raw cacao mint truffles

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The following recipe was created for my beautiful friend Stephie’s blog, Eat Your Heart Out, as part of her ‘Friends First‘ series for April. I’m re-posting it here primarily for organizational reasons.

I initially stumbled across Stephie’s blog in September last year. I can’t quite remember how (I initially thought it was through her mother, Julie, an equally kind and humorous reader of this blog. In hindsight, I think that she found me through Stephie) but after reading this post I was hooked by Stephie’s down-to-earth warmth, positivity and heartfelt honesty.

I’ve since been a loyal follower of Stephie’s blog (in part because of her incredible baked goods) whilst progressively discovering her feeds on facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And you know what? She’s an amazing inspiration.

Even if she doesn’t like chocolate (yeah… I don’t get it either).

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So, onto the recipe. I shared this method for raw cacao mint truffles with Stephie’s readers for two reasons; 1) Stephie hadn’t posted a similar recipe before, and 2) I figured that northern hemisphere readers might appreciate a ‘healthy sweet treat’ in the lead up to summer’s swimsuit months.

The biggest selling point is the fact that they’re no-cook, a.k.a ridiculously easy to prepare. In ten minutes, you’ve got something deliciously satisfying that’s also healthy. It’s a sweet treat to satisfy any chocolate craving.

So without further ado, scroll down for my raw cacao mint truffle recipe. Each bite is packed with both goodness and flavour, so your heart and your body will thank you.

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Raw Cacao Mint Truffles

Makes approximately 20 balls

  • 1 cup (100g) raw almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup (60g) raw cacao powder (substitute Dutch process cocoa)
  • 1-2 tsp cacao nibs
  • 4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp (15-30ml) raw honey*, maple syrup or agave, to sweeten
  • 1 tbsp (15ml) water
  • 2 tbsp (30ml) coconut oil
  • 1-2 drops peppermint oil, to taste
  • Cacao powder, cocoa or desiccated coconut, to roll

Place the almond meal, cacao, dates, water and coconut oil into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture starts to come together. Taste and add some honey, maple syrup or agave to sweeten if required (I used 2 tbsp of honey, however if you’ve used cocoa instead of cacao powder you’ll probably require a little less). Process again and tip into a medium sized bowl.

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Add the cacao nibs and a drop of peppermint oil. Mix together, using your hands or a metal spoon. Taste again and add a little more peppermint oil if desired.

With clean hands, roll the mixture into balls (I used ½ tablespoon of mix per ball). Roll each ball into some cocoa powder or desiccated coconut before placing them onto a lined baking tray. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve*.

*Use maple syrup or agave as a vegan alternative to honey. Do not keep these balls at room temperature or they will become very soft.

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peanut butter, banana and cacao ‘cheesecake’

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Definition: Cheesecake (from Wikipedia):

‘…a sweet dish consisting primarily of a mixture of soft, fresh cheese (not always cream cheese), eggs, and sugar; often on a crust or base made from crushed cookies or graham crackers, pastry or sponge cake. It may be baked or unbaked. Cheesecake is usually sweetened with sugar and may be flavored or topped with fruit, whipped cream, nuts, fruit sauce and/or chocolate.’

Houston, we have a problem. This cheesecake has no cheese. And, uh… no eggs, no sugar and no cookie base. I guess the obvious conclusion is that it’s not actually a cheesecake. At all.

nibsmontHaving said that, the concept of a raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ definitely isn’t a new one. A quick search via Google reveals over two million variations on the raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ concept. Granted, most of them are from late 2012 to early 2013 (arguably, a period where raw food has burgeoned in popularity) however the Laura-Jane aka The Rawtarian posted a raw cheesecake recipe in February 2011 that has since formed a basis for many adaptations around the blogosphere. Like this one, created last week (by me, the skeptical omnivore) as a going-away-party contribution for my gorgeous friend Kerryn (who has her own vegan blog, Lawn and Tofu Salad; hilarious hand-drawn photo extract from Kerryn’s blog below) who will soon be departing for a six-month trip around Europe.

