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And all because the Lady loves it raw...

Rhoda-Mary Health

Twinkling festive lights. I'm feeling compelled by forces beyond my control to mention the C-word. OK, OK! I give in! CHOCOLATE! There! I've said it. 'tis the season to eat choccie, tra la la la la la la la la. But where, pray, is the tall dark handsome man? Should he not ski through my window, Milk Tray in hand? That maaay be a hint âΒ€¦ tragically, the violet one met a violent end, so it's just me and my choccie now. Having buried the body and binned the box, I'm relaxing with a different class of chocolate – the deep, luscious kind, filled with flavour and flavonols designed to keep me healthy while it melts in my mouth. Is it too good to be true? Am I proposing that the blackest of sins is really the Food of the Gods? Yes...! :-) Or demigods, at the very least. In 1753 Carl von Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist, thought chocolate so important that he named the tree's genus and species Theobroma cacao, which means: cacao, food of the gods. All chocolate comes, ultimately, from cacao. It is the seed of the fruit of a jungle tree indigenous to Central and South America. Cacao beans are chocolate in raw form. Most commercial chocolate bars – whether highly processed or vegan organic – are made from roasted (i.e. cooked) cacao beans. Cooked cacao is listed as 'cocoa' on English-language labels. Raw chocolate is described as 'cacao'. Over the past couple of years, sweeties and bars made with raw cacao have been entering the marketplace with increasing panache. Aficionados, such as Naked Chocolate (2005) authors David Wolfe and Shazzie, claim uncooked choccie offers myriad health benefits above and beyond the minerals and goodies contained in high-quality chocolate made from roasted beans. Cacao nibs (shards of cacao bean) and cacao powder (ground nibs) are gaining in popularity. Both are delicious. The nibs are nice to nibble on (!) and sport a dark, almost wine-like, flavour. The powder is lighter and milder than cocoa and excellent for making raw chocolates. More about that lordly pursuit later. But you'll have to wait... Superior qualities attributed to raw chocolate include higher levels of the following nutrients: anti-ageing antioxidants; minerals (especially magnesium, which is why women crave chocolate monthly); amino acids (e.g. calming tryptophan and the lovers' friend arginine); B vitamins; the 'bliss chemical' anandamide; the 'love chemical' phenylethylamine (PEA); and substances that modulate mood-related neurotransmitters - such as serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline - in favour of happiness :-) To explore just one of the above, PEA is a chemical intimately involved in generating feelings of attraction, excitement and euphoria. As chocolate keeps our PEA levels high no matter what our love lives look like, it may be the reason why we hit Theobroma cacao so hard when our broken hearts need to be soothed. Cacao lovers also insist the nutrients in raw chocolate give them a gentle high. But I wonder, sometimes. The kind of energy and clarity they describe sound (and feel!) like a caffeine buzz to me. Raw and roasted cacao beans contain theobromine and caffeine, both of which are stimulants. Raw chocolate advocates claim that uncooked caffeine and theobromine are much kinder to the body. I wish...! I found out the hard way that raw chocolate can hurt me if I eat too much of it. Unfortunately, 'too much' in my world is not very much at all. I am sensitive to stimulants and prone to migraine. Even moderate amounts of cacao can cause a scintillating scotoma in my brain cells - the kind of light show you really don't want! Everyone is different, though; the lucky ones simply feel the benefits. But to the headache-inclined, insomniac, or stimulant-sensitive, I would suggest enjoying raw choccie in moderation. But do enjoy it unless you find you really can't! For my part, I would never stop eating it but I am careful with it and I keep it away from bedtime. Within the raw food community, where its most ardent supporters reside, raw cacao divides expert opinion. Some people view it as the world's No.1 superfood and well nigh live on it; others see it as a stimulant and shun it. Yet others view it as a treat, as I do. Time for a treat The other C-word is fast upon us. Stuck for a stocking filler? At the risk of sounding like Bridget Jones's mother's lover, home-made raw chocolates are a charming gift for young and old alike, comprising elegance, gustatory pleasure and that all-important personal touch in one delightful package. Rawda's Raw Chocolate Hearts Recipe (c) Makes between 9 and 12 chocolates, depending on the mould Equipment:

  • Silicon chocolate/ice-cube tray with heart-shaped moulds
  • Liquid cup measurements
  • Silicon or metal hand-held whisk (NB: Don't use an electric blender, as ingredients can separate)
  • Large saucepan
  • Large mixing bowl - not plastic, as you may need to put it over heat
  • Pyrex bowl or pint measure (heat-resistant glass)
  • Rubber spatula
  • A couple of spoons and knives

Note on equipment: Check out Dunne's Stores homeware department for silicon whisks, spatulas and moulds and Kitchen Complements for liquid cup measurements and a wider selection of moulds. Moulds cost in and around âΒ‚¬7.00 from Kitchen Complements, depending on the style. Spatulas and whisks cost about âΒ‚¬3.00-4.00 from Dunne's. Ingredients:

  • Half a cup of Barlean's extra-virgin coconut oil (I recommend using this brand because it has a fresh, clean taste; more potent oils can ruin the flavour!): âΒ‚¬17.49 for 16oz/473mls
  • Half a cup of Natasha's raw cacao powder: âΒ‚¬2.99 for 100g (excellent value!)
  • An eighth of a cup of Natasha's or Suma organic agave syrup: âΒ‚¬4.99 for 250mls
  • An eighth of a cup of Natasha's lucuma powder (plus an extra shake later on): âΒ‚¬7.35 for 100g
  • Two drops of Atlantic Aromatics essential oil of lime (use this brand, as dropper sizes vary between brands): âΒ‚¬3.75 for 5mls (lasts a year and a day (or longer) when kept in a cool, dark place)
  • Two small pinches of Himalayan crystal salt (pink salt): finely ground version: âΒ‚¬6.99 for 500g (lasts for all eternity; alternatively, just use finely ground sea salt)

