The 2022 Top Luxury Caramel Awards sponsored by TasteTV was all that with a wide range of caramel treatments, inclusions, and trappings. Of course, not all were top notch in my book, so I will only talk about entries I rated 3 or higher (on a scale of 5).
When locals compete, I like to mention them first. Support your local artisan chocolatiers and candy makers!
One of our recommended chocolatiers, CocoTutti , submitted 2 entries and I loved them both.
The Dark Chocolate Caramel with House Made Blood Orange Marmalade was a flavor combo that Elyce has made before — she makes the marmalade in addition to the caramel — but this time it was a big bite about 1-1/2″ square instead of a truffle or one of her signature CocoQuintet bars.
It was a good size for enjoying the firm chewy dark colored caramel. Little bits of orange peel added to the mouthfeel. The dark chocolate covering the piece smelled great and was the first flavor, followed by the mild orange marmalade. Caramel was basically just the medium for the other flavors in this not too sweet treat.
I liked the chocolate and marmalade flavor balance and how they both lingered. The other judges liked it too: CocoTutti Chocolates Chocolate Blood Orange Caramel received Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Top Caramels; Bronze for Most Unique; and an Honorable Mention for Best Caramel Exterior Design. It was rated 4.5 stars, the highest rating awarded in the competition.
I liked CocoTutti’s other entry, the Espresso Caramel with Roasted Hazelnuts, even more. Little enrobed squares with hazelnut pieces on top and lots of bits inside the caramel, it smelled like roasted hazelnuts and had an almost crumbly texture from all those nuts.
It had an immediate espresso flavor that wasn’t bitter, but ended a little bitter chocolate tasting. The caramel was more pronounced in this one than the blood orange entry, very buttery and not too sweet. Bites of the caramel with hazelnut on top were more hazelnutty than other bites. This delicious caramel also had a good aftertaste that incorporated all the flavors: hazelnut, espresso, chocolate, and butter.
Another top rating from not just me: CocoTutti Chocolates’ Cappuccino Espresso Hazelnut Caramel won Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations, Silver for Best Taste, and Bronze for Top Caramels. It also rated 4.5 stars.
You can buy CocoTutti chocolates online, locally in some stores, at special events, and at their kitchen. Check their website for details.
SF’s Kokak Chocolates submitted their Tropical Caramels Collection. It was boxed in a simple but attractive package secured with shiny green cellophane tape. Inside were 3 tropical flavor varieties.
The first thing I noticed with all 3 was their thick dark chocolate shells. I usually prefer a thinner shell, but thicker worked for these. For example, the Banana Caramel was a semi-liquid caramel, so a thicker shell prevented leaks. It also made for a flavor progression since the chocolate took a while to melt. First was mild banana that switched over to slightly bitter dark chocolate as it melted. I would be interested to see how the banana caramel would pair with a milk chocolate shell for a lighter overall experience.
The Macadamia Praline had 2 layers inside the dark shell: praline on bottom and caramel on top. I loved the crunchy praline and distinct macadamia flavor. This was a chewing instead of melting piece which worked in the favor of the thick shell because the chocolate flavor got incorporated in the experience sooner. But again I wondered if a milk chocolate shell would be better.
The third flavor, Passion Fruit, was similar to the Banana Caramel with a mildly flavored semi-liquid caramel in dark chocolate. While I liked the combo, I would have liked a stronger passion fruit taste to balance the dark chocolate shell.
Kokak Chocolates’ Tropical Caramel Chocolate Truffle Collection did very well in the competition, winning Gold for Best Caramel Exterior Design; Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Most Unique, and Top Caramels; and Bronze for Best Taste and Best Packaging. It also got the highest star rating of 4.5.
Buy Kokak Chocolates at their Castro district storefront, special events, and online.
I have been seeing Sonoma Chocolatiers in TasteTV competitions a lot lately, and this time they submitted 3 drink-themed entries that I thought were all winners.
Their London Fog Caramel/Truffle was a tall dome of dark chocolate decorated with light strokes of white and blue. As with the rest of their entries, the shell was thin and well made. The interior seemed more like a smooth ganache, not a caramel, but I didn’t get an ingredients list, so I will assume caramel was somehow incorporated in the piece.
At any rate, it smelled like Earl Grey tea and tasted of good dark chocolate with a sweet citrus flavor. It wasn’t an overwhelming Earl Grey flavor, instead it was a bright citrus which I enjoyed.
It received a Bronze for Best Taste, and Honorable Mentions for Most Unique and Top Caramels. It rated 4 stars.
The Tea Time caramel was a fun piece: A dome splashed with white and gold swashes and placed on a cookie bottom.
