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

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A trend in this year’s toffee competition was recipe tweaks

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The 2023 Top Artisan Toffee competition was a big event this year with lots of delicious discoveries — and 2 SFBA contestants. One was a veteran competitor who makes excellent toffee and the other was a first-timer to look forward to.

SFBA

I like to plug our local chocolate scene whenever I get the chance. So our locals go first!

Tomo Toffee

Local toffee maker and veteran competitor, Tomo Toffee, San Ramon submitted 3 entries we have seen before and liked. This time was no different.

Tomo White Macadamia Nut Toffee
Tomo White Macadamia Nut Toffee

Tomo’s White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Toffee was a pretty white chocolate toffee covered with chocolate and nuts on both sides plus additional nuts in side the toffee. All those nuts meant the first and dominant taste was roasted macadamia nuts. The second taste was buttery toffee in this crunchy, not too sweet toffee.The white chocolate was a very subtle flavor.

There was a fine dusting of coconut on the pieces but I didn’t notice it flavor or texture wise. In a previous version the coconut was more of a standout but honestly I didn’t miss it this time. I loved that the toffee had a d

Tomo Toffee White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Toffee received Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste, and Honorable Mentions for Most Unique and Top Toffee. It rated 4.5 stars.

Tomo S’mores Toffee
Tomo S’mores Toffee

Tomo has continuously improved their S’mores Toffee over the years they have submitted it to these competitions. It’s fun to look at — with its little roasted marshmallows smushed over the top — and this time it smelled delicious — like baked goods coming out of the oven.

Even with those visuals and chocolate and graham cracker aromas, the first taste impression was crunchy buttery toffee. A good milk chocolate flavor followed. Then I tasted the toasted flavor of the slightly chewy marshmallows. The pieces of graham cracker were big enough to taste but they weren’t in every bite. The chocolate, butter, and toasted flavors lingered. This is a sweet toffee but I didn’t think it was too much — it was appropriately s’mores sweet and I appropriately raised its rating to 5 stars.

Tomo Toffee S’mores Toffee received Silver for Best Taste, Bronze for Best Texture and Top Toffee, and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations. It rated 4.5 stars.

Tomo Toffee package
Package of Tomo Toffee’s Dark Chocolate Toffee

Tomo’s Dark Chocolate Toffee is a tweak of classic Southern style toffee with almond pieces inside the toffee added to pecan pieces on both outsides. My initial impression —even though I’ve tried this toffee in every toffee competition now — was “Wow!”

Tomo used a flavorful dark chocolate that held its own against the distinct roasted pecans. It was a satisfyingly crunchy toffee & nuts combo that wasn’t as buttery tasting as their other 2 entries because of how nutty this toffee was. But it was still a buttery toffee. If you prefer a nutty toffee, this is the one to try: Nuts first then good dark chocolate then toffee. I rated it 5 stars.

Tomo Toffee Dark Chocolate Toffee won Gold for Top Toffee, Silver for Best Taste, Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It rated 4.5 stars.

Tomo Toffee is available via their website and at some local stores. Check their website for locations.

Nana’s Kettle, Toffee and Treats

New competitor, Nana’s Kettle, Toffee and Treats, Redwood City, submitted a couple of good toffees.

Nana’s English Toffee
Nana’s English Toffee

The big thick slabs of their English Toffee shattered nicely when breaking them down to sample. The milk chocolate coated toffee had a good crunch and buttery flavor.

Even though it had nuts on top and inside, it didn’t have enough nuts for me. The deeply roasted nuts tasted a little burnt but I liked the flavor. I rated it 3 stars, and it was rated 3.5 stars in the competition.

Nana’s Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Toffee
Nana’s Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Toffee

Nana’s Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Toffee did away with nuts altogether. It had a greasy feel and hard crunch but the same buttery flavor as the English Toffee.

Good dark chocolate coated one side and was sprinkled with flakes of salt. It wasn’t too salty but the salt crystals stuck in my teeth and kept giving that salt flavor long afterwards. It wasn’t a bad salt just persistent. I rated Nana’s Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Toffee 3 stars.

In the competition, Nana’s Kettle Toffee and Treats Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Toffee received an Honorable Mention for Top Toffee. It rated 3.5 stars.

