Top quality dark chocolate is good for us, when made with minimal and unprocessed ingredients. The antioxidants in chocolate help to protect our cells from damage, and dark chocolate helps increase levels of feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain. One of the many theories as to why we crave it, apart from the delicious taste and feel-good factor, is the fact that it is a rich source of magnesium. Women, especially before their period, may be drawn to chocolate for this reason.
Really good-quality chocolate can be expensive – those tiny bars of raw chocolate in health food shops cost several pounds a pop, so inspired by my sister’s addictive homemade peppermint chocolate on a recent trip to Australia, I have started to make my own and have discovered it is very easy to do so.
It’s also very satisfying to produce something so indulgent and delicious in your own home – and you can get creative by adding superfoods like lacuma powders, nuts and seeds, plus flavourings such as peppermint or orange extract. Another benefit to making your own is that you can reduce the sweetness and make it an even healthier treat by doing so.
My basic raw chocolate recipe 200g raw cacao butter (or 50/50 cacao butter and coconut oil)
70g raw cacao powder
40g lucuma powder
3 tbsp maple syrup or raw honey (or less, to taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Optional extras – a few teaspoons of nut butter such as almond or cashew; a few drops of peppermint or orange extract, as per manufacturers instructions; raisins and chopped nuts to make your very own fruit and nut bar; dried cherries, cranberries or goji berries.
Melt the cacao butter very slowly in a pan so you don’t destroy the antioxidants – you can even leave it in a bowl in the sun if you have time. Remove from the heat, add the cacao powder and maple syrup, and stir really well using a balloon whisk, until it is completely combined, thick and glossy - this may take a good five minutes or so, but it's worth waiting until the mixture has really emulsified as the finished result will be so much better. Add the optional extras at this point and stir to combine well. Pour into moulds, or do as I do and pour into a baking-parchment lined tupperware – place in the fridge to set, or freezer for half an hour if you’re in a hurry. Remove, and either pop the chocolate out of the moulds or slice the chocolate slab into squares. Store in a covered container in the fridge.
Cacao butter and powder do contain stimulants in the form of caffeine and theobromine, which some are more sensitive to than others. Children also may do better with a lighter mixture, and you can achieve this by reducing the cacao butter by half or even avoiding it completely, adding virgin coconut oil to make up the same amount. Additionally you can do the same with the cacao powder, substituting half of the total quantity with carob powder or increasing the lucuma content. The flavour will still be delicious, but please note that the addition of coconut oil will make the finished chocolate prone to melting more quickly at room temperature.