It had a dark caramel ganache inside the dark chocolate shell.
I’m assuming it was flavored with Tea Time black tea — it wasn’t a floral or smoked or other distinctive tea flavor. It had a slightly tannic mouthfeel but wasn’t bitter. Combined with the crunchy cookie bottom, it was a satisfying experience.
Sonoma Chocolatiers Tea Time Caramel/Truffle won Bronze for Best Caramel Exterior Design and Most Unique, and rated 4 stars.
Their third entry, Hot Buttered Rum, was definitely a caramel. The outside was one of Sonoma Chocolatiers’ many distinctive molds, its swirls accented with green and gold strokes.
The dark caramel inside was soft almost liquid with a purée consistency. It tasted like apple butter but with a boozy burn. Like all of their chocolates, the shell was a good, slightly bitter dark chocolate.
Sonoma Chocolatiers’ Hot Buttered Rum Caramel received Silver for Best Taste and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations. It rated 4 stars.
The last SFBA competitor, Brigadeiro Sprinkles, we first encountered at the 2021 caramel competition. As their founder, chef & owner Zeila Schappelle told us at this year’s International Chocolate Salon, she tailors her Brazilian treats to her audience, which means a less sweet profile for us Americans than traditional brigadeiro recipes.
She is also always experimenting with new flavors. This time she submitted a Ruby Cacao Passion Fruit Brigadeiro, which made for a very pretty, creamy raspberry colored treat covered in similarly colored crispearls.
Zeila describes brigadeiros as a mix between a caramel and a truffle. I think it’s kinda like a chocolate caramel made by caramelizing sugar and condensed milk then adding chocolate. But I’m probably simplifying too much — like the Chilton’s manual for my first car, a very used Chevy ’63 Nova. Looking for instructions to replace the radiator hose, the first step read “Replace radiator hose.”
I digress. Back to the brigadeiro. I liked the play between the crunchy pearls and smooth texture inside, but it was too ruby cacao for me and not enough passion fruit. Also the condensed milk flavor was pretty pronounced, which I don’t usually experience in Brigadeiro Sprinkles’ brigadeiros. I like that Zeila is always experimenting so maybe a future iteration will fix this.
Despite my quibbles, it did well in the competition, winning Gold for Most Unique and Silver for Best Packaging. It rated 3 stars.
Brigadeiro Sprinkles has an online store where you can buy pre-made collections or request specific flavors.
On to caramels from outside SFBA that I thought were top notch and worth seeking out. My favs were split between veteran competitors and newbies.
Kwoka Caramel, Bergen, NJ, is one of the veteran TasteTV competitors. I always get excited when I see their distinctive packaging. They did not disappoint.
Inside the box was a big square of caramel with a layer of dark chocolate on top sprinkled with diced orange peel pieces. It was a firm chewy smooth caramel and the candied orange peel was soft.
It had a light, slightly bitter orange flavor that was a little floral. It wasn’t very chocolatey but it was a good caramel and not too sweet. The orange was the dominant flavor and lingered.
I thought it was excellent and so did the rest of the judges. Kwoka Caramel’s Dark Chocolate Orange Caramel won Gold for Best Taste and Top Caramels, and Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Packaging. It rated 4.5 stars.
You can purchase Kwoka caramels online.
Kansas City Caramels
First time entrant, Kansas City Caramels, Kansas City, KS, submitted 3 caramels, and one was so special I am still impressed by it. Their Cherry Almond Caramel started as a good buttery flavored caramel, but with a soft chew from added cherry purée which turned into cherry-pie-rendered-in-caramel with the purée as pie filling and the crunchy almonds and buttery caramel mimicking pie crust. Know a cherry pie lover? This would make a fun gift with a longer shelf life than the real thing.
Kansas City Caramels’ Cherry Almond Caramel did very well in the competition, winning Gold for Top Caramels, Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Bronze for Best Taste, and an Honorable Mention for Most Unique. It rated 4.5 stars.
Their other flavored caramel, Cold Brew Coffee, was a dark color from its coffee infusion and smelled like brewed coffee. It was a firm chewy caramel with an immediate coffee flavor and a buttery undertone. It wasn’t too sweet but it was a little salty, which I thought was unnecessary. It had a nice non-salty coffee aftertaste thankfully. It didn’t win any awards in the competition, but it did receive the highest rating: 4.5 stars.
Kansas City Caramels’ third entry, the Proper Caramel, was a plain vanilla caramel that smelled buttery. It was another firm chewy caramel with a salty buttery flavor that I liked. It was a little too sweet for me especially the aftertaste but I still think it was an above average caramel. It received an Honorable Mention for Best Taste and rated 4 stars.
