This month, there are a couple of good reasons to add chocolate to your diet — February is National Chocolate Lovers Month and this Friday is Valentine’s Day.
If you are a baker, you may have noticed a cocoa powder alternative on the grocery store shelf — cacao powder.
Cacao powder has been receiving attention lately as a healthier version of cocoa. Although both products are derived from cocoa pods from the cacao tree, cacao powder is less processed than cocoa powder and is believed to be higher in antioxidants.
I used cacao powder and cacao butter along with some coconut sugar to make homemade chocolates for Valentine’s Day treats. It was an easy process and the chocolate came out smooth and delicious.
Another great treat to make for your valentine is a protein-filled nut bar drizzled with chocolate. I used brown rice syrup to bind the ingredients together and puffed brown rice. They were excellent and devoid of processed sugar.
Finally, cacao powder can be used to pull together a decadent chocolate cake if you’re looking for a fancy treat to make for your valentine. Drizzle chocolate ganache over the top, add candy hearts for color and your valentine will wonder what gourmet shop you ordered it from.
Happy Chocolate Hearts
1 1/2 cups cacao butter
1 1/4 cups cacao powder
2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 coconut sugar (adjust amount to suit your taste)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Add the cacao butter to a heavy saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Stir with a whisk while gently melting.
Once the cacao butter is melted, whisk in the cacao powder, vanilla, coconut sugar and salt. Whisk until smooth and no powdery lumps remain; adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste. Pour into silicone heart-shaped chocolate molds and set in the refrigerator to harden for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from molds and serve.
Chocolate Covered Nut Bars
2 1/2 cups mixed nuts such as almonds, cashews and pecans
3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries (or raisins)
1 cup puffed brown rice
1/4 cup pepitos
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons warm chocolate from the happy chocolate hearts recipe
Line an 8 x 8-square baking dish with parchment paper and set aside. Add the nuts, pepitos, cranberries and puffed rice to a large bowl and set aside.
Add the brown rice syrup, vanilla, salt and coconut sugar to a saucepan and set over medium heat. Warm the syrup while whisking; heat until the syrup has thinned and can be easily stirred, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Pour the syrup mixture over the nut mixture and stir well to coat. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and spread in an even layer. Wet your hands and gently press down on the mixture to pack it into the dish. Set in the refrigerator to harden for 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove the dish from the refrigerator; remove from pan by turning the pan over onto a cutting board. Lift off the parchment paper and use a sharp knife to cut into bars, then drizzle the bars with the warm chocolate and allow to set for an additional 20 minutes or until the chocolate hardens.
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups coconut sugar (you can also use white sugar)
1/2 cup cacao powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup cold water
8-ounce dark chocolate bar
1 cup heavy cream
Add flour, baking soda, cacao powder and sugar to a large bowl and whisk together.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla and oil, then add to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Stir in the vinegar and the cold water.
Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray and add the cake batter. Set in an oven preheated to 350 degrees.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool for several minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To make the ganache: Break the chocolate bar into small pieces and set in a heatproof bowl. Add cream to a small saucepan and set over medium heat until it begins to gently simmer.
Add warmed cream to the chocolate and let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes to soften; slowly stir with a spatula until well combined. Add ganache to the top of the chocolate cake before serving.