Vegan Dark Chocolate

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The vegan chocolate is posing resplendently, admiring its non-waxy, richly flavourful self.

Hello, my fellow earthlings! Today I am writing about vegan dark chocolate. As its name attests, it is completely free of any animal products whatsoever, including dairy. (It is also gluten free!) As such, I felt leery of calling it “dark” chocolate, because this implies there is also a vegan milk chocolate out there. However, when I gave it more thought, I concluded there probably is a vegan milk chocolate recipe out there that relies on something like coconut butter and / or coconut cream to achieve a more familiar milk chocolate-like taste – albeit with a coconut spin.

This recipe is high in fat and, depending on how much maple syrup you use, low in carbs. Even if you use the full 6 TBS of maple syrup, this still has fewer carbs per serving than commercially sold chocolate. So I would describe this recipe as keto-friendly.

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An even closer close-up. Oh, baby.

This recipe does not include any coconut products, which normally feature heavily in vegan dessert recipes. I am going to further develop this recipe, but for now, it is coconut-less. For those with coconut allergies, this must be a welcome relief. I cannot imagine how difficult life must be for people who cannot eat dairy, yet who also have coconut or nut allergies, as dairy-free cuisine is heavily reliant on these things.

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Melting the cocoa butter. I neglected to chop mine finely, as I specify below in the method section, and so it took much longer than it should have to melt the cocoa butter. I could have ridden horseback along the beach in the time it took to melt this stuff.

Some of you are likely wondering why I bothered making vegan chocolate at all. If I’m being fair, vegan chocolate does have the reputation of being oddly textured, not chocolate-y, and / or a multitude of other yucky things. This chocolate, gleaned from Minimalist Baker, throws all of that on its head: It is damned good. It tastes like high-end chocolate with 85% cacao content. The texture is silky and rich, even when the chocolate is freshly plucked from the freezer. It isn’t waxy at all, which many commercial chocolates are. The chocolate flavour is deep and true, achieved by using cocoa butter and cocoa powder in concert. (And there isn’t a hint of coconut taste!) Out of curiosity, I tried a piece of plain cocoa butter – I’d never tasted it in this form before. I was expecting it to be oily; instead, it is rich and smooth. And, not surprisingly, it tastes like unsweetened chocolate! It does form the central ingredient of commercially produced chocolate, after all.

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The cocoa butter is more melted here, allowing you to see what it looks like in liquid form. It’s yellow!

I didn’t know how this chocolate would taste before I made it, of course. I still haven’t offered an explanation as to why I made this recipe. Nice circumlocution, eh? ūüėČ I have had to cut dairy out of my life for the time being, save for rare – very rare – excursions back into its seductive embrace. Why? Allergies! I now ride the dairy-free train full time, cheerfully waving my ticket and irritating the other passengers with my enthusiasm. For, my friends, I feel better. My inflammatory markers nearly disappeared after cutting dairy out of my life, and I’m not alone in suspecting that most people react in an inflammatory way to dairy consumption. I don’t miss it, actually, except for butter and icing. This blog did begin life as a dessert blog, after all.

Oh, die Ironie.

Since I hadn’t tasted dairy-based chocolate in months, I asked a friend of mine to taste this recipe, just in case my tastebuds had gone off the reservation. He said what I initially said – that it tasted like really expensive dark chocolate. I rejoiced that my taste buds are still with me. ūüôā

We can talk about my egg allergy another day.

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As you can see, everything melts together beautifully! Just a few lumps of cocoa powder to smooth out, and things are ready to engage in a guitar solo.

Vegan Dark Chocolate

Yield: About 1 lb. of chocolate

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups cocoa butter, finely chopped (if it isn’t finely chopped, it will take forever to melt; cocoa butter is actually fairly hard at room temperature, unlike coconut oil, for example)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process is fine)
2 – 6 TBS maple syrup (2 TBS yields a very dark flavour; 4 TBS is probably akin to the flavour of chocolate with 60% cacao content)
2 tsp. vanilla paste or vanilla extract*

Optional ingredients (for topping the finished chocolates and / or mixing into the batter):

unsweetened coconut flakes
sea salt or Kosher salt
dried fruit
…and whatever else tickles your fancy ūüôā

Method:

Line an 8×8″ baking dish with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Alternately, you can set up cupcake liners (I’m guessing you’ll need up to 24 normal-sized cupcake liners for this recipe) on a cookie sheet.

Melt all ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan over med-low heat, stirring occasionally. Once melted, add any optional ingredients, such as coconut flakes or sea salt.

Pour into prepared container(s). If decorating the tops with coconut flake, sea salt, or something else, now is the time to do this. Freeze or refrigerate until firm.

