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.


Cherry Thyme Clafoutis

by Maja Lukic


I am going to France! Not like tomorrow or next week or even next month, but certainly in a few months. And since I've been contemplating this fantastic European excursion, mapping Paris, making lists, I'm feeling Francophile inspiration everywhere. 

I decided to prepare a clafoutis, which is a sweet French cake with a soft pudding-like texture. It's similar to a baked pancake. For my first clafoutis, I thought I would start with a traditional cherry version and work up to more outrageous fruit from there. But for interest--and a delicate Provençal twist--I added fresh thyme. It's beautiful and it complements the fresh sweet cherries. (Of course if you're not feeling the herbal situation, leave it out). I've had an idea for a gluten-free/grain-free clafoutis in mind for months. Almond flour was a natural choice because almonds and cherries pair so well in any context. 

This can be a delicious and filling dessert but it's even better as breakfast with a strong espresso. You can serve it chilled or at room temperature. And if you'd like to add a creamy element of some sort, no objection here. 

I shot this recipe with both frozen black cherries and fresh sweet cherries. After several rounds of taste tests, I confess mixed feelings about using frozen cherries here. The visual difference between fresh (image above) and frozen fruit (image below) is palpable in the photographs but I can also vouch that the flavor of the fresh cherry clafoutis is nicer. I should add that the fresh thyme is more noticeable and lovely in the fresh cherry version. And it only takes a little extra effort to pit the cherries (a plain drinking straw works quite well to remove the pits if you don't have a cherry pitter).

To be fair, my only real issue with frozen cherries is that the cherries bleed blue juice into the pancake batter, which isn't egregious on its own but, combined with the soft texture of the clafoutis, the effect can be unappetizing. 

Although this post has French roots, the red, white & blue nature of this dessert coincides nicely with the upcoming holidays--4th of July here and Canada Day on July 1 for my friends up North. Have a wonderful long weekend and enjoy the holidays!

Cherry Thyme Clafoutis (gf)

Adapted from Saveur

Serves 8

5 eggs

1 1/4 cup almond milk

3/4 cup almond flour

3 tbsp maple syrup (or brown/sucanat/coconut sugar)

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

1 lemon, zest only

1 tsp fresh thyme

3 cups pitted fresh cherries (or frozen, see note)

sea salt

avocado oil (for baking)

powdered/confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. 

Blend the eggs, almond milk, maple syrup, seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (or vanilla extract), and a pinch of sea salt in a blender (or whisk by hand). Blend (or whisk) the ingredients until smooth. Add the zest of 1 lemon and a teaspoon of fresh thyme. Add the almond flour and continue to blend/whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge (or overnight).   

Slide a cast iron skillet into the oven for a few minutes to warm up. Add enough avocado oil (or other high-heat cooking oil) to the bottom of the skillet to coat the bottom and sides. Pour half of the batter into the skillet and slide back into the oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Distribute the cherries evenly over the batter and pour the remaining batter over the cherries. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. (It will deflate as it cools).

Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar, slice into wedges, and serve. Store in the fridge for a day. 

Notes: The batter can be prepared up to one day in advance. Store in the fridge overnight. If using frozen cherries, defrost, drain, and blot dry with a paper towel. When baking, add half of the batter at a time so that the cherries don't sink to the bottom. If you don't have fresh thyme, omit (dried thyme is a poor substitute).

 


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.