Complete Chocolate Lover’s Guide for the San Francisco Bay Area

Toffarazzi toffee in box

Something to chew on


Lots of surprises this year

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There was so much good toffee in this year’s Top Artisan Toffee Awards, sponsored by TasteTV, that it was hard for me to narrow it down to a top 4 in each category. I managed to solve this “good problem” in time to for the judging, but now I’ll cover more of the entries’ qualities than I could in this competition and give my recommendations along with their awards and ranking. If you like toffee, there’s lots to chew on here.

Tomo Smores
Tomo Toffee’s S’mores pieces had toasted mini marshmallows and chunks of real graham crackers

Local first

There were 2 SFBA competitors this year: veteran Tomo Toffee of San Ramon and newcomer The Confectionist of Albany, CA.

Tomo entered 2 toffees this year, their classic Dark Chocolate and S’mores. The Dark Chocolate Toffee was a crunchy substantial toffee with a buttery flavor, but it was not as distinctly pecan tasting as I remembered from last year’s judging, so I was a little disappointed. It did very well in the competition though, winning Silver for Best Taste, and Bronze for Best Texture and Top Toffee. It was awarded 4.5 stars, the highest rating.

Tomo’s S’mores Toffee was super cute with graham cracker crumbles and toasted mini marshmallows decorating the top, but to be honest, it tasted mostly like just straight-up toffee.

Which makes sense. Marshmallow and graham cracker are not strong flavors, so of course the chocolate and buttery toffee would dominate. The marshmallows did add a little chewiness to the toffee, which was an interesting contrast to the crunchy toffee. It was awarded Silver for Most Unique and Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, and rated 3.5 stars.

You can order Tomo Toffee online, or buy it at the San Ramon Farmers Market and some local outlets. Check their website for locations.

My fav

The other local competitor, The Confectionist, also submitted 2 entries: Almond Toffee and Pistachio Orange Toffee. I loved them both. The Almond Toffee smelled delicious and was a thin toffee with nuts inside, coated on both sides with with dark chocolate, and sprinkled with more chopped nuts on top. It was crispy and crunchy, with good chocolate and almond flavors first, then the buttery toffee with a little salt at the end. It received a Bronze for Best Taste, and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture and Top Toffee. It was rated 4.5 stars.

Confectionist Pistaschio Orange
The Confectionist’s Pistaschio Orange Toffee had enough of the mild pistachios to give it a real pistachio flavor

My favorite though, in fact my favorite of the whole 35-piece competition, was The Confectionist’s Pistachio Orange Toffee. It was so pretty with the irregularly chopped green pistachios contrasting with the dark chocolate. It had the same crispy, crunchy texture as the Almond Toffee, with lots of nuts inside and outside each piece.

Having some larger pistachio pieces on the toffee mixed with finer bits was a good call. Pistachios are so mild flavored that they could get lost against the stronger dark chocolate, orange, and butter flavors, but having the concentrated flavor of the bigger pieces helped give the toffee a mild, but real, pistachio flavor before the orange chocolate took over. The salt also registered but it was never too salty. At the end the chocolate, orange, and salt lingered. A very satisfying, not too sweet toffee.

It won Gold for Most Unique, Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Toffee, Bronze for Best Taste, and Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It was rated 4 stars (but I rank it way higher).

You can order treats from The Confectionist online, or from their booth at the Kensington Farmers Market and some local outlets. Check their website for locations.

Can’t judge a toffee by its cover

The other toffees I liked in the competition held a lot of surprises. For example, one competitor’s packaging looked like something you would pick up at a gas station convenience store, seriously lowering my expectations. But I enjoyed all 3 of their entries and would recommend them. Another entry was in a large, white gift box tied with a gold mesh ribbon and stamped with a snazzy metallic gold 1950’s retro logo (and a kinda weird tagline) and seemed so over the top I was also expecting disappointment only to find it really tasty and worth recommending too. (I am so bad at predictions.)

Surprisingly good

The entrant with the seriously understated packaging, Hazelnut Hill, grows hazelnuts on a farm in Eugene, OR, then roasts the nuts and incorporates them into a variety of treats, including the 3 toffees they submitted to the competition. All 3 of their toffees were winners in my book with a nice crumbly texture, chocolate coating on both sides, and good flavors.

Hazelnut Hill trio
I liked that you could see the toffee well, but this packaging doesn’t do justice to how good Hazelnut Hill toffee is

Their traditional Hazelnut Toffee was so covered in crunchy hazelnut bits, you could hardly see the chocolate coating underneath. There were also pieces of hazelnuts inside the toffee. All those nuts gave the toffee a pronounced hazelnut flavor, that went well with the 55% chocolate, which was also high quality. If you like hazelnuts — and don’t mind that the packaging looks like you got it from a clip rack at Wawa — you should try this. It received an Honorable Mention for Best Texture, and rated 4 stars.

Their Hazelnut Coffee Toffee was equally good. Like the traditional toffee, it was densely covered with chopped hazelnuts but also dusted with ground espresso beans. This gave me an immediate hit of coffee, and the coffee flavor was strong all the way through; nuts came second. One caveat on the coffee: Because this is toffee, not a flavored chocolate bar, the coffee flavor is more like a good coffee candy than a straight shot of espresso. All the sugar in the toffee makes the coffee taste skew sweet. Not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you like sugar in your coffee. It won a Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, and rated 4 stars.

Their 3rd entry humbled me. I was sure I would dislike the Raspberry Churro Hazelnut Toffee. The name sounded way too sweet, and it uses white chocolate, which added to my dread. But it’s a good, different toffee. It’s packed with hazelnuts like the other 2, and has the same crumbly texture which is satisfying in itself. But it’s also liberally sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, so the first flavor was like a cinnamon doughnut. Next were small hits of raspberry from freeze dried raspberries, and finally the hazelnuts came through. It was sweet, but not out of line with doughnuts and toffee. It exceeded my expectations; and won a Gold for Most Unique and a Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, and rated 3.5 stars.

Hazelnut Hill Raspberry Churro
It’s hard to tell that Hazelnut Hill’s Raspberry Churro Toffee uses white chocolate because it is so densely sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts and cinnamon sugar

You can order Hazelnut Hills nuts, toffees, and other treats on their website. They even have a pack of the three toffees in the competition so you can try them all yourself.

Toffarazzi box
Not sure that’s the slogan I would have gone with

‘Everybody’s chewin’ it’

That’s the slogan on the big white box of DGZ Chocolates’ Toffarazzi, and it… just hits me wrong. Even after trying their toffee and liking it a lot, I still kinda squirm at that because of the reference I have for that line. I mean, do they not know juvenile humor?

Or maybe they are using it for the weird disconnect between a fancy box and a naughty kid’s poem. I don’t get it and will stop talking about it now because what’s more important is their toffee inside the box.

Toffarazzi toffee consists of big, thick squares of toffee entirely covered in milk chocolate and finely chopped almonds. Each roughly 1-1/2″ square comes nestled in its own individual well in the box.

Toffarazzi toffee piece
Each square of Toffarazzi toffee was entirely covered in milk chocolate and chopped nuts

It’s a good, crunchy toffee, not too sweet, with a tasty milk chocolate coating. The nuts give the toffee a little smoky taste, but mostly I’d call it a classic, traditional toffee taste. My only quibble (besides the tagline) is that the pieces are a little too thick so they can be hard to bite at first. Toffarazzi did very well in the competition, winning Gold for Best Taste and Top Toffee, Silver for Best Texture, and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations. It also got the highest rating: 4.5 stars.

Although they are currently closed due to the summer heat and a surge in COVID-19 (they are Houston based), normally you can order Toffarazzi on their website. They also recommend that you sign up for their newsletter.

Fritz Toffee
Fritz Toffee comes vacuum sealed in a large, clear canister

Grandma’s recipe

Another quality traditional toffee I enjoyed was the entry from Fritz Toffee, based in Iowa. They make only one toffee: their Original Toffee, a milk chocolate with almonds, pecans, and salted butter; no preservatives, no artificial ingredients.

It’s a thick toffee with a crunchy texture and an immediate roasted almond flavor. I liked the salted butter and roasted nut flavors, and how it melted away quickly, leaving a sweet milky aftertaste. I wish they would make a dark chocolate version, but otherwise, it’s a toffee I can recommend. It won Gold for Best Texture and Bronze for Top Toffee, and rated 4 stars.

You can buy Fritz Toffee on their website and from some local retailers in IA.

Welcome back

Competition veteran, Holm Made Toffee Co., submitted 3 entries, and one was a repeat from last year’s competition which I was happy to try again. All 3 entires were good, crunchy toffees with lots of finely chopped hazelnuts that stood up well to the other flavors.

Holm Made trio
Holm Made Toffee Co.’s packaging adds to their toffee’s appeal

Their Cardamom & Vanilla Toffee which I said last year reminded me of a sweet chai tea drink, hit me a little differently this year. It tasted a little floral at first, then became very vanilla-y. Cardamom came after that and added a fruitiness to the hazelnuts. It won Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations, and Bronze for Most Unique and Top Toffee; and rated 4 stars.

