Strawberry and chocolate ‘cheesecake’

I’ve always been a bit partial to a slice of deliciously creamy cheesecake. Before I went dairy-free and plant-based my favourites were the ones you could buy frozen (I never tried to make my own!). Super-sweet crunchy biscuit base, thick and creamy filling then finished with a colourful layer of blackcurrants or strawberries, coated with more sugar of course. It hit all the pleasure buttons in one go!

When I went dairy-free, cheesecake was off the menu until I discovered the raw version – not quite so super-sweet but still delicious. I loved experimenting with different flavours – there are two amazing ones in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie that are a winner every time. Continue reading “Strawberry and chocolate ‘cheesecake’”

Raw chocolate brownies

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

Deliciously rich chocolate brownies, raw and packed full of amazing nutrients.
Prep Time10 mins
Chilling time2 hrs
Total Time10 mins
Keyword: chocolate, dairy free, plantbased, raw, vegan
Servings: 12

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Raw chocolate brownie bites

It seems that you, dear readers, have a sweet tooth. Whenever I post a recipe for cake or dessert, I get lots more website visits than a savoury day. So I think this recipe on day 10 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar will please you greatly.

These raw chocolate brownie bites hit all the spots when it comes to a sweet treat. They are satisfyingly sweet but not sickly, need a little chewing but won’t clog up your mouth and have a wonderful mix of soft and crunchy textures. They are also incredibly filling, so no matter how much of a chocaholic you may be, it’s hard to eat too many (or at least that’s what I find!). 

What’s even better is that these raw chocolate brownie bites are packed full of wonderful fibre and nutrients, thus making dessert a health food. It’s a win-win all round.

Cacao nibs are chocolate in its purest form. Basically they’re chopped cocoa beans that have been dried and fermented. No sugar or fat of any form have been added, so they provide an intense chocolatey flavour that is different to a normal chocolate bar. This minimal processing means that all the wonderful nutrients and phytonutrients are retained including good amounts of minerals like magnesium and iron, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and anti-oxidants. Although cacao nibs are more expensive to buy, you don’t need much so a little goes a long way.

Dairy-free, gluten-free and completely plant-based, it’s amazing how something so healthy can taste so good! You can cut these brownies into 12 larger pieces, but I prefer to make smaller squares. For some reason it feels more indulgent because I can have more than one…..or maybe that’s just me. Once made, these can be kept in the fridge for up to 7 days, but realistically speaking that’s unlikely to happen as they are just too good.

So if you fancy making a little treat over the Christmas period (or any time of the year really), then why not give these a go? Let me know how you get on – and enjoy!

Raw chocolate brownie bites

  • 250g dates
  • 110g walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 140 almonds
  • 60g cacao powder
  • 2 tablespoons raw cacao nibs
  • pinch of salt
  • 30g cacao powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • handful of chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
  • sprinkle cacao nibs and/or freeze-dried raspberries

Soak the dates in warm water for a minimum of 10 minutes to soften. Drain but keep the soaking water. Line a small square dish or tin with baking paper.

Place the nuts in a food processor and grind. Pour into a clean bowl, then blend the drained dates. Spoon out into a separate bowl.

Return the ground nuts to the processor and add the cacao powder and salt. Blitz to mix. With the processor running, add in handfuls of the blended dates until the mix sticks together (you may not need all of it, and don’t want it over wet or sticky). Tip the mix out into a bowl and mix in the cacao nibs with your hands.

Place the mix into the prepared dish and press down to flatten out equally across the bottom. Place in the fridge to set.

For the topping, mix cacao powder, vanilla essence and maple syrup together to form a thick paste. Add extra cacao or some of the date soaking liquid if too wet or dry. Take the base out of the fridge and spread the paste over the top. Decorate with chopped nuts and cacao nibs if desired and place back in the fridge to set for 2 hours or so.

Carefully remove the brownie from the dish and peel off the baking paper. Cut into small squares.

Chocolate refrigerator chunks – dairy free of course

There are times when only chocolate will do. But when you’re eating dairy free, you can’t just grab the first bar you find. Then if you’re eating gluten free and want to cut out the junk and eat more whole food, then things get even more complicated. By the time you actually find something that meets the criteria and hits the spot, life has moved on and you don’t really want it anymore! Which is great for the waistline, but frustrating for the tastebuds! Or worse, you succumb and eat something that makes you feel dreadful.

There are more and more dairy free chocolate brands available to buy, usually in the supermarket free from section or a health food shop, but they can be expensive and you don’t really know what’s in them.

