For some reason, Eastern Europeans love chocolate fitted into the prettiest gift boxes anywhere in the world. The boxes come in all shapes and sizes. They’re decorated with traditional landscapes or embossed with gold and tied up in gold ribbon.
Credit or blame the French for this romance. Those lovers of bon-bons strongly influenced the cooking of Russian palace kitchens in the 19th century. Name a czar or czarina – Catherine, Nicholas, Alexander – and you’ll find something French from their courts that remains today, from blini, sauces and vinaigrette to an unrelenting desire for chocolate.
Today, young women working at Pacific Coast Foods in Citrus Heights say they loved eating chocolate while growing up in Russia. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is a billionaire from a business built in part by Roshen Chocolates.
But it’s the box, itself, that gets as much attention as the chocolate within. Any store with an Eastern European pedigree will have generous shelf space dedicated to these lavish gift boxes. Most originate in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries close to Russia’s current borders. Some still rely on the France-Russia exchange.
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Don’t worry if you can’t read the language. Turn the box over and you’ll see translations in English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and Thai, among others.
We’ve picked out some of the prettiest and eye-catching chocolate boxes ranging in price from around $6 to $25. We found them at the following stores: Good Neighbor European Deli, 5111 College Oak Drive, Sacramento; Pacific Coast Foods, 7263 Greenback Lane, Citrus Heights; and Neroe’s Bakery and Deli, 6451 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael.
Elaine Corn is an award-winning cookbook author and former newspaper food editor.
TRUFFLES AND TREES
Packaging: Striking box with tree of embossed gold and pretty gold tie.
Sweets: Semisweet cappuccino-flavored, large chocolate “kisses” dusted with cocoa rich enough to leave teeth marks while light on the palate.
Origin: From Moscow; $9.99
Packaging: Honor music lovers in your circle of family and friends with a big box illustrated with musical instruments.
Sweets: Melty orange-flavored chocolates with caramel interior, crystalline texture and a touch of Cognac.
Origin: From Moscow; $10.99
Packaging: Peach-colored box with curved overlay; “Wegebp” is prominently displayed.
Sweets: Large bites of swirly milk-chocolate shells conceal almond pieces and whole almonds – also in hazelnut – fixed in an airy toffee filling. Chocolates individually protected in gold wrappers.
Origin: From Ukraine; $9.99
Packaging: Three-cornered variety box.
Sweets: Color of the foils indicates the flavor of the jammy fillings in the snappy chocolate shells: Blue, bilberry (blueberry); green-gold, honey; green, black currant; orange, mountain ash, and red, cranberry.
Origin: From Belarus; $9.39
BIRD OF CHOCOLATE PARADISE
Packaging: A nature scene titled “White Russia” (as translated on the back of the box).
Sweets: Seven types of high-quality bon-bons with such names as “Souffle Minsk,” “A Bear in the Glade” and “A Forest Story” feature flavors of blackberry, apple or a biteful of solid semisweet chocolate.
Origin: From Belarusa; $18.99
CÉMOI HAT BOX
Packaging: Clever round hat box.
Sweets: Assorted fine chocolates, including heart-shaped milk chocolate with truffle praline, dark chocolate truffle squares, and white chocolate art deco shapes filled with coffee cream and cappuccino crisps.
Origin: From France; $25.99
YELLOW ROSE OF LATVIA
Packaging: Romantic roses in yellow (or red) cascade from the corners of the box.
Sweets: Laima semisweet chocolate hearts, rounds or rectangles (the latter embossed with a pretty rosebud) filled with cocoa cream, fruit jelly and milk fondant.
Origin: From Latvia; $6.99
Packaging: Jewel-toned boxes show Orthodox churches or images of the candies inside. Covers flip open like a laptop.
Sweets: In a ruby box, hazelnuts covered in semisweet chocolate beautifully presented individually in gold wrappers and packed like eggs. In an emerald box, classic semisweet hard chocolate shells break open to free a sluice of cherries floating in boozy Cognac-laced syrup. Each chocolate mound is prettily embossed with cherry design. From the “chocolate king’s” Roshen Chocolates.
Origin: From Kiev; Ukraine; $12.99 and $7.99
INSPIRED BY RIGA
Packaging: Scenes of Old Riga – called “City of Inspiration” – on a big box.
Sweets: Small delectable bites of dark nicely tempered and finely sculpted chocolate with fillings of hazelnuts, gooey milk caramel, solid chocolate and coffee-flavored chocolate.
Origin: From Vilnus, Latvia; $7.99