You can buy their toffee and treats online (CA delivery only), at a couple of Peninsula farmers markets, and at some local stores. Check their website for locations.

Recommended

Since these competitions draw a large crowd of contestants, I am only including in this section those that I thought were standouts. If you weren’t tempted by top-rated Tomo Toffee, maybe one of these will appeal to you.

Belle Toffee

Return competitor, Belle Toffee, Kansas City, MO, ranks as most improved toffee in my book. I have tried their toffees in 3 of these competitions so far. The first time none of their submissions made my cut. Last year they submitted the same 3 flavors and one made my list.

This year I rated all 3 of their toffees 4 or 5 for the first time. I hope they keep up the good work. I like that repeat competitors like Tomo and Bella continue to improve their toffees.

Belle Toffee entries
Belle Toffee entries won the Most Improved category in my competition

Belle has a neat concept: Bite-size chocolate covered squares of toffee. It’s neat in 2 ways — an excellent idea for combining toffee and chocolate and literally a clean way to eat toffee.

Bite-sized Belle Toffee piece
Bite-sized Belle Toffee piece

Their entry that made the cut last year is the one I still like best: their Roasted Hazelnut Espresso Toffee in Dark Chocolate smelled chocolatey with a hint of hazelnut. The flavor was a good balance of the 3 main ingredients — dark chocolate, coffee, and hazelnut — in a crunchy non-sticky toffee. Hazelnut became the most pronounced flavor so the name is accurate in its ranking of ingredients. I bumped this toffee’s rating up from 4 last year to a 5 this year.

Belle Toffee Roasted Hazelnut Espresso Toffee in Dark Chocolate received Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste. It rated 4 stars.

Bourbon Pecan Toffee in Gold Chocolate
Bourbon Pecan Toffee in Gold Chocolate

The Belle Toffee flavor that I liked the least in previous competitions jumped the most in my esteem: the Bourbon Pecan Toffee in Gold Chocolate had an alluring browned butter aroma. It was a crunchy toffee that was very buttery and caramel tasting. It was sweet but not overly so. I would like a more pronounced bourbon flavor but this was tasty and I rated it 4 stars.

Belle Toffee Bourbon Pecan Toffee in Gold Chocolate received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Texture, and an Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It rated 3.5 stars.

Their 3rd entry, an almond toffee, got a chocolate upgrade from milk which hadn’t been assertive enough to dark chocolate. It was the right call. Bell Toffee’s Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee smelled like chocolate and roasted nuts, and tasted like roasted almonds in good chocolate. Like their other 2 entries it was a crunchy toffee. It was a little salty and sweeter than I would like but I thought it was overall a good toffee and rated it 4 stars.

Belle Toffee Almond Toffee in Dark Chocolate received Bronze for Best Texture and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste. It rated 4 stars.

Belle Toffee is available online and at stores around KS and MO. Check their website for locations.

Stella’s Confectionery

Another competition veteran, Stella’s ConfectioneryMilwaukee, WI, makes fun eye-catching toffees that are also delicious. They submitted 2 entries that were big squares of toffee studded with lots of nuts and decorated with little chocolate bars on their backs.

Back of Stella’s Butter Pecan Toffee
Back of Stella’s Butter Pecan Toffee with its mini chocolate bar resting on top

Their Butter Pecan Toffee square was covered with milk chocolate and lots of chopped pecans on one side. On the other side you could see pecan halves scattered in the toffee under the little Stella’s chocolate bar.

The crunchy bar had a strong butter pecan flavor reminding me of the ice cream. This toffee was so buttery! Plus the milk chocolate was toward the milky side, not the sweet side, and the pecans added a sweet nut taste. I rated it 5 stars.

Stella’s Confectionery Butter Pecan Toffee won Gold for Best Texture, Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, and an Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It rated 4 stars.

Stella’s Toasted Almond Toffee
Stella’s Toasted Almond Toffee

Stella’s other entry, Toasted Almond Toffee smelled buttery over everything else. Like the Butter Pecan Toffee, it was covered in chopped almonds on top of milk chocolate with big pieces of almonds visible in the toffee’s backside.

A delicious toffee — crunchy, a little chewy at end with a good sweet almond Amaretto flavor and a toasted almond flavor too. I haven’t experienced that before.

This toffee tasted more buttery than the pecan one with a pronounced vanilla flavor. I rated it 5 stars.

Stella’s Confectionery Toasted Almond Toffee received Bronze for Best Taste and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. 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.

Big Al’s Best

New competitor, Big Al’s Best, San Diego, makes thin Southern style toffee that was a big bite of nostalgia. Before COVID Cacaopod and I made yearly treks back East to visit friends and family during the holidays. New Year’s Day would find us in Richmond VA for brunch with a professor from our art school and a friend we shared office space with before we moved to SF. While we would bring chocolate bars to share, she would give us homemade toffee from a family recipe.

We haven’t gone back East in 3 years and besides missing people and places, I miss her toffee. So Big Al’s Best Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee was a pleasant surprise when I bit in and it tasted like New Year’s in Richmond.

Big Al’s Best Toffee
Big Al’s Best Toffee

It was a thin toffee coated with a good dark chocolate on one side and dusted with finely chopped nuts. It smelled of roasted nuts and butter, and had a nice crunch that ended a little chewy. Maybe best of all were its browned butter and molasses flavors. The combo along with the chocolate and nuts just tasted yummy.

This was my personal fav — it was an excellent version of Southern style toffee — and I rated it 4 stars.

Big Al’s Best Big Al’s Best Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste, and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It rated 3.5 stars.

Big Al’s Best Toffee can be ordered for delivery in California. It is also available in some locations in SFBA and San Diego. Check their website for details.

Robinson Confections

Robinson Confections, Hayden, ID, had a good entry last year and continued this year with another of their liqueur based toffees.

Robinson’s Lime Fresco Margarita Toffee
Robinson’s Lime Fresco Margarita Toffee

The Lime Fresco Margarita was a slab of toffee covered on one side with white chocolate dusted with lime zest and lime salt. Putting that side down on my tongue gave an initial hit of salt just like the experience of sipping a margarita in a salt rimmed glass. Pretty fun.

The crunchy toffee was mostly a brown sugar buttery experience with a nice light lime flavor and a little bite from the vodka. The only downside to this toffee was that it got chewy and stuck to my teeth. So it didn’t get my highest rating, but I gave it 4 stars.

Robinson Confections Lime Fresco Margarita Toffee received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique, and an Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It rated 4 stars.

Robinson Confections are available online and at stores in ID, MO, OR, and WA.

The Toffee Merchant

Another unusual but tasty toffee came from return competitor, The Toffee Merchant, Phoenix, AZ. They submitted 2 distinctive toffees to the competition but only one made it into my recommended list. I’ll review the other toffee below in the Good section.

Triple Chocolate Toffee
The Toffee Merchant’s entries came in 8 ounce bags!

Their Triple Chocolate Toffee smelled like fudgey chocolate due to the three chocolates referred to in the name — cocoa powder, bittersweet chocolate, and chocolate wafer cookies. While there were nuts and butter in the ingredients, I couldn’t smell them over the chocolates.

Not surprisingly this thick toffee was dark colored. It was crunchy from the toffee and nuts, but the roasted nut and chocolate wafer flavors made the experience more like eating a cookie than a piece of toffee. An interesting toffee, I rated it 4 stars.

The Toffee Merchant Triple Chocolate Toffee won Gold for Best Taste, Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, and an Honorable Mention for Top Toffee. It rated 4.5 stars.

While the toffees The Toffee Merchant submitted aren’t available for sale yet, you can order their other toffees including ones from a previous competition on their website.

Rosie Rae’s Toffee

The final toffee in my recommended list comes from new competitor Rosie Rae’s Toffee, Yorba Linda, CA. They submitted 3 toffees and I liked them all but only one rated above a 3. I will review the other 2 below.

Rosie Rae’s Milk Chocolate Almond Toffee
Rosie Rae’s Milk Chocolate Almond Toffee

Rosie Rae’s Milk Chocolate Almond Toffee was coated with thick chocolate and chopped nuts on both sides. It was very appetizing looking and smelled buttery.

The toffee was substantial but not too thick and had a good soft crunch that didn’t turn sticky. It tasted very buttery. Second to the butteriness were the almonds. So many nuts, they couldn’t all stay on the toffee (this is what I call a good problem) and gave the toffee its distinctly almond flavor.

The milk chocolate was mild, not too sweet, and secondary to the toffee and nuts. A good solid classic toffee that I rated 4 stars.

Rosie Rae’s Toffee Milk Chocolate Almond Toffee received an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It rated 3.5 stars.

You can order Rosie Rae’s Toffees from their website.

Good

After the toffees I thought were tops this year, there were still a number of respectable entries that you might enjoy. These were ones that I thought were good solid toffees this year.

The Toffee Merchant

Limoncello Toffee
Limoncello Toffee

The Toffee Merchant’s other entry, Limoncello Toffee, was a visually appealing thick toffee studded with chopped almonds and pecans on white chocolate. It smelled sweet and lemony.

This crunchy toffee tasted lemony right away and stayed mostly lemony — the toffee and white chocolate were really just vehicles for the lemon. It tasted a little bitter and a little refreshing, but it got more bitter as it went on and had a bitter aftertaste. If you like bitter lemon or don’t mind some bitterness, this is a good toffee. I rated it 3 stars.

It did very well in the competition winning Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations, Silver for Best Taste and Most Unique, Bronze for Top Toffee, and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It rated 4 stars.

Rosie Rae’s Toffee

The other competitor with toffees I split between Recommended and Good was Rosie Rae’s Toffee. In addition to the classic milk toffee I recommend, they submitted 2 fun flavored toffees that I thought were good.

PB & J Toffee
Rosie Rae’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Toffee

I’m always interested in iterations on my longtime fav sandwich so I was happy to see a toffee version of PB&J. Rosie Rae’s version was eye catching with one side of the toffee coated in peanut butter infused white chocolate and covered in chopped peanuts and the other side a raspberry flavored white chocolate sprinkled with freeze dried powdered raspberry. So pretty.

It had a nice crunch and the salt level was good — noticeable but not too salty. Raspberry was the dominant flavor and it was good. For me though the piece was too sweet and not peanutty enough. Maybe if they roasted the nuts so they were more assertive it would have a better balance. I rated it 3 stars.

It did better in the competition: Rosie Rae’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Toffee won Gold for Most Unique, Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste, and Bronze for Top Toffee. It rated 4 stars.

Churro Toffee
Rosie Rae’s Churro Toffee

The Churro Toffee was a mystery entry at first. None of Rosie Rae’s packages had an ingredients lists and while their other entries had little identifying stickers, this one didn’t.

It smelled cinnamon-y and sugary sweet due to it being covered with cinnamon sugar. Like the PB&J it was coated with white chocolate on both sides. It was too sweet for me and got a little sticky toward the end. I think if churros or cinnamon toast are your thing you will enjoy this rendition. I rated it 3 stars.

Rosie Rae’s Toffee Churro Toffee received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique, and an Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It rated 4 stars.

The Toffee Habit

The Toffee Habit, Pomona, CA, submitted their Milk Chocolate Toffee in their first time in the competition.

The Toffee Habit’s Milk Chocolate Toffee
The Toffee Habit’s Milk Chocolate Toffee

The toffee looked great, coated on both sides with milk chocolate and chopped walnuts and almonds. It had a sweet but odd aroma like cheap chocolate. It tasted better than it smelled. I checked the ingredients list to see what could be the source of its unusual odor. It said natural flavor was added to the chocolate and I think that might have been the cause.

Otherwise it had a good crunch and good nutty flavor from all of those nuts. It wasn’t buttery even though butter was the first ingredient. This was a not too sweet toffee. I rated it 3 stars and it received 4 stars in the competition.

You can order The Toffee Habit toffees online although their site currently says they are closed until October 2023.

wildtoad toffee

Before examining the packaging too carefully, I thought new competitor wildtoad toffee might be from Texas. The thick huge slabs of toffee were crowded with nuts and topped with boldly patterned hair ribbons — everything’s bigger in Texas, right?

wildtoad toffees
wildtoad toffees

I called it — they’re located in Fort Worth which they proudly proclaim on their labels front and back.

