Kansas City is rich with award-winning chocolate shops and candy makers. Here's a taste
Whether in bar form or bonbon, Kansas City's chocolate game is strong. In the city of Russell Stover, Kansas City chocolatiers are winning international awards, competing on national TV shows and pushing forward the confectionary arts.
This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.
Chocolate starts from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. Native to the Amazon rainforest, the tree produces an oblong fruit about the size of a football. With a slight Chiefs-red tint, this fruit is cracked open, and the almond-sized seeds are extracted, fermented, and roasted.
From there, the magic really happens.
Kansas City has put its own stamp on chocolate, with chocolatiers who take it as seriously as a sommelier does wine.
Russell Stover Chocolates truly brought fine chocolate to Kansas City. Originally from Alton, Kansas, Russell and his wife, Clara, began making candy in Chicago and created a nationwide sensation with their “Eskimo Pie” creation. After opening a candy business in Denver, the Stovers moved operations to Kansas City in the early 1930s, where their company took off.
Both are now buried in south Kansas City at the Mount Moriah Cemetery, where Russell Stover’s epitaph is written in dark brown to represent chocolate, and Clara Stover’s in cherry red.
While Russell Stover is very much around Kansas City (now owned by the Swiss company Lindt, its headquarters off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is hard to miss!), it set the scene for a city where some of the best chocolatiers now call home.
Here are some local shops you don’t want to miss — and may want to keep in mind as we approach the holiday season.
Panache Chocolatier in Leawood is run by Julie House, who this year was named a Six-Star Master Chocolatier in the International Chocolate Salon Awards — putting her in the rank of the best chocolatiers in America. Walking into Panache is like walking into a museum, with soft white walls highlighting the edible pieces of art on display.
Panache has a longer history in Kansas City — it operated on the Country Club Plaza for almost 40 years — but House and her husband bought the company in 2013 and moved it across the state line a few years later.
All of Panache’s chocolate is sourced from Columbia and Belgium, and it’s Fair-Trade Certified, which means it was ethically harvested. All of their confections are handmade without the use of artificial ingredients or extracts.
Especially enticing are their award-winning truffles, usually a small conical confection with a ganache center and dusted with cocoa powder, nuts, or roasted coconut.
Panache also serves ruby chocolate, which has a natural light rose pink color and is made from "ruby cacao beans." The variety was first introduced in 2017, and Panache has really embraced it: ruby chocolate has an almost bitter flavor that cascades down your tongue.
Panache also offers a champagne rose chocolate that is infused with rose petals, and a berry hibiscus chocolate. They even make a special truffle for “The Nutcracker” and donate 15% of the proceeds to the KC Ballet.
Cedar Street Toffee
The entrance to Cedar Street Toffee in Prairie Village starts with a brown door surrounded by white brick. It almost mimics the confections you will find inside.
For them, it’s all about toffee, which is traditionally made by caramelizing sugar and combining it with butter and flour — unlike caramel, which typically doesn’t have either butter or flour. But part of what makes Cedar Street’s toffee different is that they're completely gluten-free and don’t use flour.
Cedar Street, which was started by Teresa Spiess out of her house with neighbors, took years to perfect its toffee recipe.
Spiess says good toffee is about color, smell, and texture. If the toffee is cooked too long, it becomes hard. If not cooked enough, it’s too chewy. Her final test: Does it stick to your teeth? If so, then it’s not right just yet.
Cedar Street starts with a toffee encased with either milk or dark chocolate and embedded with roasted almonds or walnuts. But their bestseller is their white chocolate pistachio toffee. And for kids or people with allergies, she also sells nutless toffee that is perfect for dipping in peanut butter.
Laura Little's Candies
Laura Little’s Candies is Kansas City’s version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: It’s as if you stepped into a wonderful playland where candy, chocolate, and treats hang from displays like trees.
Opened in 1970, Laura Little’s Candies have supplied Prairie Village with hand-dipped chocolates and other treats, like chocolate-covered pretzels, maple pecan truffles, chocolate-covered mint Oreos, and something they call “pecan frogs.” This little two-inch delicacy has a hard candy bottom, is filled with nuts, and encased in chocolate.
But where Laura’s really embraces its Wonka is with their house-made fudge – they carry 27 different varieties, like chocolate amaretto and vanilla peanut butter, and you could spend all day figuring out which one to choose.
If you’re all chocolated out, pick up some of their popcorn, popped right in the shop. OK sure, they do have chocolate popcorn too, along with kettle and caramel.
Annedore's Fine Chocolates
Nestled in Westwood just off the Plaza, Annedore’s looks a little bit like a gingerbread house, with a tall Victorian spire rising above the door. Whimsical milk chocolate mustaches, cell phones, and chocolate coins immediately make you feel like you’re at a confectionary playground.
Annedore’s has been a chocolate destination for more than 30 years, but recently owner Shari Weedman has expanded to a new location in Shawnee as well as a sister store, Flying Cow Gelato.
Flying Cow Gelato serves gelato that’s made fresh daily and sorbet like dark chocolate – but the flavors change, so keep on the lookout for their newest offerings. The gelato is seasonal but will be back open in March.
As for Annedore’s chocolates, all of their truffles are homemade, from cookies and crème to Irish crème truffles made with Jamison and Baileys, from peanut butter dream to raspberry ganache
Their sea-salt caramels are especially noteworthy, but don’t confuse them with turtles — the confectionary kind, at least, combine nuts, caramel, and milk or dark chocolate.
Annedore’s seasonal offerings are well known this time of year, like their candy apples, which they pick from the orchard themselves. And around Christmas, their chocolate toothbrushes make excellent stocking stuffers.
