One of the main themes threading through my courses and workshop is the importance of eating a rainbow every day – a fresh produce based one not a skittles one (as on that rather surreal advert)! People are sometimes surprised when I include brown on the rainbow, but in the world of powerful, colourful phytonutrients, brown is good, especially when it comes in the form of chocolate.
Before you jump for joy, that’s not all types of chocolate, sorry! For the more chocolate, or cacao, is refined and processed, the more it loses its magical properties and can end up as harmer not healer. Raw, unrefined cacao powder is packed with a group of helpful phytonutrients called polyphenols. There’s been a lot of research recently about this group as they appear in many of our favourite ‘treats’ like coffee and red wine, and supplement companies are researching the best ways to capture their magic and put it in pill form. I still believe the best way of getting them is through eating a wide range of wonderful, fresh plants (but then I would!).
It’s the flavanols in cacao which are particularly good, working together as a team. It appears they have some anti-inflammatory effects, soothing the body which can only be good in our hectic, stressful lives. Flavanols also improve blood flow, are good for heart health and possibly for brain health too, for better blood flow in the brain means more oxygen and nutrients get delivered and harmful by-products whisked away more rapidly before they can get up to mischief.
Heat reduces the beneficial flavanol content by up to 60%; cocoa powder is heated and refined as are most chocolate products. Adding sugar, refined fats and dairy products changes it again, each step making it less helpful. But it also tends to make it more palatable, and a sugar/fat combo hits our pleasure centres, which is why a chocolate bar tastes so good!
Raw cacao powder can be quite bitter; these chocolate brownies solves that problem by mixing it with dates and nuts, making it super rich and delicious instead. And because there’s no baking involved, the cacao keeps its nutritional properties, and gains a few more along the way from the other ingredients. I love it when cake is a health food!
A word of warning – these chocolate brownies are not cheap to make nor low in calories, but because they are so dense and packed with fibre, they’re incredibly filling and you can only manage a small amount at a time. They also freeze well, so you can make a batch and pop some away for another day. If you don’t have any cacao nibs, feel free to leave them out. They add texture and a little extra chocolatiness, but are not essential.
So if you feel like indulging in some chocolate loveliness, why not give these a go? Your body and your tastebuds will be delighted! And don’t forget to let me know how you get on.
Raw chocolate brownies
- 300 grams dates soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
- 110 grams hazelnuts
- 140 grams almonds
- 60 grams cacao powder
- 2 tablespoons cacao nibs
- pinch salt
For the topping:
- 30 grams cacao powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- handful chopped nuts, desiccated coconut or freeze-dried raspberries
- 1 tablespoon cacao nibs optional
- Drain the dates but keep the soaking water. Line a small square baking tin with non-stick baking paper.
- Place the nuts into a food processor and blitz them to a course powder. Tip out into a bowl then add the soaked dates to the processor and blend them to a thick paste. Return the nuts to the processor along with the cacao powder and salt. Blend until the mix comes together into a ball – you may need to add a little of the date soaking water if it’s too dry. Remove the dough from the processor bowl and mix the cacao nibs into the dough by hand.
- Press the mix into the base of the prepared baking tin – you may not cover the whole base, so work from one side and fill as much of it as you want, depending on how deep you want your brownies to be. Pop the tin the fridge whilst you make the topping.
- Mix the cacao powder, vanilla essence and maple syrup together in a bowl to form a thick paste. Check the flavour and add extra cacao or syrup if needed. Grab the brownie tin from the fridge, pour the mix over the top and spread it out equally to cover. Sprinkle chopped nuts, desiccated coconut, freeze-dried raspberries or cacao nibs over the top to decorate, then return the tray to the fridge to set for two hours.
- To serve, remove the tray from the fridge, lift out the brownies by the baking paper and cut into 12 equal squares. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge.