The one thing it had going for it, though, was that it didn’t get any last-place votes.
L.A. Burdick ($36 for 34 pieces, medium-sized wood box) was well-received with three second-place votes and only one strike against it. The subtle shades of chocolate squares hide a mix of French-inspired ganaches, including plenty of boozy options like Macallan whisky and green Chartreuse. These are safe, middle-of-the-road gifting chocolates that are probably suitable as professional gifts. They are known best for their chocolate mice, which are undeniably cute. L.A. Burdick is based in New Hampshire, with stores in Cambridge and Boston, MA.
Knipschildt Chocolates ($50 for 25 pieces; Norwalk, CT) have quite a following in the Tri-state area. Their textured, handmade paper packaging is some of the prettiest. It had a good showing with two second-place votes.
Nunu chocolates ($20 for 12 pieces) are the darling of the Brooklyn small-batch community and do brisk business with chocolate-dipped salt caramels. While the caramel and ganache-filled sweets came highly recommended from friends and colleagues, they couldn’t measure up to our top three.
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.
See’s ($18 for 1 pound; available nationwide) was one of the value picks in our tasting lineup. Their chocolates tend to be bigger, enough for two bites instead of one, with a mix of dark and milk chocolate, around old-fashioned nougat and nut caramel fillings. While it got three strikes against it, it also got one third-place vote. The assortment may be a nostalgic standby for devotees, but it can’t compete with the more boutique chocolates out there. Still, they were far and away better than Russell Stover.
What makes a good chocolate?
A box of chocolates can be a tender token of admiration, especially if the recipient is a true chocolate lover. The options out there can be staggering. As we’ve said before, chocolate is personal, and that’s something to keep in mind when giving an edible gift. While one person might prefer a fruitier chocolate, the next will prefer something with nutty or floral notes. The key is to look for a chocolatier that uses the best ingredients available.
Drugstore offerings, like Russell Stover and Whitman’s Sampler, have a long shelf life for a reason—preservatives. These can affect the flavor of the chocolates. And when you pit the long life brands to more perishable high end chocolates in a blind taste test, the differences are glaringly clear.
High-end chocolates run an average of $2 per piece, but shipping can really drive the price up. If you can find some of the favorably-rated chocolates in our lineup at a local gourmet market or specialty store, you can really save on shipping, which can be upwards of $15 per order. Look at a chocolatier’s website to find a list of local retailers.
If a chocolatier takes painstaking care in using only the finest ingredients without any preservatives, the ideal window for consumption is two weeks from the day they are made. Your best bet is to buy as close to your gifting day as possible.
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. Before eating, let the chocolates come to room temperature before unwrapping to avoid any condensation.
Wrapping it up
When giving chocolate as a gift, it’s really worth it to give a truly special box of fresh chocolates made from the finest ingredients. Christopher Elbow takes painstaking care to match flavors that complement the custom blend of Valrhona chocolate that he works with. His fillings are inventive and whimsical, able to delight any lucky recipient.