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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These 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).
- 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.