apricot, coconut and cacao nib treats

bite

A couple of months ago, I purchased a rather large packet of organic cacao nibs from Loving Earth. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll realize that I’m a big fan of this Melbourne-based company, mostly due to their fair-trade, sustainable philosophy, the high quality of their products and… well, the fact that they make healthy food taste delicious (not everyone can do that!).

Anyway, back to the cacao nibs. Upon bringing the package home, I opened it excitedly and placed a piece in my mouth, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. The nibs are hard, coarse like an almond shell, crunchy and bittersweet with rich undertones of dark chocolate and coffee. On the whole, they’re quite pleasant for something that resembles cracked tree bark. I ate another piece before closing the packet and storing it on a shelf next to one litre of coconut oil. Sadly, there it stayed… neglected and largely untouched for the next two months (other than the odd occasion when I’d sprinkle some cacao nibs into my morning breakfast bowl).

cacaonibs
So, let’s fast forward to earlier this week. After nibbling on some more cacao nibs, I decided that it was about time I knuckled down to create something delicious from this package of nutritional wonderment. I began trawling the internet, unearthing inspiration from recipes such as Kate Olsson’s Pumpkin and Cacao Nib loaves, Elizabeth’s Paleo Cookie Balls  Alanna’s  Snowballs and Sara Forte’s Peanut Butter Bites. If you follow the recipe links, you’ll see that each of these recipes is delicious in its own right. However, as the humidity of the morning set in, my fingers continued to search the net for something easy, nutritious and raw (I still can’t bear to use the oven in this weather). Enter Jo Whitton’s date and walnut stuffed, chocolatey Bliss Balls.

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Now, prior to this week, I’d never even heard of a bliss ball. However, after some further research I’ve discovered that there are over six million mentions of bliss balls on the world wide web. Six million (I must’ve been living in a hole). After investigating a few, I’ve decided that the definition of a ‘bliss ball’ is simply a sweet snack ball made from wholesome, raw ingredients (usually various dried fruits, seeds and nuts) with additional spices, sweetening agents (agave, honey, maple syrup), occasional starchy ingredients, cocoa and healthy fats. These ingredients are then either ground or pounded down into a sticky, rollable mixture that’s used to create bite-sized balls.

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Jo’s bliss ball recipe contains a delicious mix of ground cacao nibs, walnuts, fresh dates and rapadura sugar, prepared with a Thermomixes (these appliances are taking over the world, I tell you!). That leads me to a small personal statement: I am a teeny bit against Thermomixes. Predominantly because I believe that they, and similar appliances, may eventually ‘de-skill’ this next generation of potential cooks. I’ve always valued back-to-basics cooking, traditional kitchen skills and generational methods that take time and energy. There’s nothing better than pounding ingredients with a mortar and pestle for a curry paste, kneading dough on a floured bench top and practicing knife skills you hope to master. I want my children to learn the therapeutic and creative benefits of cooking, using their hands, heart and mind as opposed to a machine).

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Now, let me clarify something. I’m not suggesting we live like neanderthals in a squalid cave, gutting fish with a blunt knife. I definitely appreciate technology, particularly as most of us (particularly working parents) are so time-poor these days. Bench top appliances are a wonderful privilege of the industrial age, as are fridges, washing machines and electric or gas ovens. When balanced with traditional skills, they’re a time-saving and valuable addition to a busy kitchen. In fact, I used a food processor in my version of bliss balls, quite similarly to how Jo used her Thermomix in her recipe. However, in my case, the ‘time-saving’ element was… uh… minimal. Mostly because I own a very small stick blender with a chopper bowl attachment.

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Ah, my little blender. It’s a few years old, has a chipped stainless steel blade and a whirr that’s worse than a hammer drill. My husband hates it; he thinks that it’s going to make both of us deaf before our time. In fact, he once snapped some industrial ear muffs onto my head when I was making a batch of pesto… I didn’t even hear him creep up behind me. Funny, but… well, not. I now spend half of my time grinding things in a giant mortar and pestle, which is both wonderfully therapeutic and annoyingly slow. I’d love to receive any recommendations for a reliable, robust food processor that won’t break the bank. Please.

Anyway, moving on to the recipe below. What you’ll find is my version of ‘bliss balls’, using organic dried apricots, raw walnuts, chia seeds, activated buckwheat and cacao nibs. All of this delicious nutrition is then combined with a large dollop of coconut and chocolate goodness before being rolled into balls and drenched in dessicated coconut. Uh, yes, if you’re wondering… they’re still healthy. The Loving Earth coconut chocolate butter I used contains raw coconut oil, organic ground cacao, raw agave and sea salt. That’s it. So delicious.