The leopard-spot topped package was wildtoad toffee’s milk chocolate covered toffee with pecans. It was minimally coated on one side with chocolate and covered with chopped pecans. It smelled like browned butter and had an initial hard crunch with a good buttery flavor but it stuck to my teeth. They do recommend you freeze their toffee first which I didn’t do but that might make it less sticky.

The name is funny to me because it says chocolate covered but for me it didn’t have enough chocolate (or roasted nuts either) — it’s all about the toffee. When I checked their website they even proclaim that they do not drown their toffee in chocolate like other toffee companies because they make toffee not chocolate. If you prefer your toffee on the lightly coated side, you might like wildtoad toffee.

Their dark chocolate covered toffee with pecans was tied with a paisley patterned ribbon — the Willie Nelson to the milk chocolate’s Dolly Parton. Again I thought it didn’t have enough chocolate —it didn’t cover the whole slab of toffee and the nuts only stuck to the chocolate so the balance with the toffee was off. There was so little chocolate that the 2 toffees tasted the same to me. They have a good buttery flavor and I rated them both 3 stars. They both received 4 stars in the competition, and wildtoad toffee dark chocolate covered toffee with pecans received Silver for Best Taste and Top Toffee, and Bronze for Best Texture.

You can order wildtoad toffee from their website.

St. Croix Chocolate Company

After being MIA in these competitions since COVID, St. Croix Chocolate Company, Marine on St. Croix, MN., made a reappearance this year. It was quite the change from previous years.

St. Croix always went the extra mile with their presentation, culminating in the amazing Koi Inyodo Collection — take a moment to check it out if you haven’t seen it already (and scroll up while there to see another of their elegant entries). This year they submitted 3 toffees in the “sensible shoes” version of packaging: no-drama clear plastic cubes that protected and showcased the wares.

St Croix Chocolate Company toffees
St Croix Chocolate Company toffees

Their labeling was very attractive and well organized so it’s still good, it just wasn’t what I expected. The toffee was a little disappointing too. Of the 3 flavors submitted only one made my cutoff.

Chili Pistachio Toffee
Chili Pistachio Toffee

The Chili Pistachio Toffee was pretty with green nuts chopped and scattered over the top layer of dark chocolate. The toffee was coated with chocolate on the bottom too. The toffee had a soft break and an immediate pistachio flavor. I appreciate that because pistachio is such a mild flavor it often gets lost against more assertive flavors — like chocolate and caramel.

It was a crunchy toffee but not very buttery. The chili gave it a mild heat that came toward the end and dissipated quickly. The chocolate was just okay. I rated it 3 stars.

It did great in the competition winning Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique, Silver for Top Toffee, and Bronze for Best Taste. It rated 4 stars.

The other 2 entries, Bourbon Pecan Toffee and Hazelnut Toffee, didn’t move me but they did well in the competition. The Bourbon Pecan Toffee received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It rated 3.5 stars. And the Hazelnut Coffee Toffee received Silver for Best Taste and Best Texture, and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Toffee. It rated 4 stars.

Currently you can’t buy St. Croix Chocolate Co. treats online. They are only sold in their store in Marine on St. Croix.

Jensen Toffee

Finally a repeat competitor that has improved over the yearsJensen Toffee Co., Seattle, WA, had an entry this year that I enjoyed.

Espresso Toffee
Espresso Toffee

Jensen’s Espresso Toffee had a good strong espresso aroma and immediate coffee flavor. This no nuts toffee was sugar crystal crunchy and turned sticky towards the end. It had a not too sweet dark chocolate coating and a buttery toffee flavor but the espresso dominated and was the longest aftertaste. I rated it 3 stars.

Jensen Toffee Espresso Toffee did very well in the competition winning Gold for Best Taste, and Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Toffee. It rated 4 stars.

You can order Jensen toffee online.

Your results may vary

As you might have noticed my ratings don’t always match up with the ratings of the entire judging committee so no guarantees that my recommendations will meet your toffee expectations. And there were other toffees in the competition that won awards and rated stars that I had a different impression of. But I wanted to only showcase toffees that impressed me or that I thought were good renditions of the idea. If you are hungry for more, check out the full list of this year’s winners for yourself.

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Published May 31, 2023

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