You could make you’re own chocolate of course – something that I do want to do. I even have a friend who teaches it, but still haven’t made it to a class. Fortunately, I have an easy solution to chocolate bar frustration that’s really quick to make and tastes amazing – chocolate refrigerator chunks.

The recipe of these came together after I was bought a solid chocolate ‘cake bar’ from a healthy food stall – a long, mars bar sized chunk filled with nuts and dried fruit. Having not consumed a decent chocolate bar for a number of years, it was quite a revelation, but so rich and filling that I couldn’t finish it all, despite a seriously concerted effort. Having made great changes to the way I eat, it really was just too much for me – shocking!

Whenever I munch my way through a new food or dish, I’m always analysing it’s make up and trying to decide how to recreate it myself. Realising that this would be simple, I grabbed the dairy free chocolate drops and got to work.

The actual content of the bar is totally up to you – whatever combination of dried fruit, nuts or seeds you like. These little goodies bring in the healthy bit by introducing fabulous fibre as well as an assortment of essential fatty acids, minerals and phytonutrients. You could even add puffed rice or buckwheat, or some gluten free granola to give it another dimension.
So why not give this a go and create your own individualised chocolate chunk that just hits the spot!

Chocolate refrigerator chunks
250g dairy free chocolate
2 tablespoons coconut oil
250g of chopped nuts, seeds and dried fruit
(my favourite combo is pecan, raisin, cranberry, pumpkin and flaxseed)
Pop the dairy free chocolate and coconut oil in a medium sized bowl. Place it over a small pan of simmering water and stir whilst it melts to combine. Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts, seeds and fruit combo you’ve chosen – mix well.
Tip the mix into a prepared tin (*see below), cover with a freezer bag and place in the freezer for a couple of hours to set hard. Remove from the freezer, tip out of the tin onto a board and chop into chunks (careful of your fingers though as it’s pretty hard). Place chunks into a pot and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them (if you manage not to eat them all during the chopping process). Enjoy!
*I have found that disposable flan dishes are the best mould to use, and as it’s easy to remove when frozen, you can reuse them a number of times. If you don’t have any, just line any tin with foil to help you remove it later – don’t use cling film though, unless you want it as part of your chocolate chunk

Chocolate rethink – then try this tart!

Easter has many meanings. There’s the religious one, naturally. Or the start of spring and new life. Or – for many – chocolate! It’s estimated that 80 million chocolate Easter eggs are sold per year, and that’s in the UK alone.

Culturally, it seems that Easter is an excuse to gorge on the brown stuff with impunity. This seems to go hand in hand with Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. Chocolate is number one on the list of items that people give up for Lent, in remembrance of the time Jesus spent in the wilderness.  However, many non-religious people also participate in the process too, and I wonder if that is more of a control issue rather than a spiritual one – chocolate can be so moreish and addictive!

It’s estimated that it takes 21 days to change a habit; when you exclude a food item from your diet, it takes about this length of time for your tastebuds to change too (see this old blog post for more tastebud info http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/tastebud-tales.html). In this time, your body also changes the way is responds. Most chocolate is packed full of sugar and fat, which is why we love it so much! But if we take time to listen to our bodies and take note to how it reacts to different foods, you’ll probably notice a difference to how you feel without a shed load of chocolate every day. When you start eating it again, especially after 40 days, your body will react differently, and often can make you feel quite unwell. The odd thing is, that’s probably how you felt before the exclusion period, but hadn’t recognised it as a bad feeling, just a normal one. It’s amazing what our bodies deal with as ‘normal’.

Now don’t be aghast and think that I’m declaring you shouldn’t eat chocolate – I wouldn’t dare! And as recent research suggests, in certain forms and small amounts, cocoa is actually pretty good for us. Not only does it have iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc, minerals that help keeps the body functioning well, but it’s also packed full of helpful antioxidants, sterols and flavonoids that can help blood pressure regulation, reduce cholesterol and potentially increase blood flow in the brain and prevent cognitive decline – I’m all for some of that!To me, the issue is type and amount of chocolate. All the benefits of cocoa come with dark or raw chocolate. Milk chocolate is miles less effective and carries loads of sugar and fats which lead to weight gain, amongst other problems. Cheap chocolate bars only contain about 10% cocoa; the rest is made up of dairy products, sugar and oils, often hydrogenated (this changes the chemical structure and is toxic to us). And that fat and sugar combo is what makes us want to go back for more, as it triggers the pleasure centres in the brain, and boy those centres just love to be satisfied!