Andre's Confiserie Suisse
Andre’s Confiserie Suisse, which has been run by three generations of the same family, is the closest thing to real Swiss chocolate as you can get in Kansas City.
Rene Bollier, the son of the owners, spent three years with masters in Switzerland to perfect their family recipe, which is made in that country and sent directly to Andre’s.
Bollier says that Andre’s has been taking “no shortcuts, and sticking with tradition” since 1955, and they now have two locations in the South Plaza and Overland Park. Of course, they give things their own twist, like in the Aztec spice hot chocolate, made with chipotle, serrano, and habanero peppers combined with vanilla and cinnamon to give the drink a pleasant heat.
At Andre’s, you’ll find items like chocolate orange peels, chocolate mint leaves, and of course an entire collection of Kansas City themed chocolates: footballs, whiskey caramel sauce, and discs with scenes from around the city.
One of their local standouts is the J. Rieger & Co chocolate shots: Think of it like a truffle, except instead of a ganache, it has an actual shot of J. Rieger’s gin, vodka, amaretto or vodka. You won’t want to nibble at it or you’ll spill the liquid; just pop it whole and let the edible cocktail do its work.
For something more savory, visit their cafes and tearooms, where you can enjoy a cheese plate or charcuterie board, croissants, quiches and other European-inspired entrees.
Sweet Kiss Brigadeiro
Sweet Kiss Brigadeiro brings the greatness of Brazilian confections to our city right on the Plaza. Brigadeiros are like a truffle, cake, and fudge all rolled into one, and created in the 1940s in honor of Brazilian brigadier general Eduardo Gomes.
The three main ingredients are butter, cocoa powder, and condensed milk (which became popular in the ‘40s due to rationing). At Sweet Kiss, that’s where the simplicity stops.
Mom-and-daughter owners Regina Antunes and Jessica Harris started Sweet Kiss in 2015 with a family recipe honed over generations. Some brigadeiros to try are the crème brulee and a “Romeo and Juliet” brigadeiro (with white chocolate, Parmesan cheese, and guava paste, then rolled in more Parmesan!).
You’ll have to show up early to get their seasonal pumpkin pie brigadeiro, which often sells out.
Bizz & Weezy Confections
Bizz & Weezy Confections gets its name from the World of Warcraft. The husband and wife owners, Jonathan and Amy Pitcher, played the game years ago together with their friends, and as they began to explore the world of chocolate, a friend suggested two WoW characters: Bizz and Weezy.
Their treats show off the same sense of adventure. They’ve been at it for 15 years and opened up downtown eight years ago. You won’t want to leave their downtown shop without trying a hot cocoa bomb: The size of a clementine orange, this chocolate ball contains marshmallows and cocoa powder. You take hot milk and pour over the ball so that it opens and creates the best cup of hot cocoa you will ever have.
Their caramel, which they say took 15 years to perfect, gets topped with sea salt from the Murray River in Australia. Bizz & Weezy also offer what they call loose caramel, which is softer than normal caramel but still contains all the buttery flavor with almost a hint of butterscotch. Jonathan Pitcher says it’s for people who like the taste of caramel but don’t want something as solid.
This Christmas, you’re also going to want to pick some of their eggnog, which they begin making in July and let age for six months. And their vegan caramels — made with coconut oil, coconut cream, and sustainably sourced chocolate — are more than a match for the real thing.
Christopher Elbow Chocolates
Christopher Elbow Chocolates is another Kansas City classic.
Beginning as a cook in Liberty, Missouri, Christopher Elbow told KCUR’s Up To Date that he moved to Las Vegas to work under chef Emeril Lagasse in the pastry department of the Delmonico Steakhouse. But then he fell in love with chocolate and baking, and in 2003 opened his own chocolate store in Kansas City.
The first thing you’ll notice about his chocolates are their brightness, which comes from how well they’re tempered.
One of Christopher Elbow’s bestsellers is the Fleur de Sel caramels with dark chocolate and French sea salt. The Rosemary infuses the fresh herb right into the truffle. And their beautifully-designed champagne truffle contains a milk chocolate ganache blended with French champagne.
For something truly decadent, try the drinking chocolate – not to be confused with hot cocoa. Hot cocoa is typically made from cocoa powder that has its fat (cocoa butter) removed, is lighter in taste and blended with hot water or milk.
On the other hand, drinking chocolate is made from cocoa with the fat intact and a whole lot thicker. Christopher Elbow’s spiced cocoa noir adds in chilis, cinnamon, and other spices.
And for the holidays, you won’t want to skip on the Christopher Elbow Chocolates advent calendar.
Tucked into a Blue Springs strip mall, Bliss Chocolatier owner and head chocolatier Jessica Washburn has spent years honing her craft. Listening to her explain the science of good chocolate feels like a masterclass – she gets excited when she talks about the form-5 beta crystal structure.
But it’s not just theory that Washburn has down: She competed in the NBC competition show “Baking It” in 2021, just three months after opening her shop, and came away with the $50,000 grand prize.
Bliss uses a type of chocolate called couverture chocolate from France, which is ground finer than other kinds and has a higher percentage of cocoa butter. Bliss prides itself on creating “bold American flavors” such as the Key lime cheesecake bonbon or the s’mores bonbon.
A bonbon is a molded chocolate that has a non-chocolate center, unlike a truffle. In the case of the key lime cheesecake, the bonbon has a graham cracker crust, a cheesecake ganache, and a key lime pate de fruit. Other flavors for Bliss bonbons include caramel apple, spiced pumpkin, and a hazelnut crunch.
Bliss is also a shop that embraces fun: They offer a chocolate pumpkin that you smash with a wooden mallet to reveal more chocolate treats inside. They even offer chocolate-making classes in the summer for all age groups – their website will open signups sometime around May.