Holm Made White Chocolate Raspberry
Including dark chocolate on the White Chocolate and Raspberry helped tone down the sweetness

Holm Made’s Original Toffee was a solid entry in the classic toffee with hazelnuts category: Good chocolate, pronounced hazelnut flavor, and good crunchy texture. It received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture; and rated 4 stars.

Their White Chocolate and Raspberry Toffee was pretty with raspberry swirled white chocolate on top, dark chocolate on the bottom, and hazelnuts everywhere. Like the other Holm Made toffees, it was a nice thick, crunchy toffee. The raspberry flavor was a little soapy at first, which I attribute to it being an extract, but it got better as all of the flavors melded. It received an Honorable Mention for Most Unique and rated 3.5 stars.

You can order all of these toffees, plus the ones in the previous competition and other hazelnut treats (even toffee tea!) from the Holm Made website.

Is this toffee?

Banyan Tree Seafoam
I learned a lot of aliases for honeycomb from Banyan Tree

Kind of the odd man out in this competition was the entry from Banyan Tree Chocolate. The label on the package said, “Call it seafoam, sponge candy, sponge toffee, cinder toffee or fairy food…” I call it honeycomb candy, those hard, full of tiny holes, covered in chocolate, golden chunks of sugar; so seeing it in a toffee competition was surprising to me.

As a honeycomb candy, Banyan Tree’s Sarasota Seafoam was nice looking with big, irregularly shaped pieces covered in dark chocolate. It was very hard and ended chewy, and was satisfying as a honeycomb/seafoam/sponge candy/etc., but definitely not what I expected to call a toffee. It received a Bronze for Most Unique and rated 3 stars.

You can buy Banyan Tree’s seafoam and other chocolate treats online or at their café in Sarasota, FL.

Definitely not toffee

There were also some brittles entered in the competition, which I thought was weird too. Brittles are not toffee in my book (although one brittle maker goes by the name, Naked Toffee).

Texas Spice brittle
All those nuts made the Texas Spice brittle the most tooth-friendly brittle I’ve ever had

I’m not a fan of brittles cuz #1 NOT chocolate, #2 too hard, and #3 too sweet. But I would make an exception for Fort Worth Fudge and Toffee’s Texas Spiced Nut Brittle. It was densely packed with roasted walnuts, almonds, pecans, and pistachios, and sprinkled with habanero infused sea salt. Because the ratio of nuts to candy was so high, it was not as hard or as sweet as traditional brittles. The roasted nuts were good, and the habanero heat was small but lingering. It received Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Texture, and rated 4 stars.

You can buy Fort Worth Fudge and Toffee online, at their shop in Forth Worth, TX, and at other TX retailers.

Back to originals

Tennessee Toffee Company (now Towns Toffee)was a quiet but reliable entrant with 3 toffees: Original Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, and Gingersnap.

Tennessee Toffee trio
Tennessee Toffee’s trio of entries were solid choices

Their Original Milk Chocolate Toffee had a classic toffee flavor using almonds and pecans. It had a good texture and flavor, buttery and nutty, and wasn’t overly sweet for a milk chocolate. It had a nice dash of salt towards end. The way the nuts were handled was interesting: Sliced almonds in the toffee and finely chopped pecans sprinkled on top. It received an Honorable Mention for Best Taste.

Gingersnap toffee
Tennesse Toffee’s Gingersnap toffee was very evocative of its namesake

The Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Toffee was harder and saltier than the Original, but had more chocolate flavor. Like the Original, it was a very buttery toffee.

The Gingersnap Toffee was an excellent toffee variation. It started with the same almond/pecan base, but the toffee was flavored with molasses and spices, and drizzled with white chocolate that looked like icing. Ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves gave it an immediate gingersnap flavor. Like the other Tennessee Toffees, it had a good crunchy texture, and surprisingly it was not too sweet. It won Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique, and rated 4 stars.

You can buy Tennesse Toffee on their website. Unfortunately, the Gingersnap is not available.

For the Love of Toffee coconut almond
For the Love of Toffee’s Coconut, Almonds & Dark Chocolate added a nice chewiness from coconut

Toffee inclusions

For the Love of Toffee out of New Jersey also had 3 entries. Salted Peanuts & Dark Chocolate, Spicy Pecan & Dark Chocolate, and Coconut, Almonds & Dark Chocolate. Of the 3, I liked the Coconut, Almonds & Dark Chocolate best. It had an immediate chocolate and coconut flavor with chewy coconut contrasting with the toffee texture. It was buttery and a little salty. It received an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations, and rated 4 stars.Toffe fTT

While the Salted Peanuts & Dark Chocolate had big peanuts in it, it tasted more like peanut brittle than toffee to me (not enough chocolate) and was too salty. It rated 4 stars. The Spicy Pecan & Dark Chocolate had a savory molasses flavor, and the heat from the cayenne pepper toned down the salt. It rated 3.5 stars.

