Chocoholics, rejoice! Your favorite treat will no longer leave you feeling guilty, bloated, or quickly crashing after a much-needed fix. This recipe uses pure, raw, real-deal cacao (pronounced Ka-Kow), the heart of all chocolate. Don’t let Hershey’s or the FDA fool you- true chocolate is not mainly composed of sugar, artificial fillers and processed cocoa devoid of any nutritional value. It’s meant to be nourishing- rich in antioxidants and essential minerals, cacao is a serious mood and energy booster.
Wait a minute… cacao? Don’t you mean cocoa? Err, no. Chocolate comes from small tropical trees called Theobroma cacao. In Greek Theobroma means ‘food of the gods.’ These trees produce thick red and orange pods that shelter white flesh, inside which dark, bitter cacao beans lay snug as a bug.
Fun Fact: pure raw cacao contains more antioxidants than green and black teas, red wine, blueberries, goji berries, acai berries, and pomegranates all together. Raw cacao is one of the world’s most nutrient-rich foods, containing over 1,200 active compounds. It is especially beneficial for our hearts, protecting from heart disease and lowering blood pressure. Cacao also helps reduce bad cholesterol levels. It is an excellent source of magnesium, iron, manganese, chromium, sulfur, copper and zinc, and is rich in fiber. And maybe most well known, raw cacao contains phenethylamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter responsible for producing endorphins that bring about feelings of – sing it with me now – love and happiness.
Over the years the word “cacao” has been Anglicized and incorrectly replaced with the word “cocoa.” However, a recent rebirth of old-world artisanal chocolate making has ignited a return to the sweet treat’s true origins: cacao.
Cocoa is actually a processed by-product of cacao beans that comes in a powder form. It is produced from chocolate liquor, which is made by grinding fermented cacao nibs (bits of de-husked cacao beans) to a gritty, runny paste. The paste is then pressed to separate the cacao butter (fat) from the cacao paste (solids). The solids are then pressed again, dried, and milled into a powder. The Dutch method goes a step further by processing cocoa powder with alkali neutralizes its acidity and produces a milder flavor less bitter than natural cacao. However, this drastically reduces the amount of natural flavonols, or antioxidants, present in the cocoa powder.
Traditionally cacao beans are fermented then roasted to further develop their chocolate flavor and enhance their delicate, sometimes floral subtleties. This method, however, greatly impedes the cacao’s nutritional value by exposing it to high temperatures. My recipe calls for raw cacao paste and raw cacao butter to ensure the most nutritionally dense chocolate. It has endless variations, but the basic rendition below is a great base to start with. You can add just about any fun, fruity, nutty goodness, and subtract as much sugar as you like.
If the chocolate melts and then hardens again, it may appear chalky in appearance. This is because it has partially or fully “fallen” out of temper. The chocolate is still fine to eat and perfectly nutritious! The only result being that you may experience a different mouth feel.
raw vegan chocolate bars
vegan recipe | makes many many many bars
2 cups cacao paste
1/3 cup cacao butter
1/4 + 1/8 cup raw beet sugar
1/4 + 1/8 cup raw cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Prep all your ingredients: Shave cacao paste and cacao butter into bits. Mill beet and cane sugar to a fine powder in a coffee grinder, Magic Bullet or Vitamix blender. Chop all your nuts and fruit.
Create a double boiler: Bring a large pot with a few inches of water to a simmer. Cover with a large glass or metal mixing bowl (about 2 – 3″ larger that the pot), making sure the water does not touch the bowl. The bowl should fit tightly into the pot, creating a seal so that no steam escapes.
Temper the chocolate: Securely clip a chocolate or instant-read thermometer to the inside of the bowl to monitor the chocolate’s temperature. Add the cacao butter to the double boiler, stirring gently with a rubber spatula as it melts. Once the butter has melted add half of the cacao paste, a little bit at a time, and continue to stir. Bring the chocolate to 115 degrees, no higher. Then remove it from the heat, wipe the bottom of the bowl, and set it on a heat-proof surface. Add the remaining half of the cacao paste, stirring gently to incorporate. This newly added cacao will bring down the temperature of the chocolate as it melts. Let the chocolate cool to below 84 degrees. Then return the bowl to the pot for 5 – 10 seconds, remove it and stir, repeating as necessary until the chocolate reaches 88 – 89 degrees. (Do not let the chocolate temperature exceed 91 degrees at this point!) Your chocolate is now tempered!
To make sure you have properly tempered your chocolate, spread a spoonful thinly over waxed paper and allow it to cool. When the chocolate cools it should be shiny and smooth. If it is dull or streaky, start the tempering process over.
Pour the chocolate into your molds: BPA free polycarbonate and silicone molds are the best to use, though inexpensive plastic molds are widely and readily available in most craft stores and supermarkets. I’ve even used a rubber ice cube tray and cookie cutters as molds, so get creative!
Pour your melted chocolate into its molds and add your nuts and dried fruit. Allow your chocolate to cool over night at room temperature. Once it hardens your chocolate is ready to enjoy!
Try making stuffed chocolate cups and hearts by pouring a thin layer of chocolate into the bottom of a mold and allowing it to harden. Then add a dollop of nut butter without letting it touch the sides of the mold. Cover completely with melted chocolate and leave out overnight, allowing it to harden completely. You now have peanut butter cups or cashew butter stuffed hearts!
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