I’m really not keen on dark chocolate, so when I went dairy free it meant going without. Fortunately, I’ve never been that fussed, so it wasn’t really an issue. But now there are so many dairy free alternatives on the market, it’s easy to have a little chocolate indulgence every now and then. I buy my dairy free chocolate from Plamil (www.plamilfoods.co.uk) – great flavour and minimal additives. And there’s something utterly decadent about buying a 7.5kg box of chocolate drops…….not all for me, honest! I use it for desserts at my supper clubs.

So if you overindulged over the weekend and are feeling rather sluggish and sick, have a listen to what your body is trying to tell you, and maybe have a rethink about your chocolate habits. Then when you’ve recovered, try this gorgeously yummy and healthy chocolate and coconut tart – it not only tastes good, but will make you feel good too!

Chocolate and coconut tart
Base:
1 cup hazelnuts
1 cup of dates, soaked for 10 minutes
50g cocoa powder
Filling:
400g tin coconut milk
1/4 cup (60ml) dairy free milk
**1/4 cup cornflour (or see below for alternative)
pinch of salt
1 cup dairy free chocolate
Topping:
Toasted coconut flakes/freeze dried strawberries/raspberries

First of all, make the base. Drain the dates and place in a food processor with the hazelnuts and cocoa powder. Blitz until everything is chopped up and well combined – add a little of the date water if you need to help it stick together. Spoon out into a loose bottomed round cake tin and press down firmly so the base sticks together, covering the bottom of the tin. Pop in the freezer whilst you make the filling.

Mix the cornflour and dairy free milk together in a small bowl and put to one side. Heat the coconut milk in a small pan. When it is warm but not boiling, add the dairy free chocolate and salt and stir until melted and smooth (a couple of minutes). Slowly pour in the cornflour mix and continue to stir until it thickens, approximately 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

Remove the base from the freezer and pour in the filling. Place in the fridge to firm up for about 8 hours or leave overnight (if you’re short of time, pop in the freezer for a few hours but keep an eye on it). To serve, sprinkle toasted coconut flakes over the top, and enjoy!

** Update 30th June 2017. In case you don’t want to use cornflour, or you find the texture a bit cloying, then use agar agar powder instead. For the recipe above, you will need 1 teaspoon of agar agar powder or 2 teaspoons of agar flakes. Personally, I always use the powder as it dissolves more easily and doesn’t alter the texture of the dish, which can be a problem with flakes. 

The recipe instruction should be amended like this – heat the coconut milk in a small pan. Once warm but not boiling, stir in the dairy free chocolate and pinch of salt. Stir well. Once the chocolate has melted, sprinkle the agar powder on the top and bring to a low simmer. Carefully stir in the powder with a small whisk and continue to stir gently for a few minutes until the mix starts to coat and stick to the whisk head. Simmer for another minute, then turn off the heat and leave to cool, stirring regularly to prevent chocolatey clumps forming. Pour into the base and continue as per original recipe. 

 

The ultimate, triple layered chocolate cake

It may have been noted that I am rather partial to a bit of cake. Always have been, probably always will be. And although I have definitely cut down on my processed sugar intake in recent years, particularly since adopting a whole food plant based diet, I do still like a decadent sweet treat every now and then.

And one of my biggest concerns when going dairy free was how was I ever going to get a decent cake again? Adding on egg free as well to make it free from any animal products, seemed even more challenging. Fortunately, there are a huge amount of free from recipes out on the internet and in specialist cookery books. And what’s more, it’s actually easier to make a deliciously light and fluffy vegan cake than your standard one.

Following the clear guidelines set out by MsCupcake (check out http://www.mscupcake.co.uk/books/ for her recipe book), there are three key elements to making a great vegan cake:

               1) Mix dry and wet ingredients separately to star
               2) Combine swiftly, do not over mix
               3) Tap the bowl and tin to release the air

My son has definitely inherited my love of cake, along with my intolerance to dairy. It was his 16th birthday just before Christmas, and so to celebrate I decided to make him a huge, sumptuous dairy free birthday cake. And as he loves a bit of chocolate, it turned into the ultimate triple layer chocolate delight.

Consisting of three cake layers – a chocolate chip sponge sandwiched between two chocolate sponges – and covered with a rich chocolate cream, finished with a garnish of chocolate strands, it was enormous! Being dairy free, it was not over rich but still gave great chocolate satisfaction

I adapted this recipe from MsCupcakes Neapolitan sponge cake and it worked really well. It can be made gluten free by using non-wheat flour (make sure your baking powder is gluten free too). And remember this cake is huge, so it provides a good amount of servings (unless it’s for a group of giant-boy 16 year olds, then it disappears extremely fast!

