Cocoa Power: Best Chocolate in America

Think outside the box (of basic chocolates) with these dazzling, decadent confections.

Photo By: Glacier Confections

Photo By: Michelle Gerard

Photo By: Glacier Confections

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Photo By: Kohler

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Photo By: Secret Chocolatier

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Craveworthy Confections

These days, a plain chocolate bar seems so… basic. Chocolatiers across the country are upgrading the beloved classic by sourcing the best cacao beans, blending them with exotic ingredients, coaxing the chocolate into whimsical shapes and even adorning their creations with exquisite designs. Leave those basic bars to a bygone era and step into these shops, where the confectioners are stirring up chocolate — and imaginations.

Bon Bon Bon

French technique is fused with Detroit ingenuity at this quirky chocolate operation that churns out stellar “bons.” Founder Alexandra Clark was drawn to the concept of bonbons because the confections aren’t defined by such strict rules as other sweets. To start, the shop’s signature confections lack a covering of chocolate on the top, meaning you can see exactly what kind of filling each one features. The innovation extends to the fillings themselves, with a wild variety that is constantly evolving. Michigan’s many international influences have even wound their way into the candies, such as the Coco-Nut Curry stuffed with curry toasted coconut ganache and creamy honey-roasted peanut butter. The Paczki is inspired by the Polish pastry of the same name. Blanketed in donut sugar, this bon features a filling of fried dough ganache, Polish confiture and a sliver of paczki.

Go to: Bon Bon Bon

Glacier Confection

It’s apropos to find this family-owned chocolate shop in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District, as each handmade confection is a miniature masterpiece. One collection is composed of stunning vegan chocolates that resemble shimmering jewels and come stuffed with caramel fillings in flavors like coconut pecan and blueberry. There’s a chocolate for pretty much every palate, from decadent boozy selections featuring spiked combinations like Mojito Mint and Chardonnay Sea Salt to vibrant white chocolate varieties in Americana-inspired flavors that include apple pie. Patriotism extends beyond the chocolate flavors at this shop, as owner Bill Copeland and his family donate a portion of Glacier’s proceeds to support veterans and military families.

Go to: Glacier Confection

Vosges

After embarking on a culinary career that brought her to some of the best kitchens in the world (including Denmark’s prestigious Noma), Katrina Markoff realized she wanted to continue to produce beautiful food… but no longer wanted the rigorous lifestyle of a chef. Thus, the next chapter of Markoff’s professional life began with her sojourn into chocolate. The confection has proven to be the perfect medium through which Markoff can share her global experiences; Vosges chocolates sing with the flavors of exotic ingredients brought back from her travels. The Black Pearl, for instance, features ginger and wasabi topped with dark chocolate and black sesame seeds. Ever the innovator, Markoff also experiments with super foods, as represented in her Matcha Green Tea & Spirulina Super Dark Chocolate Bar. This antioxidant-packed bar is made with 72% cacao dark chocolate, Matcha green tea and high protein spirulina.

Go to: Vosges

Marcie Blaine

Lucky for chocolate-loving locals, prolific Philadelphia restaurateur Marcie Blaine has a sweet spot for confections. Despite her many restaurant responsibilities, the chef still finds time to create handmade chocolates. Crafted by Blaine and her team in an open kitchen nestled inside the Verde boutique (which Blaine co-owns), the confections feature fresh, indulgent ingredients like cream and butter locally sourced from nearby Lancaster County. The chocolatier shows her Philly pride with a special series that includes truffles emblazoned with the Liberty Bell and the iconic LOVE sculpture. There is even an ode to the city’s signature street food. This chocolate-covered confection is made with peanut butter and pretzel ganache, then printed with a playful depiction of the candy’s namesake: the soft pretzel.

Go to: Marcie Blaine

Craverie Chocolatier Café

The origin story of the chocolates served at this resort cafe starts with a quest to perfect a classic pecan confection. It may be Herbert V. Kohler, Jr.’s enterprising spirit that led him to become the third generation to helm the Kohler Co., but it was his sweet tooth that prompted him to propel the business into the world of chocolate-making. His vision for a craveworthy version of a beloved chocolate resulted in the terrapin, which pulls in smoky caramel and hand-picked pecans. Created in 2007, these candies were the start of the chocolate line now offered at the Craverie Chocolatier Café located in The Shops at Woodlake Kohler. The confections are assembled and adorned in the cafe by Head Chocolatier Anette Righi DeFendi, who is particularly fond of the entrancingly green chocolates known as Emeralds. Available in both milk chocolate and dark chocolate varieties, these jewel-toned creations come stuffed with an assortment of ganache fillings in flavors like mint, lime, green tea and even absinthe.

 

Go to: Craverie Chocolatier Café

Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates

Charlottesville native Tim Gearhart brings a world of inspiration to his Virginia shop. His former cooking career enabled him to gain both culinary experience and plenty of ideas for his chocolate shop. Those international influences still inform his blends of chocolate, which Gearhart creates by combining local sweet cream and butter with cacao beans sourced from around the world. Innovation is integral to his operation, as Gearhart’s line extends beyond traditional truffles to also encompass signature items like the Ommegang Rosetta Cherry Ale Chocolates. These dark chocolate-dipped confections feature a distinctive ganache infused with a sour cherry ale. Another standout are the peanut butter PUPS, which resemble miniature dachshund heads. They’re made from creamy Virginia peanut butter that’s blanketed in milk chocolate, then dotted with dark chocolate for the eyes and nose, along with toasted almonds for the ears. These darling and delicious pups have a do-good side as well — a portion of every purchase goes to Companions for Heroes.

