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.