Triple layer chocolate cake
For the chocolate chip layer:
200g self raising flour
200mls non-dairy milk
80ml flavourless oil (I use organic rapeseed)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 50g non-dairy chocolate chips
For the chocolate layers:
340g self raising flour
>4 tablespoons cocoa powder
200g caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
400ml non-dairy milk160mls oil
2 tablespoons vanilla or 1 each of vanilla and chocolate extract
To finish, chocolate buttercream (see below) and chocolate strands
First, you will need three round cake 23cm cake tins, greased and base lined with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180oC.

Make the chocolate chip layer first. Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and chocolate chips into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the oil, milk and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir together until just combined. Do not over mix – there should be a few lumps still. Tap the bowl on the work surface (this stops the raising agents working too quickly). Pour the mix into one of the prepared tins, and then tap the tin on the work top.

Repeat the same process for the chocolate layers, mixing the dry and wet separately then combining the two quickly and pouring into the other two tins. Try to make sure you distribute evenly and remember to tap your tins.

Bake the layers for 18-22 minutes, but check after 15 if you have a fan oven as they can cook quite fiercely. Pop a toothpick into the centre of each layer – once it comes out clean then the layer is ready. Some layers may take longer than others depending on their position in the oven. Once you are happy the layer is cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then tip out onto a cooling tray and leave to cool completely.

Dairy free chocolate buttercream
To finish off your mighty fine cake, you will need to make up a quantity of chocolate buttercream. Even though it contains no butter, this cream is still seriously rich and sweet, the perfect accompaniment to this super chocolate cake.
5 tablespoons of non-dairy spread (I used Vitalite)
5 tablespoons of vegetable fat (I used Trex)
500g icing sugar
100g cocoa powder
Up to 100mls non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon of chocolate extract if you have it, if not vanilla.
Put the non-dairy spread, vegetable fat and extract into a large bowl and whisk with an electric hand whisk until well combined and creamy. Add the cocoa powder, half the icing sugar and half of the non-dairy milk. Mix together, slowly at first otherwise you will get an icing sugar cloud! Once well combined, add the remaining icing sugar and enough non-dairy milk to get the consistency you want. It needs to be thick enough to spread and stay on the side of the cake, but not so thick you can’t spread it around easily.

Place your three cakes next to each other, base side up. Spread a good dollop of chocolate butter cream on one of the chocolate layers and place the chocolate chip layer on top of it. Put a good dollop of buttercream on this layer, then place the other chocolate layer on top. Finally, put another good dollop of the icing on top of the chocolate layer and spread it out so you have a thick coating, then use the rest to coat to fully cover the sides. Very carefully, transfer the cake onto it’s serving plate, and sprinkle with chocolate strands and decorations as required.
Enjoy your celebration, as well as your seriously chocolatey cake. It’s so delicious, unless you tell anyone, they won’t know it’s dairy free and vegan!

100g caster sugar

Cupcakes – no other title is needed!

I have a great belief that there’s always a time and a place for cake! I’ve always had a sweet tooth, and cake to me is the ultimate comfort food. Any type is good (except coffee cake – yuck!), but I do have a particular penchant for a might fine cupcake.

Cupcakes have really been in fashion over the last few years, and it’s not difficult to see why – the recipes tend to be simpler than a whole cake, take less time to cook and you can have variety and creative fun with one batch of mixture. A phenomena originating in the States, cupcakes have actually been around since the end of the 18th century, although their popularity really kicked in at the beginning of the 21st. There’s two theories about the name – that they were originally baked in cups, or because the ingredients were measured in cups as opposed to weight. Either way, cupcakes are definitely superior to our little fairy cakes!

Of course, eating a plant based diet means no eggs, one key ingredient to the standard cupcake recipe. But does this mean then end to cupcake delights? Thankfully not!

We have a baking guru in our house – Ms Cupcake! She has the most delicious recipes, along with other larger cakes, that never fail to produce gorgeously light, melt in the mouth cupcakes. And I have to say that my daughter makes much better cupcakes than I do – or maybe cake just tastes better when someone else has made them!

Vegan cupcakes are actually much simpler to make than standard ones – it’s just a matter of mixing up your dry ingredients, then your wet and finally combining them together in one big whoosh. There’s no creaming or delicate stirring – in fact, over stirring is a definite no no as it overworks the gluten in the flour, making the cake heavy and dense. A lightly stirred batter results in light, fluffy cakes, no need for the leavening action of eggs.