DBAVtoattractguysI’m kinda jealous, but happy for her at the same time (don’t you hate mixed feelings!); she’ll be doing an organic farmstay, visiting family and friends, tearing up London and attending a Jane Austen Festival in the birthplace of Austen; Bath, Somerset, in South West England. If there’s anyone who was born to dress as Elizabeth Bennet and dance with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, it’s Kerryn. Though, upon reflection she may have fated quite poorly in male-dominated 18th Century (the birth time of Jane Austen). She’s one of the strongest, most opinionated and intelligent women I know; despite being absolutely beautiful, she’s more known for her love of chemistry, superior intellect, vegan diet and sharp wit.

Actually, she and Jane, both with ‘extraordinary endowments of mind’ probably would have become fast friends and started a revolution. But again, I digress… back to the going-away-party (those words don’t really require hyphens but I just felt like putting them there).

coconutoilmontIt was held on a cold Tuesday night in a hearth-warmed kitchen in suburban Perth. With cold hands, we sipped homemade tomato soup from vintage earthenware bowls before devouring spicy bean chilli with organic corn chips, cashew sour cream, cashew cheese and guacamole. I ate and ate. Then ate some more, and washed everything down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. Everything was delicious, but notably cashew-dominant.

After finishing the savouries, we sat around the communal table and contemplated life’s big questions (mostly political issues, with a dash of life and travel). I sipped from a cup of steaming Earl Grey tea with a dash of almond milk and realised that I was very full; not uncomfortably so, but to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to eating a wedge of dessert-style cashew cheese. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’d be aware that I’m quite a fan of vegan food. I make many vegan salads and I love using flax eggs, chia seeds and nutritional yeast. However, despite the fact that my diet has been about 80% plant-based for over a year, the idea of cashew cheese, cashew sour cream and raw dessert was entirely new to me. And, perhaps by bad design, I consumed all three in one night.

cakemont2So, the main event (aka the central theme of this post): at about 9.30pm, the vegan cheesecake appeared. It looked beautiful; glossy, rich, thick and dark against the ripe red strawberries. The scattering of cacao nibs resembled chocolate chips and all mouths at the table (vegan, coeliac, omnivorous and 50% carnivorous) uttered words of absolute praise and expectation. My stomach turned. I dished out small pieces to all guests at the table, making sure to include a few ripe strawberries. To be honest, this cake is exceptionally appealing. The layers of vanilla (speckled with date) and chocolate were distinct and moist in texture, with scattered ribbons of peanut butter and crunchy cacao.

toppings2My first bite was a delicious surprise. This cake is moist, creamy and texturally pleasing; each bite had a crunch of bitter cacao, sweet notes of date and banana, and undertones of rich chocolate. The date and nut base was chewy. I can only describe it as ‘savoury but sweet’ due to the toasty notes of almond and walnut, enrobed with sweet Medjool date and pure cacao. Murmurs of pleasure could be heard around the table, alongside some obvious flavour analysis: ‘I can taste banana… oh, and there’s some date in there’; ‘…yeah, there’s some peanut butter, but I’d call it Banofee Pie’.

For a first attempt at a raw vegan cheesecake, I was quite happy with the feed back. Especially from those in the carnivorous category. But strangely, half-way through my slice, I paused. My spoon hovered over the cake and my brain switched into ‘dislike‘ mode. I was quite confused, and attributed the negativity to ‘cashew overload’. I pushed my plate away.

pbmontThe following evening, I completed a ‘cake post-mortem’ with my husband after a dinner of homemade lamb koftas, flatbread, tzatziki, carrots with pomegranate molasses and amped-up tabouli with lemon oil and goats cheese. He simply commented that the cake ‘tasted good’, but as a ‘cheesecake’, it failed dismally. I scraped the last shiny pomegranate beads off my plate, chewing my last piece of meat thoughtfully. Yes. It made sense, as… well, vegan cheesecake sans cheese is really a nut pie. Delicious, but… well, pointless if you’re an omnivore and you’re hankering after a creamy slice of cheese heaven. After savouring several chunks of smooth, salty and utterly creamy goats cheese, I understood. My brain, my sensory memory and my mouth had been in absolute, unresolvable conflict. It hurt.

