I thought there were many exceptional entries in the 2023 Top Luxury Caramel Awards sponsored by TasteTV. It was a pleasure to sample these. And it made judging hard because there were so many deserving entries but I managed to submit my choices on time — and now I will share my favs with you.
I included only the ones I rated 3 or more stars. Even in a year like this there were still some that I hated or rated meh and the less said about them the better.
As always I like to start with the local competitors that impressed me. There were 3 SFBA competitors in this year’s Top Luxury Caramels Awards competition but I only got to review 2. They were both great and I gave them high marks.
Competition veteran Michael’s Chocolates
The chocolate was a little astringent/drying — maybe a Dandelion Chocolate single origin? Michael has been using a couple of Dandelion single origins for some of his bonbons lately. Overall I thought it was excellent — a good tasty chocolate but that’s not unusual for Michael’s. I rated it a 5, my top rating.
In the competition Michael’s Chocolates’ Spiced Pear Old Fashioned bonbon won Gold for Top Caramels, Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique, and Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It was rated 4.5 stars, the highest rating.
You can buy Michael’s Chocolates online, at their factory store, and at special events.
aL chocoLat Boutique
The other SFBA competitor and TasteTV competition veteran I judged was aL chocoLat Boutique, Los Gatos. They submitted 3 beautiful bonbons.
aL chocoLat Boutique just started participating in these competitions this year and every time they hit it out of the park. I loved all 3 of their caramel entries. They make big bonbons — not as big as veteran competitor Panache Chocolatier’s bonbons but bigger than Michael’s bonbons.
The Carrot Caramel sounded intriguing — carrot? The dark shell was painted pink with gold and brown splotches and the caramel interior was tinted orange and looked like a cross between a caramel and a jelly.
It tasted like carrot coconut with maybe pumpkin pie spices — the spices were subtle. The texture wasn’t chewy but not liquid either — maybe caramel mixed with a white chocolate ganache with a little texture from the carrots. An interesting, well made bonbon with a good chocolate used in the shell. I rated it 4 stars.
The Carrot Caramel won Silver for Most Unique, and Honorable Mentions for Best Caramel Exterior Design, Best Taste, and Top Caramels. It was rated 3 stars.
The Passion Caramel was another dark chocolate shell bonbon this time brightly painted light green and yellow. Inside was a sticky light yellow caramel.
Ii had an immediate passion fruit flavor — a big flavor burst — with the good chocolate flavor coming after the passion fruit’s big entrance. Excellent combination of flavors — there was no real caramel flavor but a soft smooth caramel texture. I rated it 5 stars.
The Passion Caramel won Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste, Silver for Top Caramels, and Bronze for Best Caramel Exterior Design. It was rated 4.5 stars.
The 3rd submission from aL chocoLat Boutique, the Beer Caramel, was another dark chocolate shell bonbon with a fancy decoration of dark red brushstrokes painted over the gold dome with a band of gold visible around the bottom.
The dark interior looked like ganache but was a smooth caramel with a mild beer aroma. Initially it had a subtle sour beer taste. It had a little burn as it melted. But it was predominantly a good chocolate taste made extra chocolatey tasting from the beer. It didn’t have a strong beer flavor. I rated it 5 stars.
The Beer Caramel won Gold for Best Caramel Exterior Design, Bronze for Most Unique, and Honorable Mentions for Best Packaging (External) and Top Caramels. It was rated 4 stars.
You can buy aL chocoLat Boutique bonbons online and at special events. Visit their website for more info.
In this competition there were a number of strong contenders — in fact I had more entries I rated above average or exceptional than ones I rated good. Here are my other top rated caramels for this year.
Kansas City Caramels
Return competitor Kansas City Caramels, Kansas City, KS, submitted 2 entries and they both got my top rating.
Kansas City Caramels’ Cayenne Cinnamon Caramels were an unexpected delight. Traditional caramels wrapped in wax paper, the dark colored caramels smelled like cinnamon candy.
The texture was soft, chewy, and smooth — excellent! They started with a traditional caramel taste that heated up then turned cinnamon-y.
This is a good buttery caramel with a not too hot heat. The combination with cinnamon was like putting an Atomic Fireball in caramel.
Kansas City Caramels’ Cayenne Cinnamon Caramels won Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Caramel, and an Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It was rated 4 stars.
Kansas City Caramels’ Chocolate Dipped Raspberry Caramels were also very good as well as attractive. Covered in dark chocolate and dotted with round pink sprinkles the dark caramel inside was the same color as the exterior.
The caramel smelled chocolatey and had an immediate raspberry flavor. It was very smooth and melted quickly. The thin chocolate shell was a quality chocolate and the chocolate tasted lingered with the raspberry.