You can buy Kansas City Caramels online and at some retailers. Check their website for locations.
Another new entrant, Virtuoso Confections, Grapevine, TX, submitted 3 caramels the seemed aimed at adult palates. A welcome trend in confections and it helps that all 3 were excellent.
Salted Espresso definitely sounds like something my mother would have said I couldn’t have as a kid because it might stunt my growth. It had visible bits of coffee beans in the dark colored caramel and a good coffee aroma.
I liked the crunchy coffee bits in the smooth/firm/chewy caramel, and that the flashes of salt weren’t too salty. Overall, it had a nice buttery coffee flavor but it was more bitter than I expected.
Virtuoso Confections’ Salted Espresso Caramel Bar received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and rated 4 stars.
Single Malt Scotch? Definitely top shelf stuff in my parents’ house — as in placed too high for me to even see. The caramel also proved to be top shelf in the regular sense — an excellent caramel with a delicious distinct scotch whisky flavor. It even gave a slight alcohol buzz on my tongue. While it started strong — it smelled like bourbon (I am not enough of a connoisseur to tell the difference between scotch and bourbon) — it ended more buttery less bourbon-y.
Virtuoso Confections’ Single Malt Scotch Caramel Bar received an Honorable Mention for Top Caramels and rated 4 stars.
Their third entry, Gingerbread, sounded kid friendly but turned out to be a real old fashioned gingerbread flavor experience. The first hint was it smelled like ginger and molasses. Then it tasted strongly of molasses with a little ginger bite. Delicious and not too sweet, it had an authentic gingerbread flavor in a smooth, firm, chewy, not sticky caramel. No coddling or watered down flavors allowed.
Virtuoso Confections Gingerbread Caramel Bar received Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique. It rated 4 stars.
You can buy Virtuoso Confections caramels and other treats in their Etsy store.
Veteran competitor, Panache Chocolatier, Leawood, KS, submitted 2 caramels that were much more subdued than their usual competition entries. That’s not a bad thing though because they were both great — if a little sticky.
The enrobed square Lavender Bourbon Caramel with its single lavender bud snuggled in a diagonal crevice on top leaked enough to stick to its paper cup but Cacapod and I persevered, got it unstuck and sampled. We’re like the post office but with chocolate instead of mail delivery. Nothing can stop us.
The super sticky but very smooth caramel inside the milk chocolate shell had a distinct raspberry overtone. The lavender was subtle and blended well with the raspberry. The piece wasn’t boozy. In fact I didn’t really taste bourbon, so I thought it might be a reference to bourbon vanilla but the description mentioned local bourbon infused into the caramel. Overall, the flavors were nicely balanced and the piece was not too sweet.
Panache Chocolatier Lavender Bourbon Caramel did great in the competition, winning Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations; Silver for Most Unique; Bronze for Best Taste and Top Caramels; and an Honorable Mention for Best Caramel Exterior Design. It rated 4 stars.
Panache’s other entry, Fall Spice Caramel, was also a little leaky but not as sticky. The dark shell had no decoration, just a slightly raised diagonal streak of chocolate. The caramel colored inside smelled spicy good and had an immediate pumpkin spice flavor, mostly cinnamon and cardamom. It melted quickly with Amaretto and orange chocolate flavors coming in after the spices. It was another not too sweet entry that was even less sweet than the Lavender Bourbon Caramel and had a good aftertaste.
Panache Chocolatier Fall Spice Caramel received Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Bronze for Best Taste. It rated 4 stars.
Panache Chocolatier has finally opened an online store! You can also visit their store in Leawood.
Another competition veteran, Stella’s Confectionery, Milwaukee, WI, submitted their elegantly thin Sea Salt Caramels. The thin squares come in 2 versions: milk chocolate and dark. Both were decorated with a dash of sea salt and contained soft chewy buttery caramel in a thin layer of chocolate.
The buttery caramel dominated the milk chocolate one with a little saltiness asserting itself too. The buttery caramel tasted lingered afterwards. It was nice but I liked the dark chocolate version better. It smelled chocolatey and the flavor balance was different: more chocolate than buttery caramel with a little salt. It wasn’t too sweet or too salty, just a classic dark chocolate caramel.
Stella’s Sea Salt Caramel received Honorable Mentions for Best Taste and Top Caramels. It rated 4 stars.
You can find Stella’s chocolate bars and other confections at a few stores across the country. Check their website for locations.
Dolce Lusso Fine Confectionery
Return competitor Dolce Lusso Fine Confectionery, Minneapolis, MN, submitted 3 interesting caramels. They were all well made caramels —firm and soft, if a little sticky at first — and they came in very nice slide-out packaging. They would make good gifts for people who enjoy the flavors infused into the caramels.
