Vegan Blackberry Chocolate Mousse

by Maja Lukic


The weather feels transitional this morning, neither too hot nor chilly, though even the hottest days right now carry a subsurface transience. Summer's intensity has diminished, but I'm currently packing for a Europe trip (or should be) as I write this so things are beginning as well. This closing time, then incipience of a new cultural season, and the slow repopulation of August's city is why this month is one of my favorite months of the year. Nor do I hate the glorious produce available at the markets, which I would advise everyone to consume raw as often as possible--with good sea salt and olive oil. Tomato season, can you be always?

One recent humid afternoon, when it was still true summer, I set about making chocolate avocado mousse, which has been a point of contention for me for quite some time. (I realize how absurd that sounds). The basic recipe, a favorite among vegans and raw foodists, is avocado whipped in a high-speed blender and flavored with cacao or melted chocolate. The promise is a dessert that replicates the silky texture and flavor of traditional chocolate mousse but sans eggs, cream, or tofu. For as many years as avocado mousse has been a thing, I've thoroughly mocked the idea.

I never understood how something that is ostensibly sweetened guacamole could rise to a flavorful dessert beyond the sum of its unlikely parts.

I won't name the source of the recipe I first tried,but the ingredient list called for enough raw avocado to make California weep. I was already fairly dubious about the whole enterprise, and when the final result came out of my blender, it looked creamy enough. But the flavor was no good. There was a bland avocado aftertaste--even with banana and almond butter thrown into the mix. I tossed the lot of it into the trash and tried not to be bitter about all the avocado toast (or guac) I could have had instead. 

I think the key to a successful avocado mousse is breaking or masking that flavorless avocado aftertaste, a sort of bland fatty feel on the tongue. A higher ratio of banana to avocado is the first step. The second step is either actual melted chocolate or at least a healthy infusion of high-quality cacao.  And then it needs a top note of some sort. This additional flavor could be vanilla, espresso, or even mesquite powder, which is reminiscent of caramel. Me, I was inspired by a pretty bottle of liqueur sitting on my shelf.

French crème de mure, for the uninitiated, is a blackberry liqueur. For gin fanatics, it's most commonly associated with blackberry brambles. The concentrated blackberry flavor and sweet scent are intense and fantastic. Crème de mure is more than adequate when served on its own with a splash of tonic water or club soda. But I figured it wouldn't hurt a dessert either. I was right--it didn't hurt.

Crème de mure can be difficult to find so you may substitute a different fruit liqueur such as cassis (black currant liqueur), cherry liqueur, or raspberry liqueur. The adventurous are welcome to experiment with pomegranate molasses. There is an intentional theme at work here--I love the combination of ripe dark or red fruit with chocolate.

Vegan Blackberry Chocolate Mousse

Adapted from Oh She Glows

Serves 2-3

The mousse can be stored in the fridge overnight, sealed well with plastic. Because of the bananas and avocado, the surface may darken from exposure to air. This is no problem--if you wish, scrape off the thin dark layer before serving.

3 frozen bananas, chopped

1/2 avocado

2 tbsp. raw almond butter

4 tbsp. cacao powder

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

splash of almond milk

1 tbsp. crème de mure

pink Himalayan sea salt

Toppings: blackberries, edible flowers, cacao nibs, etc.

Add the first five ingredients to a high-powered blender and pulse a few times to incorporate. Blend until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides and adding almond milk as needed to process. Add crème de mure and  a pinch of sea salt. Blend again until incorporated. Serve immediately topped with fruit, flowers, and cacao nibs. Chill in the fridge for up to 2 days.


Chocolate & Coconut Chia Seed Mousse

by Maja Lukic


I don't mind an occasional chia seed pudding for breakfast once in a while but, to be honest, I've never been a fan of the texture. It's hard to love that texture. And if I'm in the mood for a creamy chocolate dessert, a chocolate-flavored chia seed pudding is the last resort, quite frankly. 

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on this ingenious whipped chia seed mousse recipe on The First Mess (one of my favorite blogs -- the photographs alone are worth a visit and the recipes are consistently inventive and bright). The concept is simple: combine chia seeds with high-fat ingredients (coconut butter and coconut milk), allow the mixture to set into a pudding, and blend in a high-speed blender (a Vitamix, presumably) until the pudding reaches a creamy, mousse-like consistency. It's brilliant because it solves that "mouthfeel" issue I have with chia seed puddings. (I also don't appreciate the word "mouthfeel" but there it is). 

The slight problem in all this was that I don't own a Vitamix. Shocked that a food blogger doesn't own one? Yeah, me, too. I hear they're awfully useful. I may even invest in one some day but, for now, my kitchen blender is a sad, sweet little Oster model I brought to the city with me a few years ago. I can't bear to part with it until it dies. It kept me company during a long, horrid winter upstate (sorry, Albany) and, even now, its smooth buzzing is a soothing presence when I'm up early in the morning to write or work. (By morning, I mean 5 a.m. Worst neighbor, I know, but, to be fair, I only run the coffee grinder at 5 a.m. -- never the blender.). Basically, loyalty matters. 

But I thought I could achieve a similar, if not identical, texture by first grinding the chia seeds in a coffee grinder and then preparing the pudding. I think it turned out pretty well! For a deeper coconut flavor, feel free to leave out the cacao powder. Most importantly, be patient -- give it a full 24 hours to set and become firm. It's worth the wait, I think.

And no, the edible flowers in the photos are not irrelevant to this post. It may not feel like it but a reluctant spring is here. Happy first day of spring!

Chocolate & Coconut Chia Seed Mousse (v/gf)

Adapted from The First Mess

Serves 4

1/4 cup chia seeds (black or white)

1 can full-fat coconut milk (see note)

2 tbsp coconut butter (not coconut oil)

4-5 tbsp maple syrup, to taste

1/2 vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)

1/3 cup cacao powder

pinch of sea salt

toppings: raw sliced almonds, raw coconut flakes/chips

Process the chia seeds in a coffee grinder for about 20 seconds or until ground to a fine powder. Whisk and set aside.

In a large food processor, process the coconut milk, coconut butter, maple syrup, the seeds of one half of a vanilla bean, and a pinch of sea salt until lightly incorporated. Add cacao powder and process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides. 

Measure out 1/4 cup of the chia seed powder (you will have some left over) and add it to the food processor. Continue to process until the pudding is smooth and no clumps remain. Pour the mixture into individual ramekins or bowls. Refrigerate for a full 24 hours before serving.

To serve, toast a handful of sliced almonds and raw coconut flakes in a skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Careful -- both ingredients burn easily. Top the chocolate mousse with the toasted almonds and coconut. Serve. 

Note: Use full-fat coconut milk - this does not work with light coconut milk (I tried). You can also purchase milled chia seed powder but I haven't tried it with this recipe and can't vouch for it. 


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.