Eggs also act as a binding agent; curdled milk also works well, that’s dairy free milk of course! Most of Ms Cupcakes recipes use cider vinegar to sour the milk; that doesn’t work for me unfortunately as due to my yeast sensitivity, I have to avoid fermented items. Lemon juice works as well, and gives a slightly tart contrast to the super sweet cakey flavour.

My daughter is often found whipping up a batch of these chocolate cupcakes and I have to say they are amazingly light and delicious, so much so I bet you might even prefer them to the standard cholesterol laden butter version. The recipe is pretty much the same as Ms Cupcake with a couple of slight alterations, but still completely dairy free and seriously delicious – give them a go and see what your tastebuds think. And just a little thought to leave you with – there’s a mint choc chip cupcake which is just amazing…..

Chocolate cupcake (enough for 12 large cupcakes)
200ml non dairy milk
2 teaspoon cider vinegar/lemon juice
170g self raising flour/gluten free SR flour
30g cocoa powder
200g caster sugar/150g coconut sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
80ml olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
Buttercream icing
75g dairy free margarine (e.g. Pure, vitalite)
1teaspoon vanilla essence
375g icing sugar
20-30mls dairy free milk

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and get your muffin tins lined with cupcake wrappers. In a small bowl, mix the non-dairy milk and vinegar/lemon juice together and put to one side for 10 minutes to let it curdle a bit. In the meantime, get a large bowl and mix all the dry ingredients together until well combined. Add the curdled non-dairy milk oil and vanilla and mix together with a metal spoon really quickly (about 10 seconds) until just combined – it will be a bit lumpy.

Tap the bowl on the worktop to release the bubbles and stop the raising agents working too quickly then dollop the mixture into the cupcake cases, distributing equally. Pop the trays in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or so. Remove from oven and lay on a cooling tray until they are completely cold.
In another bowl, whisk the margarine and vanilla essence together until creamy then add half the icing sugar. Once well mixed, add the second half and mix well, adding a little dairy free milk to soften if too stiff. Decorate the cupcake tops with the icing and sprinkles of your choice.

Easy dairy free chocolate mousse

As a child, I was never that bothered about chocolate. Not that I didn’t like it (there can’t be many than don’t) but my pocket money would go on sweets and candies rather than chocolate treats.  Fortunately, I’ve never been plagued by chocolate cravings like many I know, but I do appreciate there are moments when only chocolate will do!

Once I became dairy free, my chocolate intake dropped to almost nil, as I only really like milk chocolate, and the only dairy free alternatives I found were carob bars. I tried it once. And only once!

Fortunately, there are more and more dairy free chocolate alternatives around.  There were so many free samples on offer at last year’s Vegefest, I can say I was truly chocolate-stuffed by the end of the day. And many of these are now available in supermarkets, which does make life rather easy.

One chocolate dessert I’ve always had a passion for, though, is chocolate mousse. Decadently rich yet beautifully light and airy, its a pudding that you can savour teaspoon after teaspoonful. Not good for your hips, but a delight on your tongue and worth the extra workout the next day!! Recently, I had a sudden urge for a chocolate mousse so decided to find a dairy free version – and I have to say this works so much better than I could have hoped.

It’s really quick and easy and tastes stunningly chocolaty. As tofu is used to replace the double cream element, it’s much healthier too as it’s low in saturated fat, although go easy on the agave syrup as this sweetener will rack up the refined sugar content some what. Although marketed as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, agave is just as processed and can even have a higher sugar content than the nasty high-fructose corn syrup that’s added to so many processed cakes and pastries. Mind you, this IS a chocolate pudding, so has to have a little devilish nastiness to it!!

Dairy free chocolate mousse
350g silken tofu
170g dairy free chocolate
3/4 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
fresh berries/berry coulis to serve
First, melt the chocolate in a clean bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool slightly. Meanwhile, drain and dry the tofu and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add the melted chocolate, agave syrup, vanilla essence and salt and blend again until smooth and well m
ixed. Spoon out into four individual ramekin dishes and chill in the fridge for 1 – 2 hours or until set. Serve with whole fresh berries or a berry coulis and enjoy your divine chocolate treat!

Sweet treat – raw and dairy free!