 

Go to: Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates

Harper Macaw

The do-good duo of a Brazilian-born chocolate maker and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran are using chocolate in a rather unexpected way — to help with tropical reforestation. Husband-and-wife team Sarah and Colin Hartman are the minds behind the Harper Macaw craft chocolate factory that opened in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Not only do the enterprising couple purchase all of their cacao beans via direct trade from farms they visit in Brazil near the Atlantic and Amazon rainforests, but they also reinvest a percentage of the proceeds from their chocolate bar sales into the conservation and restoration of those same forests. In addition to single-origin varieties, Harper Macaw’s selection includes unique takes like bourbon barrel-aged dark chocolate. And the operation’s D.C. location provided the perfect impetus for a line that gives a playful wink to the District’s political scene. Developed with design firm Design Army, these partisan bars include selections such as the dark chocolate Tea Party infused with Earl Grey tea and the milk chocolate Filibuster studded with peanuts and pretzels. 

The Secret Chocolatier

Chocolate is a shared passion for the family behind this two-locale operation in Charlotte, North Carolina. The love shines through in the handmade chocolates turned out by Chef Bill Deitz, who runs the business with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. Creativity is the key, with varieties like a sweet and spicy blueberry chili bark made with blueberries, ancho chiles and serrano peppers for a lingering tingle. For a true taste of the South, opt for the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie Bites that pull in Southern pecans, Knob Creek bourbon and golden syrup.

Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate Micro-Factory

Beans are serious business at Xocalatl, a small-batch chocolatier tucked away inside Atlanta’s famed Krog Street Market. In order to be deemed worthy of being turned into a chocolate bar, each cacao bean that arrives here (usually by way of East Africa or South America) must pass a rigorous inspection by the team. Such exacting standards result in a superb chocolate base for the bars, many of which are then further enhanced by creative flavor combinations. Take the Kissed Mermaids, for instance. This dark chocolate bar is composed of 60 percent cacao, along with coconut milk, a sprinkle of vanilla-infused sea salt and cacao nibs for added crunch. Apple pie was the inspiration for the Americana bar, which features nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice flavors, along with 68 percent cacao.

L.A. Burdick Chocolates

Meticulous care goes into crafting the chocolates at L.A. Burdick, which has locations in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. High-quality chocolate is coaxed into whimsical shapes, such as the shop’s signature mice and penguins. Each miniature animal is made by hand in a three-day process. The mice come in three flavors: dark chocolate with an orange interior, milk chocolate with a mocha interior and white chocolate with a cinnamon interior. All the critters come dotted with toasted almond ears and adorned with colorful silk tails. The penguins are filled with a whipped dark chocolate and lemon ganache with a hint of Limoncello. Inspired by the practices of both Swiss and French chocolatiers, the founders avoid the use of artificial ingredients. The short shelf life of these preservative-free chocolates drives the operation’s charitable component; donating all leftover chocolates to local shelters and organizations.

 

 

 

Artisan Confections

A pastry chef by training, Jason Andelman has since crossed over to the dark (chocolate) side. These days, he uses his culinary talents to transform dark and milk chocolates into artfully adorned bonbons that he features at his two Virginia locales. This imaginative chocolatier fills his bonbons with exquisite ingredients such as locally grown mint, passion fruit and ancho chilies, then decorates them with intricate designs. Other signature sweets include the mixology collection, brightly colored bites of chocolates spiked with regionally-sourced spirits and liquors.

Gayle’s Chocolate

What started as a one-woman operation in 1979 has come to be known as a Michigan institution. Founder Gayle Harte loved to make chocolate out of her home, but demand soon transformed her fledgling business into a booming operation. More than three decades later, Gayle’s passion for the confection is still going strong, as evidenced by the creative array of chocolate sculptures available at her flagship store in Royal Oak. She and her team mold premium chocolate into whimsical shapes such as high heel shoes and pizza slices. One popular option is the Junk Food Tin. Order this cheeky treat and you’ll get a miniature stainless steel garbage can stuffed with chocolate-covered indulgences, which include potato chips, pretzels, toffee and graham crackers doused in both milk and dark chocolate.

 

Chocolate Maya

Beautifully carved Mayan tiles, tarragon and pineapple truffles, and dark chocolate Buddhas filled with maple syrup caramel are just the start of the delicacies you’ll find at this California chocolate shop. Owner Maya Schoop-Rutten hails from Switzerland and learned the art of chocolate-making in her native country. So conscientious is the confectioner about quality control that she visits the cacao plantations where she sources her chocolate to ensure they meet her rigorous standards. Her travels also serve as inspiration for her unique flavor combinations, which incorporate both ingredients discovered abroad and those found right in her adopted hometown of Santa Barbara.

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