Chocolate Gin Truffles

by Maja Lukic

This post should surprise exactly no one.  That I would, inevitably, combine gin and dark chocolate at some point was in the cards as soon as I started this blog and set aside a special place to experiment with gin bottles and food. That these ingredients would actually come together in such a delicious way is a bit of a revelation, though. 

Brooklyn Gin is a recent discovery, by the way. I first tried it at a cocktail bar over the summer and it has quickly become a favorite sipping gin. It also happens to have one of the most stunningly beautiful bottles I've ever seen. But feel free to use any gin or any other spirit you like -- a good bourbon or brandy would be a respectable second choice. For the less decadent and dissolute among you, leave out the alcohol and substitute fresh citrus juice, nut milk, or water.  

Sure I believe in healthy, clean eating. But I also firmly believe in treating yourself to occasional indulgences -- a balanced lifestyle is a lot easier to sustain over the long run than an overly restrictive one. Treat yourself kindly is my philosophy. 

 And to be fair, aside from the (optional) chocolate coating and the inclusion of gin, these truffles are full of excellent, healthy ingredients as they primarily consist of dried fruit, nuts, and cacao powder.

Prunes are a bit of an unsung hero, in my opinion, and I am determined to rehabilitate them with these chocolates. Dates are universally revered for their sweetness -- and rightfully so -- but prunes are almost unequivocally disliked. Their unpopularity resulted in an official (and utterly ridiculous) name change -- to "dried plums."  It's more than a little unfair. Prunes have this awesome sweet and sour flavor; they're sweet and chewy but not cloyingly so. And they balance the alcohol and gin here far better than dates alone. More importantly, they're awesome from a nutritional standpoint: extremely high in antioxidants, a great source of vitamins A and K, and packed with dietary fiber (which you probably already know). Basically, what I'm saying is, prunes deserve some love, too.  

One final note before I set you free: these truffles are technically gluten free. The National Institutes of Health’s Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign has characterized distilled alcohol as safe for individuals on a gluten-free diet even though it may be derived from gluten-containing ingredients (the distillation process removes the gluten proteins). However, if you're extremely gluten intolerant, use your judgment. 

That's it. Now go treat yourselves.  

Chocolate Gin Truffles

Makes approx. 32 truffles

8-9 organic Medjool dates, pitted (approx 1. cup) 

1 cup organic prunes (dried plums)

1/3 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut

1/2 cup whole raw organic almonds

1/4 cup organic cacao powder

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp organic maple syrup

1 1/2 oz. gin (see Note) 

1 tbsp water

sea salt

For rolling: melted vegan dark chocolate or cacao powder

Toast the almonds by spreading them out on a sheet pan and roasting at 350 F for about 10 minutes. Or, toast the almonds in a large skillet over medium height until fragrant and lightly browned. Set them aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

Toast the coconut in a skillet over low heat and watch it carefully. The fine coconut shreds can go from a beautiful golden brown to burnt in a matter of seconds.  

Add dates, prunes, almonds, and coconut to your food processor and pulse 10-15 times to break up the ingredients. Add in the cacao powder, vanilla extract, maple syrup, and pinch of sea salt, and process until the dough starts to come together. With the motor running, drizzle in 1 oz of gin and 1 tbsp water. Continue to process the mixture until the dough easily sticks together. (If it seems too crumbly, add in more water, a teaspoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency). 

Move the mixture to a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set. Roll teaspoon-sized chunks of dough into little balls. Dip them into melted chocolate, set them on wax paper, and then place in the fridge for about an hour while the chocolate hardens. Alternatively, roll them in cacao powder. (They're also very delicious plain). 

Note: Again, I used Brooklyn Gin but you may substitute any other alcohol. For an alcohol-free truffle, use water, fresh orange juice, almond milk, coconut milk or coconut water. You can totally skip the roasting process above if you prefer to consume nuts/seeds in their raw state. 

*Recipe quantities edited March 16, 2014. 