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As I’m now at risk of sounding like a Loving Earth promoter, let me just clarify. I am not, in any way, affiliated with Loving Earth, I don’t receive products for free, I don’t get discounts or any other benefits. These views are entirely my own; I just like giving credit to companies that steward the earth lightly, responsibly and ethically, without compromise. That’s it, simple.

Anyway, on to my version of ‘bliss balls’. I hope you enjoy them.

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Apricot, Coconut and Cacao Nib Treats

Makes about 20 balls

  • 180g organic dried apricots
  • 100g raw walnuts
  • 3 tbsp organic coconut chocolate butter (substitute 2 tbsp organic coconut oil/butter + 1/2 tbsp raw, ground cacao nibs/organic cocoa + 1 tsp agave syrup, to sweeten)
  • 2 tbsp activated buckwheat
  • 2 tbsp whole raw cacao nibs
  • 1 tbsp black chia seeds
  • dessicated coconut, for rolling

Coarsely chop your apricots and walnuts. Reserve 2 tbsp of each, then place the rest into the bowl of a medium food processor. Process until fine. Add in your coconut chocolate butter (or equivalent) then pulse briefly until thoroughly combined, sticky and glossy.

blended

Remove mixture from the food processor and place in a large bowl. Add in the reserved apricots and walnuts, buckwheat, cacao nibs and chia seeds. Mix well until the additional ingredients are thoroughly combined with the chocolate base mixture.

If you find that the coconut oil separates slightly from the mixture (creating a layer of oil on the top) don’t worry, as this will be left behind when you form the mixture into balls. The coconut oil will also solidify when refrigerated, so the balls will firm up nicely.

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Shape 1 tbsp of the mixture at a time into a firm ball, then roll in dessicated coconut. Place onto a plate or lined baking tray. Repeat with the remaining mixture and coconut, then place the balls into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before serving.

ballThese balls will keep, refrigerated, for 2-3 weeks. Don’t be tempted to leave them out of the fridge unless you live in a cool climate – coconut oil liquefies at around 76-78 degrees f (24-26 degrees C).

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Notes:

  • This recipe is highly adaptable, as you may have guessed from the multitude of bliss ball variations out there! Feel free to substitute any of the fruits, nuts and seeds stated for other complimentary varieties. One of my favourite substitutions is to swap the dried apricots for Medjool dates and the walnuts for pecans… just make sure that you keep the total quantities of dry and moist ingredients roughly the same, or the mixture won’t produce results of the same consistency.
  • Cacao nibs are high in magnesium and antioxidants, whilst also containing trace elements of beta-carotene, amino acids (protein), Omega-3’s (essential fatty acids), calcium, zinc, iron, copper and sulphur. They’re great to eat alone as a crunchy snack or you can stuff them into Turkish apricots or Medjool dates for a nutritious and delicious sweet treat. They’re also quite adaptable as a more nutritious replacement for chocolate chips in all of your favourite recipes.
  • For some extra nutritional information on coconut oil, please see my Lime and Burnt Sugar Meringue Tart post. There are also some interesting links to articles exploring the long-term benefit of coconut oil consumption.
  • If you’d like to try Living Earth products and live in Australia, like I do, you may find this list of stockists useful. However, there are plenty of other companies that sell cacao nibs… just try to make sure that the product you’re buying is single origin, organically grown and fair trade. Preferably criollo amazonico cacao, an heirloom variety that’s currently being replanted in Peru.

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64 responses

  1. Yum. That coconut chocolate butter sounds like something I need to try, too.

    I recently acquired a Breville stick blender with bowl attachment but am yet to try it (late birthday present). My sister has a Kitchenaid food processor that I’ve used a couple of times and it was fun!

    • Ah, I’d love a Kitchenaid food processor… or a Kitchenaid mixer, for that matter! They’re unfortunately outside of my price range at the moment :( Mine is a Kambrook stick mixer… it’s really convenient & easy to use but I think the wattage isn’t high enough (or it’s not made well enough, one or the other!). I think the Breville’s are a little bit more resilient… they’ve got better online reviews. I’ll get you a jar of the coconut chocolate butter next time I do an online order from Loving Earth (probably next month, if you can wait that long). It’s so delicious… I even dip apple slices into it, mmm xx

  2. Bliss balls? I confess to never having heard of them either (& please note I didn’t let my inner Beavis and Buthead come out … heh heh) and now I’ll have to try it. Bite-sized sweets are perfect and love the fact that this is a very versatile and adaptable recipe. (& sorry to go on but have to add that I’m so with you re keeping up the traditional skills – I prefer to do almost everything by hand as well. Also, how the heck did you have a bag of delicious cacao nibs lasting for a couple of months? I won’t even tell you how fast that would have been polished were the roles reversed. Beautiful post!!!