If using a lined baking dish, try to cut the chocolate into even 1″ squares. It’s okay if it cracks into triangles or other weird shapes. If using cupcake liners, unmould. Transfer to an airtight container.

Store in the freezer in an airtight container for up to 3 months. (The original post specifies 1 month, but I’m 3 months along and the chocolate is still fine. You’ll have to decide for yourself how long you feel comfortable keeping the chocolate around.) You can store small amounts in the refrigerator if you’re sure you will eat them within a week or so. I’m not actually sure storing in the freezer is even necessary, but I haven’t tried just the refrigerator, so I cannot speak with authority about that.

*Instead of vanilla, you can use orange, raspberry, or mint extract – any flavour you like, really. You can also omit the extract or paste altogether, although I think it adds a nice richness of flavour to the chocolate.

Source: Minimalist Baker

Vegan Butternut Squash Bisque

Warm, comforting, delicious: Perfect for cold weather.

Warm, comforting, delicious: Ideal food for chilly weather.

My beloved autumn has at last arrived, chasing away the bright sunshine and high temperatures Рbeloved by many Рthat make me, paradoxically, wilt. Along with the chilled air and cloudy skies has come a decided craving for traditional cold weather fare: hearty stews and soups. This seasonal craving never hit me when I lived in a hot climate, another data point that despite being chained to electronics, we are still creatures of the weather.

I decided to try a vegan butternut squash bisque recipe that I found recently. I’d been wanting to try butternut squash bisque for months, but I didn’t have the time. It has only been in the last several weeks that I’ve had the time to breathe, it seems like. The recipe seemed as though it would be¬†a toasty backdrop to grey skies and cold winds.

The thick texture of this soup is phenomenal.

The thick texture of this soup is phenomenal.

Butternut squash is rich in vitamin C and vitamin A, and a good source of fiber, potassium, vitamin B-6, and magnesium. It’s not a bad source of iron and¬†calcium, either. It is interesting that craving for this low-calorie fruit spikes during winter, because it contains next to no fat and no vitamin D – two things people typically crave during winter months. My theory is that the vitamin content of the squash compensates for the lack of fat and vitamin D, which explains its winter appeal. Here’s an interesting tidbit regarding vitamin D: Above 30¬į latitude, you cannot synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, because the angle of the sun is too oblique. That is when dietary sources of vitamin D become hugely important. Like I said, it is interesting that this squash becomes so popular during winter, even though it lacks vitamin D. It could simply be because it is harvested in the fall, and is thus available as seasonal produce, but I still don’t think that alone explains its popularity. I think its flavour and versatility are behind its beloved status as winter gourd.

Butternut squash lends itself to all kinds of dishes. You can prep it as I outlined in this post, and use the cubes in soup. You can slice the squash lengthwise, exposing the seeds, and roast it. Its flesh is used to add richness and depth to vegetarian dishes, and it is so sweet that it can even be used as an emergency substitute for sweet potatoes. You can also roast the seeds, as I detailed in the prep post. This Huffington Post article details some of the other things, both savory and sweet, that are possible with butternut squash.

This bisque comes together in around 30 minutes, assuming the squash is already cubed. (You can cube the squash in advance, and refrigerate the cubes in an airtight container to make prepping soup for later easier and faster.) The bisque has a nicely thick texture, and the sweet flavour of the squash is set off by curried spices and full fat coconut milk. It is warm, comforting, and satisfying. I would go so far as to say it is the best butternut squash bisque I’ve ever had, beating out even those with cream instead of full fat coconut milk.

The spices used, minus the red chili powder (which I didn't think to add until after the soup was blended). From L-R: curry powder, cinnamon powder, kosher salt, black pepper.

The spices used, minus the red chili powder (which I didn’t think to add until after the soup was blended). From L-R: curry powder, cinnamon powder, kosher salt, black pepper.

The recipe is highly adaptable; you can adjust the seasonings and additions to suit your palate. We substituted an onion for 2 shallots, and would happily use an onion again. The recipe calls for 2 – 3 TBS of maple syrup, but you can reduce the amount or even omit it altogether. I used 2 TBS, but I thought even that was slightly too much; next time, I’ll use 1 TBS. 2 TBS yielded a flavour much like the butternut squash bisques you typically find in restaurants, so most people would probably prefer 2 TBS. I also added a dash of red chili powder for a spicy kick, and I think it balanced out the curry powder. The original recipe calls for vegetable broth, making the soup truly vegan, but I used chicken broth. I think the chicken broth works very well, giving the bisque a certain heartiness and boosting its protein. You can use either, and the soup will be wonderful. The end result is a soup that is not only a delicious accompaniment to autumn, but surprisingly filling: One liquid cup sufficed for lunch. The soup reheats well, and if anything, its flavour profile becomes deeper and richer by the second day.

