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Treat Your Sweetie to the Flavor of Love

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By Amy Culbertson

chocolate-webRISMEDIA, February 11, 2009- (MCT)-What’s the most coveted confection for Valentine’s Day 2009? Chocolate truffles are so last year: The flavor of the moment is chocolate-covered caramels with exotic salt.

Though the combination started in France, it didn’t take long, writes The New York Times’ Kim Severson, to become “one of those rare flavors that works its way from culinary obsession to the American mass market.”

It was well on its way even before we found out during his campaign that President Barack Obama and wife Michelle are hooked on Fran’s chocolate-covered caramels with salt from Seattle.

To check out the competition, we assembled several of the top-rated artisanal salted chocolate caramels and a couple of caramels with a hint of salt and rated each on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being best.

Here are the results of our sweet-and-salty tasting, along with purchase information. We’ve included deadlines for last-minute Valentine’s Day ordering online, but be warned that two-day air or overnight shipping will add a hefty chunk of change to your bill, which, with most of these, will not be cheap.

Recchiuti Fleur de Sel Caramels

Our rating: 4.5

San Francisco artisanal confectioner Michael Recchiuti makes exquisitely fashioned chocolates whose taste and texture equal their visual appeal. He was on the cutting edge of the salted-caramel trend, having begun selling his fleur de sel chocolates in 1998. We ranked his slim dark-chocolate caramels, with their smooth filling and deep, rich burnt-caramel flavor, the best in our tasting. Tasters praised the balance of salt, chocolate and caramel; waxing lyrical, one deemed it “a lovely combo of chocolate and caramel; both intertwine in a smooth tango of complementary tastes.”

Details: $23 for a 16-piece (4-ounce) box, www.recchiuticonfections.com; order by 2 p.m. Feb. 12 for Valentine’s Day shipping.

Fran’s Gray Salt Caramels (dark chocolate) and Smoked Salt Caramels (milk chocolate)

Our rating: 4.2 for the milk chocolate, 3.3 for the dark

Seattle’s Fran’s came out with the dark chocolate in 2001 and the milk chocolate in 2003. President Obama prefers the milk chocolate and his wife the dark, and our tasters voted with the prez, praising the “sophisticated taste” of these classic brick-shaped bites and deeming the milk-chocolate version “Obalicious!” The dark-chocolate caramels lost points because of their extreme saltiness. The caramels are beautifully packaged, too.

Details: Sold individually for $1.99 a piece in the bakery candy shop at some Whole Foods Markets, or online for $11.50 for a seven-piece (2.1-ounce) box and $24 for a 16-piece (4.8-ounce) box at www.franschocolates.com; order by Feb. 11 for Valentine’s Day shipping.

Bequet Celtic Sea Salt Vanilla Butter Gourmet Caramels

Our rating: 3.6

These are old-fashioned individually wrapped caramels- no chocolate- with a buttery texture and a distinct salty finish. All the tasters liked the texture- “Won’t endanger crowns,” one said- and some declared these their favorite of all the caramels we tasted.

Details: $9.49 for ½ pound in the Texas’s Central Market Bulk Department, along with several other Bequet caramel flavors.

John Kelly Chocolates’ Semi-Sweet Chocolate and Caramel Truffle Fudge Bites With Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt

Our rating: 3.5

These are larger than all the other caramels, and the centers include a creamy mousselike chocolate layer topped with a vein of caramel. The semisweet chocolate shell is topped with rosy pink salt crystals. “Lightest texture of them all,” wrote one taster, but several tasters found these rich confections too sweet.

Details: $12.99 for a box of four 1-ounce bites at all Central Markets, $14 online at www.johnkellychocolates.com; order by Feb. 12 for Valentine’s Day shipping.

Woodhouse Fleur de Sel Caramels

Our rating: 3

These matte-finished squares scattered with glittery salt from Brittany, France, are handmade by former winemakers John and Tracy Anderson in the Napa Valley. The caramel filling is “satisfyingly chewy,” our tasters found, and the salty flavor restrained, presenting a “nuanced mix of salt with the sweet.”

Details: $8 for a slim box of six all-milk, all-dark or mixed, online at www.woodhousechocolate.com; deadline for Valentine’s Day ordering is 2 p.m. Feb. 11 for two-day air, 2 p.m. Feb. 12 for overnight shipping.

Whole Treat French Fleur de Sel Caramels

Our rating: 1.2

Whole Foods’ house-brand individually wrapped salted caramels without chocolate are the cheapest in our survey, but they didn’t fare well in the tasting. All the tasters objected to the candy’s hard, waxy texture.

Details: $3.99 for a 5.3-ounce box at Whole Foods markets.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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