    • Bahaaa! Azita, we think the same… Beavis & Butthead!! :) I’m glad that I’m not the only one who hasn’t heard of bliss balls. They are very yummy though… I told my husband he could eat one a day and he replied, “Only one?” with a sad face! Haha, I think that my next bag of cacao nibs won’t last as long, now that I know how delicious they are! I guess they’re still an unusual ingredient to me… I was a little late in joining the fan club and initially, I had no idea what to do with them. I’m going to experiment a little more now. And I love the fact that you choose to cook traditionally… especially in terms of the beautiful, time-honored Iranian and Persian dishes you produce. I think the result isn’t quite the same when when you cut corners, use bought herbs in a tube, or chuck everything into a food processor. Thanks for sharing, I appreciate it xx

  3. Well, I must have been living in the same hole…I’d never heard of bliss balls before, so thank you for enlightening me! I love reading your posts. You have a wonderful way of writing :)
    I’ve never cooked with cacao nibs before, but your recipe looks like a lovely place to start. They look and sound delicious! xo

    • Haha, well if you (the baking queen!) hadn’t heard of them then I feel a little better about my status of ignorance! :) So, now we’re out of the hole… I wonder what else there is to discover? Ecstasy cake? (ah, that sounds so bad… I won’t try and dream up any more titles!). Anyway, they’re definitely worth making… the recipe is an easy and delicious introduction to cacao nibs, if you haven’t really eaten them before. I still love ‘real’ chocolate chips but I’ll be interchanging them a bit more now, primarily for the health benefits :) xx

  4. Sounds really delicious, I own every appliance but still enjoy using my hands and arms and more rudimentary tools, don’t get me wrong, I love my stand mixer and can’t imagine beating a big bowl egg whites without but it’s kind of like planting, your hands in the dirt you feel closer to the land, it’s the same with food, there is something about touching it that brings you closer to what you are making, does that make sense? Anyway, great post, love the recipe and must try Loving Earth products.

    • Hello lovely! I’ve never used a stand mixer… but I’ve often been jealous of people who have them (ah, the other things I could do instead of standing over a bowl!!!). And yep, you’re right… there’s a sense of achievement when you can get your egg whites to firm peaks using a rudimentary hand-whisk (plus, your biceps get a work out, haha). But, that said, I think you’ve got the balance right… there’s definitely room for appliances, especially if you’ve got the pitter-patter of puggsy feet (Izzy and Nando!) in the kitchen! I do completely recommend Loving Earth, if you like whole foods that have been ethically and sustainably produced. I love the fact that a lot of their products are made in Australia; it’s a rare thing these days. I appreciate your views, and you make complete and utter sense to me!! x

  5. Yum! These sound delicious and so healthy. Thanks for the mention! You have a lovely site – looking forward to reading more. :)

    • Thanks Alanna, I definitely loved the snowballs recipe! I’m still checking out your blog archives but your photography, food ethos (I love myself some wholesome food, extra-fine chocolate and booze, thank you very much!!) and recipes are gorgeous. I’m currently eyeing the bacon, apple and maple scone recipe you have on there. Sounds amazing! x

    • Haha, well it sounds like we’ve got a pretty sizeable culinary community living in this hole (I’m imagining something more akin to an ant colony now!). You’re lucky that you don’t have a sweet tooth. I have the hugest weakness for desserts and chocolate so it’s a struggle to resist at the best of times. I’ve made a conscious decision recently to try and cut down on processed sugar, hence my venture into cacao, coconut oil and dried fruit. It’s not quite the same a Cadbury dairy milk (I am such a junk food chocaholic!) but still delicious. And good for me, to boot!

      • Too right! I’ve stopped all white sugar in my diet and it’s the first time in years I haven’t put on excess weight as I normally do during Winter. :)
        Aww, shame about piglet, though.

      • Haha… poor little piglet must be feeling neglected! Though, he should in fact be thanking you that he’s a healthier version of himself without all that white sugar!! :)

    • Thanks Sally, definitely agree! Though, if I had to choose between one of these and one of your Butterfinger cookies… ah, well yours would definitely win hands down, without a second thought (no, brain! I will not think healthy thoughts! No!).