Last month, I disappear off with a friend for a few days to visit Auroville, an alternative community nestled in the countryside near to Pondicherry on the Tamil Nadu coast. Auroville is a fascinating experiment in human unity and focuses on sustainable living as well as the environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind. We spent a lovely few days relaxing under immense banyan trees, participating in yoga, pottery and a lot of chatting! The food was amazing, much of it organic and locally grown, and of course they had a wide choice which included dairy-free and vegan options, so I, and my stomach, were happy!

One evening, we found ourselves at a farm house within the settlement, in a group gathered around a big bonfire singing ‘mindful’ songs – it was a truly hippy experience! We arrived a little late, and the vegan spread provided must have been delicious, as the only thing left were a few small dark balls scattered on a plate, covered in white flecks. Someone said they were pudding; unconvinced, I tried one as I was so hungry and discovered much to my surprise and delight that they were little balls of sweet heaven! Looks were very deceiving! The host told me they were raw date and nut balls – that was it!  How can that taste of chocolate though?

I know that many people believe that we should be eating mostly or all of our food raw. There is a great film called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead about a guy juicing his way to health, which is really worth watching, if only for the people watching experience. Check out http://www.jointhereboot.com to find out more.

But I digress! So I do include lots of raw veggies in my diet, but I’m not a complete raw foodie, so hadn’t come across these raw date balls before.  Doing some research on the internet, I found a guideline recipe on Yummly.com, but then changed it a little to suit what we have available here in Bangalore. If you’re a committed calorie counter, then all these nuts and dried fruits might freak you out a little, but do note there is no added sugar. A handful of nuts is the same amount of fat as a teaspoon of refined oil, plus you get all the extra nutritious goodies such as vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fibre, but that’s a whole posting in itself. My husband and son love these balls and they’re difficult to binge on; they are really filling!

Vegan choco-nutty-fruity balls
1 cup/120g of nuts, raw and unsalted – I used almonds, walnuts and cashews
1/2 cup/120g organic pitted dates, chopped
1/2 cup/ 120g dried cranberries or apricots
1/2 cup raisins
2 tbspns cocoa powder
1 tbspoon fresh orange juice
few drops almond essence
for coating:
1/2 tspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup/30g fresh or dessicated coconut
Place nuts, dates and rest of dried fruit in a food processor along with cocoa powder and almond essence. Blitz until everything is ground together – add orange juice a few drops at a time until the mixture binds together – you probably won’t need all of it. On a plate, combine the cinnamon and coconut. Roll small portions of the mix into balls, then roll them in the coconut mix until covered. Once all done, place in a container and refrigerate. Then enjoy over a relaxing cup of tea, after a workout or at any time you fancy a sweet nibble!

 

Yummy dairy free chocolate brownies

There’s not many people who don’t love a chocolate brownie every now and then, but most of the ones you can buy in the shops have some sort of dairy content, either butter or milk. Most traditional recipes for homemade brownies have the same issue. Of course, if you have some 100% dairy free spread to hand, you can easily substitute this for butter, use a non dairy milk and voila! But when there’s no spread available, there’s a brownie gap in my cake tin!

The other challenge over in India is finding cocoa powder. There is a local brand, but it doesn’t taste very good and tends to be grainy. Cadbury’s cocoa is my favourite, and should be a staple in any dairy free cupboard! Unfortunately, it’s been a good 4 months since I’ve last seen it in the shops, so I was really excited the other day to find a tin and smiled all the way to the checkout, getting a few odd looks from the locals on the way!

This recipe uses oil rather than spread, and still produces delicious, gooey brownies although they can be a little greasy. I’ve tried different oils for baking – coconut oil is supposed to be excellent and does give a great texture but changes the flavour of the brownie. I bought some lovely delicious organic coconut oil recently, made a batch of brownies only to realise the oil had gone rancid really quickly (the downside of coconut oil) and they really tasted revolting. It was very sad to see the brownies in the bottom of the bin! So I now use organic canola oil, but rapeseed or any non-aromatic vegetable oil will do. The raisins enhance the texture, and increase the gooiness inside.

For those of you with egg allergies, try using an egg substitute, and reduce the cooking time as the brownies are drier.

Dairy free yummy chocolate brownie
2 medium eggs
1 cup caster sugar
5-6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup self raising flour
pinch salt
3 oz raisins
handful of chopped walnuts (optional)
Place the eggs and sugar in a bowl and mix together well. Add the cocoa powder and oil, and stir well. Add remaining ingredients – use a little non-dairy milk if it’s too dry.

Place in a greased square 8 inch baking tin and bake at 180oC for 20 minutes or so until firm on top but soft to the touch. Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares, remove carefully with spatula and enjoy!