The Best Boxed Chocolates

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.

The chocolate tasting in full swing.

The chocolate tasting in full swing.

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.

Our pick

Each chocolate in this heart is visually a work of art and flavors are clear and robust. The quality was immediately clear.
Christopher Elbow creates his chocolates in his small facility in Kansas City, MO. Each one is visually a work of art. The flavors are clear and robust, and level of quality is obvious from the first bite. In our tasting, it garnered the most favorable nods with four first-place votes, one second-place vote, and one third-place vote. It received comments like, “looks fabulous and the flavor matches up,” “smooth texture,” “sweet and creamy, with a hint of salt,” “my favorite…raspberry was awesome.”

Level of quality is obvious from the first bite.
Our 4-piece tasting sample included raspberry pate de fruit with raspberry ganache, fleur de sel caramel, rosemary caramel, and brown butter molasses. Larger assortments might include fruit- and caramel-rich offerings like bananas foster, macadamia praline, passion fruit caramel, whiskey-aged maple, and spiced orange. Each colorful, transferred pattern or brilliant, high-gloss airbrush color denotes a different filling. Christopher Elbow packages his chocolates in simple white and brown boxes, printed with a clean and simple font, and secured with a deep brown bow.

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

Also Great
The Cluizel chocolates came in second to our pick, with some testers calling it “everything a chocolate should be” while others found it “not refined or complex.”
Michel Cluizel ($35 for 15 pieces) came in second place in our blind taste test. This chocolatier started in Normandy, France, and is now available worldwide (they have a manufacturing facility in New Jersey). The strong contender got one first-place vote, two second-place votes and two third-place votes. Comments include “amazing chocolate, cool box,” “everything a chocolate should be,” “subtle and lovely; a little bitter,” and “smooth finish”. Fillings gravitated towards classic nut variations like gianduja, praline, and marzipan.

Some weren’t so impressed, calling it “not refined or complex,” “chocolate is average,” and “smooth texture, but a little too sweet.”

Also Great
The Recchiuti have a classic, understated design with lovely floral-and-spice fillings such as bergamot tea and tarragon grapefruit.
Recchiuti ($45 for 16 pieces), based in San Francisco, came recommended by Mark Bitterman, owner of Portland and New York-based specialty food shop The Meadow. These came in third with our tasters. The classic, understated designs hide sophisticated, floral-and-spice fillings such as bergamot tea and tarragon grapefruit. It got four votes: two first-place, one second-place, and one third. This was my personal favorite of the tasting sample, though I didn’t do any official voting. The chocolates are deep and complex, while still offering up pure chocolate flavor. Some favorable comments included, “heavy chocolate flavor, silky,” “simple chocolate flavor, smooth and fresh,” and “dark, smooth with a tiny hint of bitter—love it!”

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.

Speaking of: Russell Stover, along with Whitman’s, received all strikes. Tasters commented on how artificial tasting the samples were and generally disliked them as a whole.

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.

A box of chocolates can be a tender token of admiration, especially if the recipient is a true chocolate lover.
Eric Case of Valrhona Chocolate made a point to clarify filled chocolates versus chocolate bars. “Chocolate and chocolates. Chocolate is something made from a bean, to give to someone that then creates a bonbon, or a confection, or a candy. ‘Chocolates’ are all kinds of things that happen to use chocolate in the ingredients, but they also have marzipan, toffee, nuts, or fruit.” Because of these additions, the shelf life of a quality box of chocolates is (generally) much shorter than that of a bar.

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.

Storage

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.

To send this guide via email, fill out the fields below:
Message Sent!
Oops! Please try again
Send

Sources

  1. Mark Bitterman, Owner of The Meadow, Interview
  2. Chocolate, Consumer Reports (Subscription Required)
  • Sarah Rain

    I think your write-ups is missing a mention that local chocolate makers likely have a high quality product that you can obtain for less money. I respect that only reviewing/ recommending nationally available options makes sense, but pointing out that they may not be the best choice for this product is worthwhile!

  • Nate Moran

    I thought L.A. Burdick was based out of NH?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      I believe you are correct. Thanks!

  • Josh Preston

    I like Boxed Chocolates! Have you ever created your own chocolate energy bar? That’s on my list of things to try.