  6. OK, you’re not alone. Bliss balls? New to me, but what a great idea for stuffing in your pocket for golfing/hiking! I’ve been looking for a substitute for the endless stream of granola bars :-)

    Mostly, I would like you to help me with my homework today – if you wouldn’t mind. Just started my first photography class so I can figure out how to use my new real camera instead of my iPhone. I’ll bet you could wrap up my assignment in a jiff! Love your photos….

    • Haha, yay! Yet another member of the culinary community who’s been living in the ant hole! :) Yep, these treats are definitely a worthy alternative to granola bars, though with the coconut oil they’ll need to be wrapped pretty well or you’ll end up with a greasy pocket! What can I do to help with your homework, my dear Jeannee? Happy to give you any tips… though I am sure that your photography teacher will be much better at explaining things! I love the photos you’ve taken with your iPhone. Pretty great standard, for a limited camera!

      • Manual settings are definitely hard to master. I usually use my digital on autofocus, as I haven’t yet purchased a DSLR! However, my brother in law and a couple of my friends own DSLR’s so I have been gradually trying to play around with the manual settings on theirs. Definitely worth it, in terms of the quality of photography. Just takes a little bit of time. You’ll get there lovely!!

    • Thank you lovely. They’re definitely within that category! I’m starting to really love cacao nibs… now that I’ve gotten used to the slightly bitter, crunchy flavour, they’re a pretty great substitute for chocolate chips. With added magnesium and potassium, to boot! x

  7. yay you’re onto cacao and coconut oil!! it’s officially safe for me to rummage your pantry again , happy days!:-) you know, I bought Aussie apricots the other day. but I rather like the idea of dates instead, at first I thought ‘oh no!! not Laura, hang on, maybe she’s fishing for a thermomix sponsor, oh no, that’s worse! thankfully, we can still be friends, good recovery babe, of course I would have just said, thermomixes are for lazy bitches!, if i have time to cook properly, everyone does! but no, your way was a much more pleasant read, as always, totally gona try it , love ya work x

    • (Phone struggling to keep up) sunbeam mixmaster, comes with bowl attachment, you need the high watt one (two to choose from) worth paying a little more for, use mine at least twice a week, still going strong, can’t say the same for my bench top mixer thing though, used it 5 or so times in 3 years, motor stuffed, out of warranty, def go kitchen aid if u ever got one of those dubeywackers

      • Bahaaa, you make me laugh Vic! Nope, definitely not seeking a Thermomix sponsor… a Vitamix, on the other hand, I’d adore one!! I just discovered this freaking amazing device yesterday, when searching for the most powerful blender/processor on the market. Completely out of my price range, but I’m imagining how easy it’d be to create curry pastes, smoothies, pesto, liquify beetroot or carrots, crush ice cubes for cocktails… *sigh* I guess you have to pay for quality. I might go looking for a Sunbeam mixmaster. I think I remember using yours in the past and it was much quieter and more powerful than mine. Thanks honey bun, and yes… I’ve been using coconut oil for a while now. Cacao is the more recent addition… I still prefer junk-food chocolate but I know the nibs are much better for me ;)

  8. Is the vitamix basically a blender and processor in one? Can’t imagine that’d be too expensive, I picked up my mixmaster on gumtree, unopened gift, it was like $60 or something silly, still works well even after your mad husband tried to blend whole raw carrots with it! Seriously, maybe you shouldnt invest too much coin on your appliances ;-) I can’t even tolerate junk food quantities of Cadbury anymore, sad realizations this week :-( damn it!

    • I put the Vitamix link up in my response to your comment, just click on the word ‘Vitamix’ for more info. It’s basically a super-efficient blender/processor that has a RRP AU$995. I haven’t read all of the details but I think there are many reasons why it’s considered to be one of the best on the market. Definitely out of my price range, though I am tempted by the idea that I could create incredibly healthy meals with it (including some raw vegan food options that I currently can’t make as my stick blender is crap). Re the raw carrots, haha!! Well, at least Mark was trying to use the blender in the first place?!? I love how he creates things from scratch in the kitchen, it’s awesome :)

    • Aw, Uru, thanks so much. Your blog has been equally stalked by my good self! So glad to see you back in the blogsphere (can’t wait to read more of your recipes and stories) x

  9. I usually just skim the recipe blogs but your photographs are superb and your writing is funny. The crazy loud blender part made me want to hang out in your kitchen!

    • Thanks lovely, I appreciate your feedback. I guess you’ve discovered my secret… I’m a bit of a closet writer so this blog functions as a triple form of expression: cooking, writing and photography. You are welcome in my kitchen any time, just make sure that you bring your industrial ear muffs (oh, and I will not be responsible if you overdose on Hendrick’s spiced orange syrup cocktails, I’m currently perfecting the recipe!)