Kansas City Caramels’ Chocolate Dipped Raspberry Caramel received Honorable Mentions for Best Taste, Best Packaging (External), and Most Unique. It was rated 4 stars.
You can buy Kansas City Caramels online and at some retailers. Check their website for locations.
Veteran competitor, Panache Chocolatier, Leawood, KS, submitted 3 top tier entries this year.
Their Rosemary Fig Caramel was described as a caramel with infused flavors of rosemary, apple, and pecan. It was a pretty disk enrobed and drizzled in dark chocolate and sprinkled with chopped pecan.
It smelled chocolatey but the first taste was fig and there were tiny crunchy fig seeds in the very soft smooth caramel. Chocolate took its time to appear but it blended well with the fig. The pecan added a soft crunch. I didn’t taste apple or rosemary but I didn’t miss them. The piece was delicious and I rated it a 5.
Panache Chocolatier’s Panache’s Rosemary Fig Caramel won Gold for Most Unique, Silver for Best Taste, and Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Caramels. It was rated 4 stars.
With the next entry, the Smokehouse Nut Caramel, I enjoyed the caramel riff they did on their Smokehouse Nut Bar. This time they took the smoked almonds, spiced peanuts, pepitas, and smoked sea salt and infused them into caramel.
This was another enrobed and drizzled disk sprinkled liberally with chopped nuts. It smelled like a Snickers bar+. The caramel was firmer because it was packed with nuts. It was like the best Snickers bar ever.
A little salty, it wasn’t very smoky but it had a little heat that built as it dissolved. The heat and nutty chocolate flavor lingered. Another excellent piece from Panache, I rated it a 5.
Smokehouse Nut Caramel won Bronze for Best Taste and Honorable Mention for Top Caramels. It was rated 4 stars.
Panache’s 3rd entry, the Cranberry Orange Caramel, had cranberry, orange, and pecans infused in Grand Marnier flavored caramel. This was also an enrobed and drizzled disk —this time with a small sliver of candied orange peel on top.
For some reason this one was harder and chewier than others with a mostly orange chocolate flavor that was a little bitter like marmalade. Cranberry was a secondary flavor. Pecans added a soft nut crunch but not strong flavor — tart fruits won out even though it was sweeter than the other 2. I rated it 4 stars.
Panache’s Cranberry Orange Caramel received Honorable Mention for Best Packaging (External). It was rated 4 stars.
Panache Chocolatier has an online store. You can also visit their brick-and-mortar location in Leawood.
New entrant Crafted Caramel, Georgetown, TX, impressed Cacaopod and me with their 3 entries.
The Bourbon & Pecan was a great combo in a good caramel. It had lots of visible big pecan pieces throughout the caramel. It smelled caramelized and tasted delicious with a raisiny overtone.
The caramel was chewy which contrasted nicely with the soft crunch pecans. Maybe a tad sweet but it worked with the combination of bourbon and nuts. I rated it a 5.
Crafted Caramel’s Bourbon & Pecan won Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, and Honorable Mentions for Best Taste and Best Packaging (External). It was rated 4 stars.
Crafted Caramel’s Salted Caramels had a visible sprinkling of salt and smelled caramelized. The piece I sampled was a good buttery smooth textured caramel with crunchy salt crystals.
I didn’t love the salt — neither the texture nor the taste — but it faded pretty fast. I think the salt is unnecessary — plain would be better. It was not as sweet as the Bourbon & Pecan but I liked that one better. I rated the Salted Caramel a 4.
Crafted Caramel’s Salted received an Honorable Mention for Best Packaging (External) and was rated 4 stars.
The Winter Spice caramel had a spice mix of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg — and smelled like pumpkin pie spice. It was darker colored than Crafted Caramel’s other entries.
The smooth chewy caramel tasted strongly of nutmeg. There was a little crystal texture towards the end and a ginger aftertaste. If you like pumpkin spice things you will like this. That’s not my jam but I still thought it was a good caramel and I rated it a 4. It also rated 4 stars in the competition.
You can buy Crafted Caramels online and at special events. Check their website for more info.
Kwoka Caramel, Bergen, NJ, is one of the veteran TasteTV competitors that I always look forward to judging. The exceptional experience starts with their simple but elegant packaging which won Gold this year.
The caramel itself, Salted Caramel with Peanuts and Chocolate, was attractive too: A big caramel topped with a layer of chocolate and sprinkled with salt. It smelled peanutty.
It was a smooth chewy caramel with crunchy peanut bits and an immediate salt hit which faded to buttery caramel with good peanut flavor and a little salt. The chocolate was very understated — like hardly there at all. I wished it had more chocolate but it was good otherwise and I rated it 4 stars.