So, after that ridiculously long introduction… let me just say that this cake is delicious. If you’re vegan, feel free to call it a ‘cheesecake’ as it’s composition (discounting ingredients) resembles the aforementioned dessert quite well. However, if you’re an omnivore like me, I’d recommend calling it a Nut Pie; this may avoid personal confusion, cheese withdrawal symptoms and painful (unnecessary) brain activity in the middle of the night (for a food obsessive like me). Either way, make this cake. It’s a deliciously healthy addition to any dessert repertoire.

caketopPeanut Butter, Banana and Cacao ‘Cheesecake’ (aka ‘Nut Pie’)

Makes one 20cm cake

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups nuts (I used half almonds and half walnuts) soaked for 1 hour
  • 3/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)

Filling:

  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour
  • 1/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup (substitute any liquid sweetener, e.g. maple syrup or honey)
  • seeds from one vanilla bean (substitute 1 tsp natural vanilla essence)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)
  • water, as required

Extras:

  • 4-6 tbsp organic (no salt or sugar added) peanut butter
  • 5 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1 x 200g punnet of strawberries (optional)
  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced (optional)

To make the crust: Blend the soaked and drained nuts in a food processor until they reach a coarse breadcrumb-like consistency. Add in the chopped dates and cacao. Blend until the mixture starts to stick together.

crustmixPress into a greased (I used coconut oil) and lined 20cm springform tin, ensuring that layer of mixture is even and around 3-5mm thick. Refrigerate whilst you make the filling.

cashewsoakmontTo make the filling: Blend the soaked and drained cashews in a food processor until they reach a fine consistency. Add in the dates, bananas, coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla. Continue to blend until the mixture reaches a creamy, smooth consistency (add a little water to the blender if the mixture gets ‘stuck’  around the blade, or if it appears to be too thick).

bananadateSeparate the mixture into two bowls. Add the cacao powder to one, stirring vigorously until the mixture is smooth and chocolately brown with no dry patches of cacao. You now have two batches of filling to create attractive layers in your cake: 1) vanilla with banana and date, 2) chocolate.

layer1To assemble: Remove your cheesecake base from the fridge. Pour or spoon over the vanilla filling and smooth with the back of a knife. Warm your peanut butter briefly in the microwave until it’s smooth and easy to drizzle. Pour half of the peanut butter onto the vanilla filling, ensuring that it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs.

layer2Now it’s time for layer two: carefully place spoonfuls of your chocolate mixture over the vanilla layer, taking care not to displace the ripples of peanut butter and scattered cacao nibs. Smooth the mixture out until you have an even layer, with no patches of vanilla showing through. Tap your tin softly against the bench top to ensure that no air pockets remain.

layer3Ripple over the remaining peanut butter and sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs (reserve 1 tbsp for serving). If necessary, use a knife or spoon to ensure that the peanut butter is evenly distributed on the final layer of the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, or preferably overnight.

layer4To serve: carefully loosen the sides of your springform tin. Use a large flat-bladed knife or spatula to ease the cake away from the base of the metal tin. Remove all traces of the baking paper and transfer to a serving platter.

Cut half of your strawberries (optional) and scatter some over the top of the cake. Place the rest of the strawberries around the sides of the plate, to be eaten alongside the cake (*I didn’t have an extra banana to spare, but definitely add some fresh slices to the top of the cake if you have one on hand. The fresh fruit compliments the rich chocolate and banana filling perfectly). Top with the remaining 1 tbsp cacao nibs.strawbsWarning: This cake is very (very!) rich, so I’d recommend serving it in small slices with a hot cup of tea (even for those with big appetites; err on the side of caution. You can always have a other slice if you finish the first one with gusto. Don’t say I didn’t warn you).

strawbdateNotes:

  • Use the best quality blender or food processor you have to make this cake. Anything less will either result in blender burnout (adding a ‘burnt’ taste to your mix or breaking your blender altogether… uh, yep that’s me) or a grainy consistency within your filling. Invest in a good blender for the long-term (I have recently ordered the Ninja online, can’t wait til it arrives! Thanks Whit and Sally!)
  • If your mixture seems too firm/viscous and gets stuck in your food processor, feel free to add a little more water or another complimentary liquid (e.g. a little bit of almond or oat milk). If your mixture becomes too loose, it may require a few hours in the freezer to set before serving. Leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.
  • Feel free to substitute different nuts for the base layer of this cake. Great complimentary flavours include macadamias and pecans. I wouldn’t recommend switching the cashews for another nut in the cake filling though; cashews are a reasonably neutral, subtly sweet nut. Other varieties such as almonds and walnuts would likely become overpowering.
  • This cake would work beautifully in individual tart pans or jars for a dinner party. Make sure you grease each pan or jar well with coconut oil (as it would be difficult to line each with baking paper) and sprinkle the sides with raw dessicated coconut to prevent sticking. Take a look at this beautiful vegan chocolate cheesecake from The Bojon Gourmet, served in individual jars. Perfect for an extra-special vegan indulgence.
  • I also considered topping this cake with a drizzle of Coconut Chocolate Butter from Loving Earth, but my jar of butter sadly solidified in this chilly Perth Winter weather. Next time, I am going to blitz the sucker in the microwave briefly, before succumbing to a delicious river of chocolatey, coconutty goodness. I recommend that you do, too.

*Have a wonderful trip Kerryn! Can’t wait to follow your blogging adventures at the organic farmstay!

spiced hummus, flatbread, rainy days and radishes

I’m feeling a little sentimental today. Maybe it’s something to do with the onset of winter, the seemingly endless rain and the fact that I’m sore and sniffly for the fourth time in just over two months. Yeah, I think I’m sad. Or more accurately, suffering from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, more commonly known as the ‘winter blues’. That’s what I tell myself, anyway, as I curl up in a little ball under a polar fleece blanket with lingering melancholy seeping into my bones like moisture into porous stone.

Now, enough with the self-indulgent crap. I have had several opportunities today to do things that would never be possible on a normal working Tuesday:

  • I slept for seven daylight hours (SEVEN!) before waking up at approximately 8.15pm in a strange state of the unknown (ever had one of those moments where you wake up, still half unconscious, uncertain as to where you are or whether it’s night or day? Yep, it was one of those times). I then messaged my husband and was reminded that I’m Grover from the Muppets, on holidays in the Bahamas. How could I forget?
  • I read six chapters of an amazing book called Sidetracked by Henning Mankell. Now, I’m not a habitual reader of crime fiction but Swedish writer Mankell is pretty darn good. Even if I did need to Google what a ‘rape field’ was (if you’re equally curious, rape is a flowering plant related to canola, used primarily for production of vegetable oil and biodiesel. Interesting).
  • I ate snacks on the couch with my love whilst he worked on his VFX essay for college. Whilst eating radishes, hummus and seasoned flatbread I learnt that the ‘bluescreen’ method used for chroma key compositing was actually invented way back in the 1930’s by an American named Larry Butler to be used on the film ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ (1940). Smart guy.
  • I watched this video of Charley the Duck. Over and over and over. Especially 0:37. So freaking cute.

Now, as this is a food-related blog I’m naturally going to include a few notes about the snacks we had earlier, which are supremely simple to make but really delicious. Alongside instructions for seasoned flatbread and my version of hummus, I’ve also included a simple recipe for lemon-infused olive oil which is my go-to topping for extra delicious hummus, ciabatta slathered in borlotti bean puree, or even just seamed asparagus, green beans or broccolini. Yum.

So… read on for the promised recipes, young padawan. And be thankful for couch days, rain that waters the earth, sleep, ducklings, a body that heals and loved ones who give therapeutic hugs when you’re feeling down. Take pleasure in the small things. I’m beginning to realise that they’re all I need.