Chocolate Cherry & Coconut Breakfast Bars

by Maja Lukic

If you know me at all, you know that I have a serious chocolate addiction--hoarding, at all times, a stash of Alter Eco bars, Vosges truffles, and other impulsive purchases in kitchen cupboards and office desk drawers. There is no shame in eating real chocolate and taking a great deal of pleasure in it. But I'm also not above working chocolate into a relatively healthy recipe and then slapping a raw-organic-vegan-gluten-free-soy-free label on it.

The best thing about these chocolate bars (other than the chocolate) is that they're chilled. I store them in the freezer and eat them semi frozen on hot lazy summer mornings. The bars come out of the freezer cold, creamy, chewy, super sweet and sour from the cherries, and crunchy from the almonds and coconut. It's a pretty spectacular mix.

The other thing I love about these bars is that they are reminiscent of a dessert I loved to eat as a child. When I was growing up, my mom often made little chocolate cakes called "Čupavci," which are rectangular pieces of yellow sponge cake dipped in melted dark chocolate and then rolled in finely shredded coconut. It's essentially an Eastern European version of the Australian Lamington and it's absolutely fantastic. This is not that, of course, but it does recall some of those old, familiar flavors.

One additional point: this is a recipe that relies heavily on so-called Superfoods, whatever that term means to you. It's not necessarily a word I like to throw around because it's vague and poorly defined and I don't necessarily believe that eating healthy requires investing in fancy powders and obscure dried fruit and seeds. But the fact is that most of these ingredients are marketed as such and are actually pretty good for you. Putting aside my pure love of anything chocolate, cacao powder is incredibly high in antioxidants, iron and calcium. Hemp is an excellent, easily digestible, plant-based, complete protein that contains all essential amino acids. Mulberries are a great source of resveratrol, an antioxidant compound. These bars will never take the place of real chocolate in my heart but they're a decent healthy alternative.

Chocolate Cherry & Coconut Breakfast Bars (v/gf)

Makes 8 bars

Adapted from Superfood Kitchen

1 1/2 cups organic Medjool dates, pitted (about 15-16)

1/4 cup organic raw cashews

1/4 cup organic raw almonds

1/4 cup organic cacao powder

6 tbsp organic hulled hemp seeds

1/3 cup organic dried mulberries

2 tsp maca powder (optional)

1 tsp chia seeds (optional)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2-4 tbsp water, as needed

2 tbsp sliced almonds

2 tbsp unsweetened desiccated coconut, plus additional coconut for rolling

1/3 cup organic unsweetened dried cherries

sea salt

In a food processor, pulse the dates, cashews and almonds together to roughly chop them. Add in cacao, hemp seeds, vanilla, mulberries, maca powder (if using), chia seeds (if using), and a pinch of sea salt, and process everything together until a mass starts to form. With the motor running, slowly add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough starts to come together. It should stick together easily so that your bars are not too crumbly but you do not want it to be too wet either. If it does feel too wet, add in some more hemp or chia seeds.

When you have a nice sticky dough, add in the coconut, sliced almonds, and dried cherries and pulse several times until just coarsely chopped so that the bars have a nice crunchy texture.

Place a large double layer of plastic wrap on a flat surface. I find it easiest to layer the plastic wrap on a baking sheet. Roll the dough out on the plastic and gather into a solid mass in the center. Use the sides of the plastic to wrap over the dough as tightly as possible, pressing and shaping the mass into a compact 1-inch thick rectangle. Place the entire thing into the freezer for about 30 minutes. (This is where the baking sheet comes in handy – just pop the entire thing into the freezer). When it’s solid, remove the plastic wrap and cut into 8 bars with a sharp knife.

Roll each bar in coconut and serve. For long-term storage, wrap each each bar individually and keep in the freezer. They should be fine in the freezer for a few weeks. I wish I could tell you they’ll stay fresh for longer than that but I actually do not know – I never manage to keep them around that long.