They sound dry and boring but they are most definitely not. As you may have read I have been dabbling with raw food, not for weight loss purposes but for general well being and health. If you want to read more about why I am interested in trying a diet rich in raw food, have a read of this post. For more information on a raw food workshop I recently attended with Anna Middleton check this post out. Anna is an expert when it comes to chocolate and sweet treats and shared her raw brownie recipe that uses cacao powder. It was a really inspirational experience and I have tried a range of recipes since I attended the masterclass. I was a little unsure of how raw cacao powder differed from regular cocoa powder you’d find in my cupboard. In essence cocoa powder has been roasted and may contain added sugar, cacao powder is chocolate in its raw form. It is simply the cacao bean, that through a cold-pressing process, has had the fat (cacao butter) removed.
A little more about cacao…
Raw cacao can be bought in several different forms from health food stores and online health food sites; Cacao nibs, cacao powder or cacao butter. Cacao powder is the most versatile of the raw cacao products, because it is finely ground and ready to be added to smoothies, homemade energy bars, raw and baked bars, cookies, and other desserts. It blends well with water, nut and dairy milks.
The botanical name for the tree that chocolate comes from is Theobroma cacao. The word cacao comes from the Olmec people from what is now Mexico, and is believed to be the closest pronunciation to the original name of the plant. History shows that chocolate then changed hands from the Olmec to the Mayans to the Spanish.
The word cacao is the only word ever used in any of the hispanic languages to describe what English speakers think of as cocoa. It is widely believed that the word cocoa has its origins in a spelling mistake. A mistake which was never corrected, and perhaps found easier to pronounce, successfully overtook the correct form.
Theobroma, which translates as "food of the gods", is native to the tropics of the Americas where it was used as currency and revered for its medicinal qualities for centuries. The edible properties of Theobroma cacao were discovered over 2,000 years ago by the indigenous people of Central America living deep in the tropical rainforests. The Olmecs living in Mexico and Guatemala established their first cacao plantations around 400 BC, and by 250 AD the Mayans depicted cocoa in their elaborate hieroglyphic writings and on carvings and paintings. . Images of cocoa pods were carved into palaces and places of worship when it symbolized life and fertility.
Historical accounts about also point to widespread use of chocolate in Maya and Aztec engagement and marriage ceremonies and religious rituals. In this respect chocolate occupied the same niche that expensive French wines and champagne do in European culture today.The Aztecs and Maya peoples had many ways of making food and drink from cocoa beans. They were so precious that only the royals, warriors and the wealthy could afford to eat and drink chocolate. The hieroglyphs tell us that the Aztecs and Maya peoples drank cocoa powder suspended in water, and used flavourings such as chillies , vanilla, aromatic herbs and honey.
The theobromine naturally found in raw cacao is a mild, non-addictive stimulant that some believe can treat depression. We were warned in the workshop that because it has a stimulating effect, it’s not always a good idea to indulge in the evening as it may affect how you sleep. It is thought that chocolate may cause the brain to produce more of a neurotransmitter called anandamide which may account for the euphoric sensation some of us feel when indulging in chocolate treats. Raw cacao is very high in antioxidant flavanoids, sulphur and magnesium and the essential fatty acids found in chocolate may help the body to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. All of these potential health benefits and it tastes good too. It is worth noting though that looking back at history, chocolate was a treat and not something that was consumed daily on the way home from work or when somebody was having a stressful day.
If you are interested in the origins of food derived from plants then check out the Incredible festival at Kew Gardens exploring edible plants and there’s even a chance to go on a tutti frutti boating experience with Bompas and Parr. I haven’t had a chance to visit yet but as a friend of Kew I will definitely be taking a visit to check it out.
On Tuesday we had the Kilpatrick PR Summer bake off. Our last bake off was at Easter and there were some amazing treats baked and a whole lot of calories consume! I decided that I would make raw brownies to go up against the other amazing, indulgent treats. I slightly adapted the recipe that Anna shared with us at her workshop. When I tasted them I couldn’t believe they contained no dairy. They taste extremely indulgent but are made from whole foods. They are obviously not low fat but there is no dairy, no wheat and no cooking involved. They make the perfect treat and I wanted to share the recipe with my colleagues. I don’t eat a huge amount of chocolate but every now and again I fancy it and avoiding dairy makes it impossible to enjoy so these brownies are a great solution.
I’m thrilled to say that the general consensus was a thumbs-up and I came joint first place. Hooray for raw food! It can be healthy and taste good. The ingredients below can be adapted entirely to your taste. It is just a guide and I found that I added more or less of certain ingredients so that they were to my taste. The cacao powder I have is very rich so I used less than the recipe suggested. I kept adding until the mixture was the richness of chocolate that I like. Unlike when you bake cakes, I have found that raw recipes don’t need to be an exact science so recipes can be tweaked.
Basic Raw Brownie Recipe
200g walnuts (soaked and dehydrated)
50g Brazil nuts (soaked and dehydrated)
100g raw cacao powder
100ml sweetener (agave syrup)
100g cherries and sultanas (soaked and chopped)
30g cacao butter melted (optional)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
- Soak the nuts in filtered or bottle water and then drain and allow to dry. Keep 25g of the walnuts aside and chop.
- Blend all of the other nuts until finely ground. The ultimate mixer to use in a Magimix but I don’t have one yet. I used my little handy blender which did a good job but I guess any half decent food processor will work.
- Then add all other ingredients apart from the cherries and blend. The more you blend, the smoother and more dough like the brownie mixture will become. If the mixture is a little dry you can add some of the liquid that the cherries were soaked in. I added a little more coconut oil. The cacao butter adds a delicious richness but if you don’t have it you can use coconut oil instead. Both of these ingredients will help the brownies to set when refrigerated.
- Add the dried fruit and remaining walnuts and mix thoroughly. This is the basic brownie recipe but you can adapt to your taste. The original recipe I tried didn’t have sultanas but dried cherries are quite expensive so I used slightly less than was originally listed. You could also add some raw chopped chocolate at this stage. Give the brownies a kick by adding some chilli powder or add some more cherry flavour using a medicine flower extract. The black cherry one would work brilliantly. It is expensive but smells and tastes absolutely incredible. You could use it in the Avocado mousse to make a black forest style chocolate mousse.
- Line a baking tin with clingfilm and then press the mixture into the tin. It will take approximately an hour to set. Lining it with film makes it easier to lift out of the tin. The brownies are good as they are, but for an even more decadent treat you can make a chocolate sauce to drizzle over the top. The cling film allows a cleaner, less messy finish if you are going to add the sauce.
- Simply blend together some coconut oil, sweetener, cacao
powder, vanilla essence and a pinch of salt. I kept adding the ingredients
until the texture looked like a sauce. The coconut oil will help the sauce to
set when refrigerated. Drizzle over the
top of the brownies and leave to set. I used a fork to make some patterns in
the top. When set, take out of the fridge and cut into small squares. It is
rich so I think smaller portions are better but it is of course entirely up to