Spiced Hummus

Makes about 1 cup

  • 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 2 heaped tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1/2 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp dried cumin seeds
  • sea salt, to taste

Add your garlic, chilli flakes, cumin and a sprinkle of sea salt to a mortar and pestle and grind to a smooth paste. Place in the bowl of a food processor with your chickpeas and a little lemon juice. Blend until the ingredients form a thick paste. Add the rest of your lemon juice and about half the olive oil. Blend again, until the mixture looks thick, smooth and creamy (if it’s too thick or grainy, add in more olive oil and taste as you go). Taste, and season with a little more salt if necessary.  Place in a bowl and top with a drizzle of lemon oil to serve.

Lemon-Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

If you can’t be bothered infusing your own oil, my favourite shop-bought variety is Australian Cobram Estate Lemon Infused extra virgin olive oil. I’m not in any way associated with Cobram Estate but their products are both delicious and easy to find in your local supermarket.

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large lemon

Use a sharp knife to remove the zest from your lemon in large strips. If necessary, scrape off any remaining white pith prior to using.

Place your olive oil in a small saucepan over very low heat. When slightly warmed, add in the prepared lemon zest. Allow to steep for around 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Place your oil and lemon zest into a sterilised bottle or jar. Cap well, and store in a cool, dark place.

Notes: the zest will continue to infuse more lemon flavour into your oil with time. When it gets to a level that suits you, remove it as required. You can also use this method to steep other flavours into your olive oil, such as chilli, vanilla beans (great with fish) or herbs. Just make sure that you don’t allow the oil to overheat (smoke) or simmer as you’ll destroy it’s flavour and quality.

Grilled Flatbread with Mint, Honey and Paprika

  • 2 large wholemeal pitta breads (substitute with lavash, mountain bread or any other flatbread)
  • 2 tsp dried mint
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp crushed walnuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Honey, to drizzle
  • Optional: 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Optional: fresh mint, chopped, and goat’s feta

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (360 degrees f). Place your flatbread directly on the bars of your oven rack to toast. When crisp but not browned, drizzle over some honey and then top with your herbs, spices, walnuts and Parmesan, if using. Place back into the oven and toast until your bread is brown and crisped, the nuts look toasted and your spices have browned and formed a gloriously sticky coating with the honey and Parmesan.

If you’re going to eat this flatbread on it’s own, I’d recommend scattering over some fresh mint and smearing it with fresh goat’s feta. You could even drizzle over some pomegranate molasses. But for a simple and delicious option, just break it into pieces and eat whilst still warm with lashings of hummus.

Notes: Feel free to use this seasoning on Turkish bread or sliced ciabatta. Grill until the exterior is crisp and browned, then dip into your spiced hummus. Yum. The flatbread is also wonderful topped with both hummus and a generous spoonful of kale salad for lunch or a satisfying snack.

About Radishes:

Today was the first day that I’ve eaten radishes in about three years, and I bought them primarily because of their beautiful crimson hue. However, I did a bit of research and they’re actually very good for you. Eat some with your hummus, and enjoy the crisp heat of yet another vegetable that not only looks good, but is great for your body. God is definitely the master designer.

  • Radishes contain only 16 calories (0.0669kj) per 100g. So you can pretty much eat them til you explode and you’ll still be thin. Just… exploded.
  • They’re a rich source of antioxidants including eaxanthin, lutein and beta carotene whilst also being packed with dietary fibre.
  • Fresh radishes provide 15 mg or 25% of the daily recommended dietary intake of vitamin C per 100g.  Vitamin C is a powerful water soluble antioxidant required by the body for synthesis of collagen. It also fights free radicals which in turn works towards the prevention of cancer and inflammation whilst generally boosting immunity.
  • Radishes also contain folate, vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamin and minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper and calcium.

“Eating pungent radish and drinking hot tea makes the starved doctors beg on their knees”

– Chinese proverb [*Please note: by including this proverb I am not condoning nor encouraging the starvation of any medical practitioners, via the purchase of radishes or otherwise]

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