Chocolate can put you in a great mood, which is why it is a go-to gift for the holidays. If you are still looking for that perfect gift, you might want to drop by one of these local chocolate shops for a box of chocolates or even something better.
Chocolate Smiles (Cary) - There is nothing like walking into Chocolate Smiles and letting the scent of freshly made chocolate hit you. This place has a rich history dating back to 1984 when it opened its doors on West Chatham Street. Generations of people have been making it their go-to spot for sweet treats. Melanie Williams, who is the fourth person to own the shop, said people have come from Wilson and Fayetteville to check out their confections. They have also shipped chocolate internationally.
The shop is relatively small, but it is packed with items for everyone - even those wanting to go sugar free.
Truffles, fudge and more are made every day in the back. And one of our favorite items, the peppermint bark, is made year-round because of the demand. (It is the best bark we've ever tasted!)
For the holidays, Williams adds a few special flavors to her normal roundup of 14 standard truffles. Holiday flavors include White Chocolate Peppermint (topped with crushed candy canes), Champagne, Rum Raisin, Raspberry Red Velvet (topped with coconut), Pistachio and Eggnog. Our favorite was the White Chocolate Peppermint. Eggnog was a close second. A standard flavor to try - Kahlua.
In addition to their truffles, they make fudge in standard flavors - chocolate, peanut butter, etc. Like the truffles, there are holiday flavors including Cranberry, Cranberry Nut, Eggnog and Peppermint Stick. All of these are worth trying but we loved Cranberry (you can taste the fruit) and Peppermint.
They also dip fruit, marshmallows, graham crackers and just about everything else in chocolate.
If standard chocolate pops are your thing, Smiles' holiday molds include Santa and nativity scenes. Williams also hand dips Rice Krispy treats in chocolate and puts faces on them. A cute stocking stuffer idea.
Items are sold by the pound with a box of about 28 truffles costing $24.
And if you are looking for a way to dress up your gift, Smiles sells just about everything you can put chocolate in – tins, coffee cups, race cars and old school lunch boxes. Just make sure to get there early because lines get long around the holidays. They also take phone and email orders.
Escazu (Raleigh) - Located in the Mordecai neighborhood, this place sources, sorts, roasts, winnows and grinds cacao beans. Chocolate is then aged, tempered and poured into bars or made into beautiful truffles or other confections. Just a few minutes in this shop and you will be craving one of their coffees or hot chocolates. Some of our favorites - spicy hot chocolate and white hot chocolate.
In addition to their every day eye-appealing truffles and tasty drinks, they do have a few holiday specials, including a White Chocolate topped Peanut Brittle Candy Cane for $3.50, a small snowman truffle filled with pistachio butter and covered with layers of white and dark chocolate for $3, and a large white and dark chocolate snowman for $8.95. If truffles aren't your thing, you can opt for one of their bars. They have a limited edition bar now that is 90 percent cacao and made from beans in Mantuano, Venezuela.
The Chocolate Boutique (Raleigh) - This shop, located in the burgeoning Lafayette Village shopping area in north Raleigh, recently celebrated its one year anniversary. Walking in, many people are just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of chocolate items for sale. I know I was. From chocolate wine to the handmade truffles in the glass cases, this is a chocolate heaven. Their top sellers include Chocolate Salted Caramels and anything with bacon! They usually have something with bacon on-hand - chocolate-dipped bacon, bacon truffles, etc. Pre-made bags are available featuring items like (our favorite) toasted almonds covered in coconut and chocolate. They also have homemade toffee. The packaging is also trendy. The robin's egg blue, white and black scheme gives each item an even more upscale appearance.
For the sports fan, they even sell regulation-sized chocolate footballs and basketballs. And if you are shopping for your pet, they offer homemade dog treats and carob-covered bacon.
Prices vary here with five truffles (you get a 6th one free) going for $12.50 and small gift baskets running about $20. This place also hosts parties with about 1,200 molds and a chocolate fountain that allows you to have two flavors - one on each side.
Videri (Raleigh) - Located in the Raleigh Depot, this shop just celebrated its one year anniversary as well. They mostly sell chocolate by the bar and host parties, but they do have a few specials for the holiday season. They brought back their Peppermint bars (one box for $7.99) and are selling their chocolate beverage mix (just add milk and enjoy) for $16.99 a can. In addition, they have two handmade chocolate truffles - The Bee's Knees (Cajeta-style caramel flavored with vanilla, honey and cinnamon) and Venus De Milo (Soft caramel made with milk chocolate, sea salt and then topped with more sea salt.) The Venus' cost $3 each and Bee's Knees are $2.50 each. We really loved the burst of flavor in the Bee's Knees. They are selling a variety box which features eight chocolates for $20 and will be offering a combination pack of their cocoa mix and a chocolate bar for $29.