Kwoka Caramel’s Salted Caramel with Peanuts and Chocolate won Gold for Best Packaging (External), Silver for Best Taste, and Bronze for Best Caramel Exterior Design, Best Ingredient Combinations, and Top Caramels. It was rated 4.5 stars, the highest rating.
You can purchase Kwoka caramels online.
Worthy of mention
On the level below the top tier were some good entries that you might want to know about. I rated all of these entries 3 stars.
Winans Coffee and Chocolate
First time entrant Winans Coffee and Chocolate, Piqua, OH, submitted a single entry which was an interesting caramel.
Winans’ Gin and Juice Caramel was a handcut square of caramel. It stuck to the paper candy cup it was packed in — they should use wax paper to minimize the sticking. The caramel smelled citrusy and had a smooth texture. It tasted lightly citrus and a little bitter. Overall a refreshing flavor. It was not strongly buttery. It received an Honorable Mention for Most Unique and was rated 3.5 stars.
Winans’ caramels are available online and at their stores in Ohio.
Return competitor Virtuoso Confections, Grapevine, TX, submitted 2 entries that were solid but sticky.
Virtuoso Confections’ Butterscotch Caramel was darker than a typical caramel and a little greasy to the touch. It had a harder chew than expected and stuck to my teeth. On the plus side it had an immediate butterscotch flavor and was a buttery butterscotch that lasted a while after it was gone. A yummy but sticky experience. Virtuoso Confections’ Butterscotch Caramel was rated 3.5 stars in the competition.
Virtuoso Confections’ Whiskey Maple Pecan Caramel had a visible toasted pecan half in the piece I sampled. It had an appealing maple bourbon candy aroma and tasted like pecan and maple but was a hard chew and sticky like the Butterscotch Caramel.
Virtuoso Confections’ Whiskey Maple Pecan Caramel won Gold for Best Taste and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Caramels. It was rated 4 stars.
You can buy Virtuoso Confections caramels and other treats in their Etsy store.
La Petite Occasion
First time competitor La Petite Occasion, Carmel, NY, submitted 2 entries that were good but too sweet for me.
I liked the soft texture of their Salted Dark Chocolate Caramel. It had visible salt crystals in the dark colored caramel and a pleasing chocolatey aroma. There was a little salt grain in the very smooth soft chew caramel. An immediate salt hit dissipated into a taste like a high end tootsie roll or chocolate butter cream icing before ending sweet and salty.
La Petite Occasion’s Salted Dark Chocolate Caramel received Honorable Mention for Best Taste and was rated 4 stars.
Like the Salted Dark Chocolate Caramel, the Butter Caramel with Flake Salt was sprinkled with salt. It was a firm caramel that smelled buttery. It was a smooth chewy caramel with a little texture from salt. A classic caramel, you can tell it was made with quality ingredients. It ended a little sugary and salty with a too sweet aftertaste for me.
La Petite Occasion’s Butter Caramel with Flake Salt was rated 4 stars.
You can buy La Petite Occasion caramels in their online store and at farmers markets in Westchester County, NY. See their website for more info.
Competition veteran, Delysia Chocolatier, Austin, TX, submitted an entry I liked in their usual distinct red box finished with a white bow.
Their Truffle Sampler: Candied Butterscotch truffle was flavored with candied citrus, toasted hazelnut, and candied ginger. The flavored white chocolate ganache was contained in a thick dark chocolate shell. I didn’t taste any butterscotch or caramel. Instead it started off citrus then chocolate with a little ginger bite. Soft crunch nuts gave it a little hazelnut flavor toward end.
Delysia Chocolatier’s Truffle Sampler: Candied Butterscotch won Silver for Best Packaging (External) and Honorable Mentions for Best Taste and Top Caramels. It was rated 4 stars.
Delysia chocolates are available online and at their shop in Austin.
Their Doug Fir Caramel had Douglas Fir pine needles infused in cream which was then added to caramel. Was it going to taste like a Christmas tree?
The piece was well made with the pine needle infusion encased in a dark chocolate shell that wasn’t too thick or thin. The soft/liquid caramel wasn’t strongly scented and had a taste which I struggle to describe and am left with “weird.”
Cacaopod said it was similar to a rosemary infusion. It didn’t taste like a Christmas tree but kinda floral, vegetal, and salty. The salt was a good idea because it seemed to short-circuit the weird flavor. The piece started caramel but not very buttery. Then it gave a fish vibe(?!) — that’s what it evoked in me — then herbal. Thankfully the good chocolate flavor of the shell took over toward the end.
Yeti Chocolates’ Doug Fir Caramel won Gold for Most Unique (oh yeah) and rated 3.5 stars.
You can buy Yeti Chocolates online, at some WA retail stores, and at special events. Visit their website for more info.