Right, well I’ve had a fairly lacklustre week, having come down with a virus after getting my flu vaccination. First time ever. The only real downside is that I’ve been so sick I’ve now fallen way behind in pretty much everything I needed to get done this week … hello work deadlines, now delayed, still looming ahead. OK, feeling sick isn’t much fun either.
So I haven’t really been baking up a storm this week, although there was the Monday night macaron incident. I had leftover egg whites from the cupcakes I made last week and I was feeling rather bleugh by Monday already. So I thought I’d spend a little time in the kitchen quietly making a batch of macarons. You know. To cheer myself up.
So there I was, calmly getting everything ready. I stood smiling smugly at my macaronage technique. What’s that about pride coming before a fall? Flipping the macaronage over on to itself, it suddenly dawned on me that I had used my last large piping bag on the weekend and I’d thrown out my old baking sheets that needed to be replaced … but I hadn’t yet gone out to get new ones. I think I stopped breathing right then and there.
That was followed by a brief panic of “the sky is falling!” variety and witnesses claim that strong language was employed by yours truly. But their testimony is somewhat dodgy as they are members of my own family, only happy to accuse me of such nonsense ;-P
Once I’d calmed down, realising that time was probably of the essence … I proceeded to whip out what trays I could find and my tiny piping bags – the kind you use for small icing jobs.
Viviane’s Macaron Tip: macarons are nowhere near as hard to make as the myths surrounding them would suggest. BUT one thing is for sure – piping macarons with a tiny piping bag is a lesson about diminishing returns.
Happily, while it was a struggle and they didn’t look as perfect as they ought to have done, they were pretty close to perfect and most even had little feet. A few were a tad misshapen as I had to upturn the cookie sheets and piped a little too close to the sloped edges
All in all, they still had a light, crispy shell and soft yummy interior so all’s well that ends well. This cloud still had a silver lining … or a macaron one. I’ll post it all another time, sans mega-disaster and once I get me more piping bags and baking sheets.
Viviane’s Baking Tip: CHECK YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED BEFORE YOU START ANYTHING IN THE KITCHEN.
Well, at least we’ve laughed hysterically about it at home all week. Then I turned my sights on making something quick, easy, and healthy to make up for feeling awful for days … and I’d have to sneak in some chocolate because nothing cheers me up like chocolate does (I sandwiched the macarons with a plain chocolate ganache for precisely this reason and I couldn’t be bothered doing anything else by that stage).
A healthy Chocolate Nut Spread. Great idea. Lots of recipes around. As usual, I go “meh” and do my own thing. I’ve been playing around with recipes for this for ages. Sometimes they set too solid (tip: avoid adding coconut oil). Sometimes they don’t keep very well and I’ve found that this is often when I add dairy, usually skim milk, or try to leave out sweeteners. Ultimately, you need something to help it keep, albeit naturally. I’ve added soy milk but get the same problem. Plus I’m not keen on the flavour. Persistence does pay though. The recipe below ticks all the boxes for being healthy, but importantly, it’s also full of pure wonderful flavours. I chose almonds this time because that’s what I grabbed out of the pantry first.
It is intensely chocolatey … well, it has to be or I wouldn’t eat, would I? I think not. Note that it really is gluten, wheat, and dairy free. If you choose your sweetener right, it is also suitable for people on a low FODMAP diet (specifically those with fructose issues).
If you want it to be dairy free, use 100% pea protein in this recipe. The one I use for cooking and in smoothies is just pure pea protein and pure vanilla, nothing else added. There are chocolate varieties with cacao added or plain, with nothing but pea protein. It’s also got a high bio-availability so I’m happy with it replacing whey proteins in cooking. The reason? Most whey proteins do have additives, even if they don’t contain gums and other fillers. It doesn’t taste like peas, just in case you’re wondering.
Whatever nuts you choose, it’ll be packed full of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates, no trans fats or other bad guy diet fiends, lots of antioxidants, and dare I say, in all that nutritional goodness … it tastes utterly utterly delicious. Or I wouldn’t eat it, would I? 😉
Best of all, it is dead easy and takes only seconds to make. Practically perfect as Mary Poppins might say. No excuses.
Makes 1 standard jar
Ingredients (almond version)
100 grams almonds, lightly roasted
2 tablespoons organic coconut sugar
3 – 4 tablespoons raw cacao
2 tablespoons unflavoured protein powder* (I use Professional Whey NZ WPI)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla bean paste
*If you use a flavoured protein powder, you will need to reduce the amount of sugar. Try for a chocolate or vanilla protein in this case. You can also use pea protein isolate or a micellar casein with great results. I imagine hemp protein powder would also work well, if it is available to you (not in Australia at this time).
A note on sweeteners: OK, I’ve used organic coconut sugar so 1 used around 2 tablespoons. It’s not an overly sweet sugar and is ok for anyone with problems absorbing fructose. Sweeteners I use are usually a little sugar or maple syrup for this reason. But it’s also great with honey, fruit juice concentrates, and other syrups such as rice or barley. If you use puréed dates as a sweetener, make sure you puree them until quite smooth. I imagine it’s also good with stevia or agave syrup (off-limits to me). High fructose sweeteners give me painful cramps but if you can use them, you undoubtedly need less of them, as they are generally more sweet. Rule of thumb, add a little and do a taste test towards the end and add a little more if you need to. Avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs in this spread. Or in anything for that matter
A note on nuts: Firstly, I made the spread using almonds here. Almonds are really good for you. If you could only have one type of nut, this is possibly the best you could have. But all nuts are good and most of them are delicious with this spread. I use whatever I have to hand, or takes my fancy. Love them all. To get great health benefits as well as wonderful flavour, the following are great choices: walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts (yeah, Nutella), macadamias, pistachios, or a combination. Great combinations include almond + brazil nut + cashew (the classic ABC), almond + pistachio, and walnut + cashew. I imagine it would also be wonderful with chestnuts although I have not yet tried that myself.
Secondly, if you don’t have a food processor or nut grinder, all is not lost! Use your favourite nut butter but look for one that doesn’t have added salt or sugar, just 100% nutty goodness.
A note on flavouring: The recipe above is the base recipe. You can flavour this with whatever you like: citrus zest and juice, rosewater or rose oil is lovely with pistachio, orange flower water, cinnamon or other spices, a little chilli, fleur de sel, even coffee (with walnuts, wow). Add the flavouring before you add the water.
Whizz together the almonds and sugar in a food processor or sturdy blender until almost a paste. Add the raw cacao and whizz again. Add the protein powder and vanilla bean paste and whizz one more time for good measure until combined.
Continue whizzing at a low to medium speed and add the water in a steady stream, a little at a time. Add only until the mixture is smooth and creamy, but not too solid or runny either.
Pour or scoop into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator. This was enough for one standard jar.
I’m rather pleased with that! Hopefully you will be too