  10. These photos are all so lovely! The way that they’re positively drenched in light makes the scene looks so warm and cheerful, not to mention that it brings out all the details and textures of the ingredients. It all looks delicious, but especially the finished treats.

    • Thanks for the feedback Hannah! Well, in terms of photography… it’s all a product of Australian Sunday morning sunshine :) I don’t have any fancy lighting equipment or a DSLR camera so at the moment I’m relying on plentiful natural light to shoot good photos. My husband and I are currently contemplating the purchase of a better-quality camera (argh!) but for the moment, I’m pretty happy how things are turning out with our little digital. Thanks for taking the time to comment x

    • Haha, well with the nourishing ingredients it’s nice to know that we can eat a couple more daily and still feel good about it (just like your yoghurt pancakes, mmm… maybe I’ll make those and then crumble one of these balls into the yoghurt filling!). Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Hugs! xx

  11. I love the name bliss ball but have never heard of it before now! Usually when I make things similar to these I use dates, but I’m sure apricots are even better. As far as kitchen appliances go, I pretty much own them all, but there are times when I use my hands (mostly for bread making) because I need to get personally involved with my food. You know what I mean? Anyways, I love having it for those times when I just need to get things done quickly. That being said, I have a cuisinart 9-cup food processor which I adore. Getting lucky is key because I found it at a store going out of business for at least 50% off.

    • Hi lovely. I would’ve probably used dates if I had them at the time, but I had a nice big bag of organic apricots that were begging to be used for something delicious! I think you’ve got a good balance going in terms of appliances and traditional methods. Isn’t bread kneading therapeutic? I find it so relaxing, as it’s gentle exercise and it makes me feel a little bit like I’m back in a prairie kitchen somewhere! Glad you were able to get your processor on sale. I love, love getting a kitchen bargain! Hmm, I’ll look out for the Cuisinart processor if you recommend it. 9 cups sounds awesome – enough space for pretty much anything you’d need to blend! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!! xx

    • Hello Julie and Katrin! Thanks for the lovely comment! I absolutely love your food ethos and your generosity of heart and spirit. I bet your version of the balls were absolutely delicious. Take care. It’s wonderful to have you both as beautiful blogging friends xx

    • Thanks lovely Ahu. They’re definitely very moreish! Just took another look at your gorgeous blog. I wish I had your cooking know-how tonight… I’m going to try my hand at a chicken tagine with chermoula, harissa-spiked yoghurt and a saffron, rosewater and pistachio pudding. It’s a family celebration day so I wanted to do something a little special! Can’t wait! x

    • Thanks lovely Claire. They are pretty yummy… my husband’s been snacking on them all week! He’s still amazed that they’re actually nutritious, and I love that. Yay for naturally sweet, nutrient-dense dried fruit :)

    • Haha. We’d need to ration them then! I did exactly the same thing with our chocolate stash – two squares per day; no more, strictly :) Loving these treats as an alternative though. Despite the sugar content, these are decidedly better for you than ice-cream and chocolate. They’re delicious too… from the day I made them, we’ve (my husband and I) been quite happy to eat one of these instead of other sweet things. So good! So easy to make, too.

    • Haha, I’ve never eaten straight peanut butter but, uh… Nutella is a completely different story!! I’ve stopped buying it because I couldn’t stop myself eating it straight from the jar! Definitely safer to have a stash of bliss balls in the fridge. My husband thinks they taste like a complete dessert and that makes me happy!

    • Naw, thank you so much Pamela! They’re definitely delicious. I like the level of sweetness exactly as they are, but one of my chocaholic friends recently told me that they’re only just sweet enough for him (but he eats entire blocks of chocolate so I figure his sweetness tolerance is high!). Hope that you enjoy them as much as I enjoy reading your recipes (which is lots!) xx

  12. Pingback: Flourless Orange and Cacao Cake with Spiced Orange Syrup (with Hippy Vic) « Laura's Mess

  13. like you I bought some Loving Earth cacao nibs (today) and tasted them….hmmm…not very inspiring. I thought they might go in bliss Balls so found your post – yay – I love your blog but I also copied your recipe (with a few changes) but added cacao nibs and yum! they are the best bliss balls I have made. Thanks

    • Hello lovely. Yes, the cacao nibs taste pretty horrid on their own but they’re wonderful when you combine them in the bliss ball mixture! So glad that you adapted these, that’s what my recipes are for! Thanks for letting me know xx

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