I’ll admit it, I am such a chocolate snob. So much so that I’m actually a little embarrassed by it. Still, it has its good and bad sides. Good because I can check out at the grocery store without the shelves of waxy chocolate tempting me, bad because I can rarely find chocolate confections that are worth the often high price tag. A high price tag while still containing some really disgusting/disturbing/gross ingredients. Just to name a few…
hydrogenated vegetable oils: for a “melting” quality, used to replace the more expensive (and more natural) cocoa butter
soy lecithin (um, GMO anyone?): to emulsify, aka keep the chocolate fluid
polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR): another potentially harmful substance, used to emulsify
gluten: stabilizes and extends the shelf life, found in many chocolate bars-even the “higher end” ones like Ghiradelli
As I’m sure you’ve heard over the last couple of years, dark chocolate can be a healthy treat. But that’s only if you’re eating a good quality chocolate, free from these harmful ingredients. This is just a part of the reason that I started making my own chocolates a couple of years ago. I found a great source for organic, fair trade, gluten-free, soy-free, vegan chocolate online, based out of Oxnard, CA. The ingredients are simply cocoa mass (ground, roasted cocoa beans), cocoa butter (extracted from the beans), and sugar. I use mostly a 70% couveture (the word couveture means it has at least 32% cocoa butter by weight). So it’s smooth and velvety and all melty on your tongue. MMMmmmmm.
I invested in fun molds, transfer sheets for decoration, and even got a small, countertop tempering machine. I got to the point where I sold my truffles online and at local farmers markets. But those were the pre-foster mom days, of course. I love it. Love mixing flavors, experimenting with different combinations, things that people were surprised to find in chocolate. And more so surprised that it tasted good. I’m a science geek at heart and the chemistry of creating a perfectly set up, balanced in flavor, chocolate truffle really just gets my heart pattering.
When you buy chocolate, look for the shortest ingredient list you can find. You should recognize all the ingredients. And when possible, look for chocolate without soy lecithin. It’s almost guaranteed to be GMO, even when the bar says “Organic.” According to the FDA, companies can label “Organic” if a product contains 95% organic ingredients. So that remaining 5% is not organic and products that are added in smaller quantities, like soy lecithin, are going to slip through. If a product is labeled “100% Organic,” ALL the ingredients must be organic, and therefore non-GMO, but I have yet to find a chocolate bar or confection that’s labeled that way.
Good quality chocolate is important here, not just for the nutritional aspect. One little cup is so much more satisfying if you’ve selected a chocolate with a high cocoa butter content and none of those fun ingredients we just discussed. And it goes without saying that making your own almond butter for the center is a lovely compliment to the chocolate, both for a satiating sweet snack and for the added freshness of flavor and nutrients. Get creative with your garnishes. Try some toasted coconut, different salts or nuts, spices like cinnamon or cayenne pepper, and even a little citrus zest would be absolutely delicious.
Have you made your own chocolates? What’s your favorite flavor? Please share! Your stories, that is, not the chocolates. You can keep those all to yourself.
Almond & Coconut Butter Cups
Yields: approx 18 mini cups
1 c. roasted almonds
1/3 c. organic EV coconut oil
1/3 c. coconut butter (a.k.a. manna by some brands)
1/3 c. maple syrup (optional)
2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. sea salt
8 oz good quality dark chocolate, divided (or 100% dark for no sugar)
18 mini muffin liners
dried fruit, nuts, or salt – your choice of garnish
With a sharp serrated blade, cut chocolate into small shards and set aside about 1/4 of it. Place the remaining 3/4 in a microwave safe measuring cup with spout (such as a Pyrex). Microwave on high for 30 second incrememnts, mixing well in between, until the chocolate is just melted and smooth. Add remaining 1/4 c. chocolate shards and mix in well until all the chocolate is melted. [Note: this is a quick and easy way to temper the chocolate so your resulting treats have a nice shiny appearance.]
Lay out your mini muffin liners on a small sheet pan and working one by one, fill each with about 1-2 t. chocolate. Then tip each cup to roll the chocolate around the sides, resulting in a coating of chocolate all around the inside of the cup. You should have a thin layer of chocolate settle at the bottom of the cup, about 1/4″. If more than that settles at the bottom, pour a bit out into the chocolate cup. Move the pan of chocolate-filled liners into the freezer and leave for 5 minutes to harden.
In the meantime: melt coconut oil and coconut butter in the microwave for 30 seconds. Then combine almonds, coconut oil, coconut butter, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and sea salt in a high powered blender, such as a BlendTec or Vitamix. Mix on high speed until thoroughly combined, about 3-5 minutes total. You will have to scrape down the sides a bit in between. Either keep mixture in the blender carafe for pouring or transfer mixture to a smaller cup with a spout for easier distribution into the cups.
Remove chocolate filled liners from the freezer and fill each one to 3/4 full with the almond coconut mixture. Place back in the freezer for another 5 minutes. Remove and fill each cup to the top with the remaining chocolate. Top with your choice of garnish, place back in the freezer for another 5 minutes to set up.
The cups will store for 1-2 weeks on the counter or longer if kept in the fridge, although keeping them in the fridge will degrade the flavors over time.
[Note: you CAN use storebought almond butter for this, just sub the roasted almonds and coconut oil for the same measure in storebought almond butter.]
Last year: A GF Tres Leches Cake (dairy free)