I am not the audience for the first flavor I tried, Smoked Tea. I am a big tea drinker — for some reason my mom was ok with us drinking tea when we were little but not coffee — but I never have appreciated Lapsang Souchong or other teas of its ilk. So I had to focus on the caramel part of this entry more than the infusion.
Which was hard because it smelled smoky like a wood fire. It tasted like tea at first — yea! — then smoke — boo. So for me it was too one-note. I wish they had added another flavor to it.
It did well in the competition, receiving Bronze for Most Unique and Honorable Mentions for Best Packaging and Top Caramels. It rated 4 stars.
I like the Pumpkin Spice Caramel better. Again it smelled like its name. It had a little soapy overtone but was mostly pumpkin spice tasting with an apple cinnamon aftertaste.
Dolce Lusso Confections’ Pumpkin Spice Caramel received Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Packaging. It rated 4 stars.
I was intrigued by the Honey & Cardamom Caramel, which smelled like graham crackers.
At first the taste was too much cardamom. I think they should tone it down. Thankfully the caramel ended buttery with a better cardamom balance. A little salt crystal appeared at the end to finish a little salty, but that faded away quickly in the aftertaste.
Dolce Lusso Confections’ Honey & Cardamom Caramel received Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Bronze for Best Taste, and Honorable Mentions for Best Caramel Exterior Design and Top Caramels. It rated 4 stars.
You can buy Dolce Lusso’s caramels online.
There were a couple of repeat competitors this time who submitted caramels that while not in my top tier are worth mentioning.
Choceur, a Polish candy maker carried by Aldi stores in the US submitted their Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels. The package reminded me of chocolate packaging at Trader Joe’s, which makes sense since the 2 grocery chains are owned by 2 brothers.
The caramels smelled very chocolatey when I opened the package and they looked very salty, which made me hesitate. The sample was salty on my tongue but not strongly salty. Instead the salt did a good job supporting the soft chewy caramel enrobed in a good generic chocolate. It had a slightly coconutty undertone but it wasn’t objectionable.
I thought Choceur’s Sea Salt Caramels were a decent supermarket caramel. They didn’t win any awards in the competition, but did rate 3.5 stars.
You can find the Choceur line at Aldi supermarkets and on Amazon.
Competition veteran, Delysia Chocolatier, Austin, TX, submitted a 4-piece collection that included flavor profiles I thought were interesting and tasty, although I don’t think they all qualified as caramels.
Of the 4 flavors in Delysia Chocolatier’s Deconstructed Sweets collection, I liked the Classic Cheesecake Chocolate truffle and Caramelized Toffee Cheesecake truffle best.
The Classic Cheesecake Chocolate truffle filled Delysia’s typically thick chocolate shell with white chocolate and marscapone cheese. This piece was definitely not a caramel, but a nice flavor combo in a truffle. I though the mild sweet cheese balanced well with the bittersweet chocolate, although it didn’t have any tangy cheesecake notes that I expected from the name.
I liked the Caramelized Toffee Cheesecake truffle more. It was described as having cheesecake ganache infused with caramel with bits of caramelized English toffee and salt mixed in. The sweet white ganache inside the thick dark chocolate shell did have visible bits of toffee. I was surprised the toffee bits weren’t crunchy. The salt didn’t make it salty, just supported the flavors. It was mostly a chocolatey piece with a hint of butter but not caramel tasting enough to me to qualify as a caramel.
The Spiced Muffin Chocolate truffle again wasn’t a caramel. The ganache was the same flavor as Delysia’s Campfire Spiced Muffin Bark which I liked in the 2022 White Chocolate competition. In this case, I liked Delysia’s thicker shell because its good slightly bitter dark chocolate toned down the abundant baking spices and cardamom in the ganache.
The final piece, Spiced Dulce de Leche Chocolate truffle, was the most caramel-y of the pack. Inside the thick dark chocolate shell was a caramel flavored ganache, but it only briefly tasted of caramel before the cardamom and cinnamon took over. Cayenne pepper joined the fight too. I thought the piece was too complicated with too much cardamom although the heat was good. Personally I’d get rid of or tone down the other spices so it is more of a fiery caramel instead.
Deconstructed Sweets collection won Gold for Best Packaging; Silver for Best Caramel Exterior Design, Best Taste, and Top Caramels; Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations; and an Honorable Mention for Most Unique. It rated 4 stars.
Delysia chocolates are currently only available online and for curbside pickup at their shop in Austin, while the shop is closed due to COVID.
You can see the complete list of 2022 Top Luxury Caramel Award winners on the International Chocolate Salon site.