You can buy For The Love of Toffee on their website, at some retail locations in NJ and NYC, and at special events. Check their website for more info.

Toffee for vegans

Crack'd Vegan Toffee
Crack’d Vegan Toffee could use more nuts but is a good alternative if you are vegan

Competition veteran Crack’d Toffee Company had 4 entries: a classic, 2 flavored toffees, and a vegan version. The Vegan Dark Toffee was better than I expected. It used almonds and vegan butter (which includes cashews), but had little nut flavor. It was a semi crunchy toffee, but it had a good chocolate flavor and a burnt sugar flavor that was not bad. I think with more nuts, it would be a good alternative for those who can’t or don’t do dairy.

Their other 3 entries had bloomed, which didn’t look good but probably didn’t affect the taste. They also had a serious shortage of nuts. The Original Semi Sweet Toffee was crunchy and buttery, but not nutty. Still, it received an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations and rated 4 stars.

The Premium Dark Roast Toffee added brewed coffee and cacao nibs to the (barely) almond toffee which made for a crunchy toffee. It was mostly sweet and buttery, with chocolate and coffee undertones and a slight coffee aftertaste. It won Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Bronze for Best Texture.

I liked their Distill’d Bourbon Toffee the best. It had a distinctly fermented flavor and was chewier than the other Crack’d toffees. There were no visible almonds or taste, but it had a good chocolate flavor with an extra chocolatey aftertaste. It received an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations and rated 4 stars.

You can buy Crack’d Toffee online, at some CA retail locations, and at special events. Check their website for more info.

Toni's Toffee
The magic in Magical Unicorn is rosemary (don’t know what the unicorn is)

Sweet & savory

The Magical Unicorn Toffee from Toni’s Toffee, Austin, TX was a very sweet toffee with a slightly savory twist. It was pretty much a traditional milk chocolate almond toffee, with rosemary added. It was recommended to be serve chilled, so we did, but it was not very tasty that way. It started off peppery and salty, then became buttery. The distinct rosemary flavor came last, but the toffee was mostly buttery tasting.

It is probably the thinnest toffee I’ve ever had, which might be why they recommend you serve it chilled so it stays crunchy. But I think that blunts the flavors. Also the chocolate was one side only and thin, so there was no real chocolate taste. When we left it out and tried it again, it tasted better, although the toffee was a little chewier than when it’s chilled. It won Gold for Most Unique, and received Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Toffee. It rated 3.5 stars.

You can buy Toni’s Toffee on their website and usually at some retail locations and special events, but not right now according to their website due to COVID-19.

seleuss film can
Seleušs Chocolates had the most interesting container

Toffee in chocolate

I’m still not sure what to make of competition veteran Seleušs ChocolatesEileen’s Original Butter Toffee (in 52% Brune Dark Milk Chocolate). It came in a cool 5″ diameter metal film canister, which Cacaopod immediately called dibs on.

The label on the back included information about the particular chocolate used in this entry, a dark milk chocolate from their Odalisque™ series called Brune. It says the chocolate was named after L’Odalisque Brune, a 1745 painting by François Boucher of his wife. It also included a detailed breakdown in percentages (to the second decimal place) of the ingredients in the chocolate. There was then an extensive ingredient list, from which I discerned a lot of milk and milk-related ingredients in the toffee part alone: sweetened condensed milk, nonfat milk, milk fat, lactose, and of course, butter. Plus it included several detailed sentences about proper storage and preparation.

seleuss disc
We weren’t sure where to start with removing this 5″x1-1/4″ solid disc of chocolate

However, they missed an important part: Upon opening the canister and removing more printed details about Seleušs and their line of chocolate discs, we couldn’t figure out how to remove the “toffee.” It was a solid hunk of chocolate that looked like it had been poured directly into the tin and set. There was no lining separating it from the tin, which might have helped in removing it, no scoring, nothing, just a really solid, dark piece of chocolate. Seems like they would have included instructions or suggestions for how to get at the toffee after all other information they included. We resorted to taking a knife to it to get a sample out.

Instead of being a toffee, this turned out to be a big 1/4″ thick chocolate disc with pieces of toffee stirred in. It was OK with a chocolate milkshake aftertaste, but I would’ve preferred a darker chocolate to cut the sweetness of the toffee. It received an Honorable Mention for Top Toffee and rated 3.5 stars.

Seleušs Chocolates are not currently available online. You can buy Seleušs Chocolates at their boutique in Seattle and some retail locations in Seattle and surrounding cities. Check their website for locations.

Visit the International Chocolate Salon site to see the full list of winners from the 2020 Top Artisan Toffee Awards.

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Published July 17, 2020