Note on ingredients: Ingredients are available from The Hopsack, or to order through the shop. The initial outlay may seem steep but your bits and pieces should last you through several chocolate-making sessions (except for the cacao!). I used coconut oil in this recipe due to its wide availability but many raw chocolate makers use cacao butter instead. Our Paul knows all about cacao butter if you need advice on working with it. The Hopsack carries Natasha's Raw Cacao Butter (âΒ‚¬5.15 for 100g) but larger quantities of Sara's Choice brand can be ordered through the shop if you really get into it! We also sell Creative Nature Organic Peruvian Cacao Nibs (âΒ‚¬6.99 for 150g) just for you. N.B. Do not exceed two drops of Atlantic Aromatics essential oil of lime in this recipe and mix it in well. Essential oils are used, on occasion, to flavour confectionery but should be employed with strict moderation; they are primarily for external use and should never be taken internally in any other context. If you’re short on time and want to buy the ingredients in one fell swoop, you could order one of Natasha’s raw chocolate making kits from The Hopsack. They retail at âΒ‚¬29.99 each and contain cacao nibs, cacao powder, cacao butter and agave syrup. Method: In this climate, coconut oil solidifies, so gouge some out of the tub and use a bain-marie to melt it. (Melt more rather than less than you need; you don't want to be caught short and leftovers will re-solidify.) If you don't have a bain-marie, fill a large saucepan to just over the half way mark with boiling water and melt the coconut oil in a Pyrex bowl or pint measure by floating it on the water. Turn the heat on very low to speed up proceedings but don't let the water bubble or splash into the oil. The oil should melt but not cook. Meanwhile, put half a cup of cacao powder, an eighth of a cup of lucuma powder and two small pinches of Himalayan crystal salt into a large bowl and mix together. Keeping the bain-marie for later, remove the melted coconut oil from the heat and pour into the dry ingredients, whisking all the time to make sure the ingredients blend together lump-less-ly. Everything should turn to liquid. Add an eighth of a cup of agave syrup and whisk again. If the mixture is sticking to the whisk, it is solidifying. Take countermeasures by using the bain-marie principle again. Rest your mixing bowl on the saucepan of hot water and continue to whisk until the choccie returns to a runny state. Don't let the chocolate get hot, just mildly warm to the touch. Add another light shake of lucuma powder and whisk it in. From now on, you need to work quickly. Remove the bowl from the bain-marie and add two drops of essential oil of lime. Mix it thoroughly to distribute the flavour. Pour/scrape the mixture into the pint measure or medium-sized jug using a spatula. Take your mould and pour the chocolate into each heart shape. There should be enough to fill 9-12 hearts, depending on the mould. Without spilling, place the mould in the freezer. Thoroughly lick the bowl, pint measure, spoons, whisk and spatula. After two hours, remove the tray from the freezer, pop the choccies out of their moulds and âΒ€¦ do what thou wilt. If you are giving your hearts to another, leave them in the freezer until the last moment, then wrap them in baking paper and sacrifice. If you'd like some expert chocolate-making advice, the Hopsack even has a raw chocolatier on site. Paul, take a bow! Just last Friday, we all managed to stick our grubby paws into Kate's Kristkindl present – his deeeevine raw handmade chocolates – before she rescued a few crumbs for herself! If you don't have time to make chocolate – though it takes very little time – The Hopsack is currently selling a staggering range of raw and high quality cooked choccie. Wanna hear about it...? We have Natasha's raw chocolates: in pairs for lovers, boxes for generous lovers, and a variety of flavours for experimental lovers. Natasha's Mighty Chocolate Nut-Seed Energy Bars, coated in raw chocolate, are a tad more filling if you need to zip through a dip. And if you love milk chocolate but want raw, dairy-free fun, try Mulu Silk Chocolate instead; the addition of sunflower lecithin lightens the cacao and imparts a silky, chewy texture to the bar. Of course, no discussion of raw chocolate would be complete without hitting the fridge for a slice of Natasha's ganache. Chocolate orange, chocolate ginger... Mmmm! Why don't you just pay us a visit? We also carry Booja Booja vegan truffles in Around Midnight Espresso, Hazelnut Crunch, Champagne and Cognac Flambéd Banana Truffle flavours. They are not raw but they are organic, good for your soul, and taste bad BaD BAD! Green and Black's and Montezuma's have also sent us some lush organic non-raw choccies. Not all products are vegan, so ask the Lovelies for advice. In addition to the usual ranges, both companies have showered us with seasonal treats, including, among other things, Montezuma's Chunky Snowmen and Christmas Baubles in white, milk and dark choccie (which I have on good authority are being stolen from the mouths of babes by Mummies and Daddies ... NAUGHTY!!) and Green and Black's Seasonal Assortment, Milk and Spice bar, and thinly posh mint squares. When you see those, you know Santy is nearby! If, alas, you dislike chocolate, despair not: HRH The Prince of Wales, purveyor of fine foods, has ridden to your rescue. For you alone, he has furnished The Hopsack with Duchy Originals biscuits that contain not a smidgen of chocolate. So do pop in! It remains for us to wish you, one and all, a very Happy Chocolatey Christmas and a Merry New Year :-) Did you know? The Aztec Emperor Montezuma was a confirmed chocoholic. His favourite drink was a tasty version of hot chocolate, lovingly brewed from cacao and served up by his women with great reverence in cup-shaped vessels of pure gold. It was whispered that he would consume 50 cups of this potent aphrodisiac before visiting his harem. (The Irish Chocolate Association dedicates this blog to the Dark Lady of Edinburgh.)

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