Best of the Bonbons With swirls of color and eye-catching graphics, they're exquisite to look at--and luscious to eat
By Leslie Land

(MONEY Magazine) – Neither as sturdy as bars nor as fragile as truffles, these rich confections are ideal gifts. Just don't buy them too far ahead; they are at their best for only a fortnight or so. Here, listed alphabetically, are the favorites of MONEY's panel of tasters.

FRAN'S CHOCOLATES LTD. Coconut Gold Bar, 12 (1.6-ounce) bars, $24 800-422-3726 It's amazing what happens to an Almond Joy when a master chocolatier gets her hands on it. Finely shredded coconut is suspended in white chocolate ganache that has a faint whiff of rum (we wouldn't mind a bit more). The chocolate coating is dark and smooth, with just enough bitterness to keep the filling from falling into sugar overload. The toasted almonds taste just like toasted almonds, but in this environment they seem to have found their true calling.

GANACHE CHOCOLATES 20-piece box, $37.15 239-561-7215 After touring the world as a corporate pastry chef for Ritz-Carlton, Norman Love set up shop in Fort Myers, Fla., and the standout here has its roots in the Sunshine State. The marble-swirled raspberry domes are delicious, and the gold-flecked palets d'or are so rich you could cut them in quarters. But it's the green-dotted key-lime triangles that made our testers swoon with delight.

JACQUES TORRES 50-piece all-dark assortment, $43 718-875-9772 The factory is modern--state-of-the-art--but it has a winning way with old-fashioned flavors. The hazelnut variations were tasters' favorites, along with the well-balanced combination of apricot and almond. These chocolates are slightly less expensive than others of a similarly high class, but the thing that gives them the best-value title is that (compared with their competitors) the few that were left after our tasting were still delicious almost a month later.

JUBILEE CHOCOLATES 28-piece box of darks, $32.50 800-747-4808 This Philadelphia company follows the upscale menu tradition, crediting a local school for the mint, explaining that the coffee comes from a fair-trade Mexican farmers' cooperative, telling you who grew the fruit for the spectacular raspberry squares. Jubilee doesn't say whose idea it was to keep the shapes--and the packaging--a symphony of simplicity that complements the first-rate flavors instead of getting in the way.

L.A. BURDICK Chocolate mice, nine for $22 800-229-2419 The dark mice are filled with an equally dark, very rich ganache that is quite strongly flavored with orange. The white ones have the same dark filling, except that the accent is cinnamon. Both come with toasted almond ears and a silk tail. This New Hampshire company also offers a good assortment of more conventional chocolates and has an especially adept hand with herbs and spices.

RICHART CHOCOLAT Discovery small ballotin, $70 888-742-4278 Okay, we're impressed. The collection comes in a pristine white box with three pullout drawers. The chocolates come in three sizes: smallish, teeny-tiny and ultrathin. Each is topped with graphics worthy of an op artist, and most of the flavors justify the rather breathless description of techniques and ingredients. The chocolate itself is ultrasmooth, and because there is more of it in proportion to the filling, the little squares are especially true to the idea of "chocolate" candy.

THE ART OF CHOCOLATE 15-piece box, $20 888-880-1472 Most high-end chocolatiers go for simple shapes that give the illusion that the chocolates are handmade--they usually aren't--but Patrick Coston uses fancy molds to distinguish his exquisite fillings. Once you know the dark chocolate browned butter is the one with the ridged, white-striped dome, you can snatch it the instant the box opens--unless you are reaching for the swirled coffee caramel or the dark "ruby" that is intensely orange inside. When even banana is worth fighting over, you know you have a winner. --L.L.