I know bisques traditionally contain cream, but trust me: You can’t tell that the finished soup doesn’t have cream! Another point in this soup’s favour: No dairy means it works for those with dairy allergies. It’s also gluten free, giving it a place¬†among the options for those with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease. The best part is that it doesn’t taste like it is restrictive in any way: It’s creamy, packed with flavour, and hearty. My husband and I didn’t feel deprived at all eating this.

We served the bisque¬†as a side to go along with a lovely marinated halibut. (I’ll be posting about the halibut soon!) Oddly, the two dishes went together very well. I am new to the world of fish, having thought for years that I hated it. We didn’t know when we served the meal that the combination of halibut and butternut squash is a Thing in the culinary world. Now I know, and I understand why.

Butternut Squash Bisque
Yield: About 5-6 cups of liquid

Ingredients:
1 butternut squash
splash of olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 1/2 TBS curry powder*
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/8 tsp red chili powder, optional
14 oz. full fat coconut milk (the cans I had available contained 13.66 oz., which worked fine)
2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 – 3 TBS maple syrup (most people would probably prefer around 2 TBS of maple syrup; this tastes the most like the butternut squash bisque you would typically find in a restaurant)

Method:
Peel squash and cube flesh. See this post for how to do this.

Heat olive oil in 5 quart saucepan on medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add squash, salt, pepper, curry powder, cinnamon powder, and red chili powder to pot; stir to coat. Cover and cook on med-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring around once per minute.

Spoon action shot! I definitely rival Michael Bay in the action department.

Spoon action shot! I definitely rival Michael Bay in the action department.

Add remaining ingredients (including the fat from the coconut milk). Bring to a simmer and then cover, reducing heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the squash is very fork-tender. I simmered the broth for around 25 minutes, to the point the squash was beginning to mash against the sides of the pot when I stirred.

Transfer mixture to blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender. (I used our Ninja blender. It was the first time I used it for soup, and it definitely lived up to its name.) Process until completely smooth. Return to pot (unless using an immersion blender).

Blender de-cantation. Puns rock, har har.

Blender de-cantation. Puns rock, har har.

Adjust seasoning as needed. I wound up adding a pinch more red chili powder and perhaps 1/2 tsp more curry powder, as well as probably 1 TBS of kosher salt.

Adding additional curry powder and red chili powder.

Adding additional curry powder and red chili powder.

Cook for a few more minutes over medium heat; be sure to whisk the addition of seasonings vigorously so that they are evenly distributed throughout the bisque. Serve immediately. You can garnish this soup with additional coconut milk, toasted pumpkin seeds, even toasted butternut squash seeds. I didn’t bother garnishing it with anything; it was fan-bloody-tastic just the way it was.

I guess you could call this a bisque action shot. It's like, "Why are you up in my bisque-ness?"

I guess you could call this a bisque action shot. It’s like, “Why are you up in my bisque-ness?”

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days; alternatively, freeze.

*Note: Curry powder and other such spices are much cheaper at Indian supermarkets. We are fortunate enough to have one nearby, and were able to buy two cups of curry powder for a fraction of the cost that the mainstream grocery store would charge. Definitely take this option, if you have it! We got great deals on other curry spices, as well. A curry post is in the works!

Source: Adapted from Minimalist Baker

How to Prep Butternut Squash

Update: The beautiful bisque I made with this squash is now up for viewing!

I grew up with parents who thought a can of Pringles was dinner. Fresh vegetables were unheard of, and as a child, I thought soup always came from a can! The first time I chopped a bell pepper was when I had moved away from home, and it took me forty-five minutes. Each vegetable I have peeled, chopped, puréed, diced, and minced since then has represented another stage of personal growth: Spiritual blossoming through kitchen prepwork.

I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about making butternut squash bisque for months now (stubborn bee), and so I set out to learn how to prepare butternut squash. It seemed so much more ambitious than a simple bell pepper: The rind on that oddly-shaped fruit¬†is dauntingly hard, a mocking challenge to a pusillanimous knife-wielder like me. But people far and wide manage to do it anyway – rumor has it that Oprah chops squash¬†as a hobby – and being able to confidently prepare a butternut squash, that squat-based member of the genus Cucurbita, would put me ever further away from my childhood meals of¬†Little Debbie snack cakes, Pringles, and Campbell’s soup.

I mention my prep-less upbringing to illustrate that even if you’re new to the kitchen, you can do this! One of my favorite quotes says, in part, “Remember the magic of boldness.” Seize that butternut squash (or any vegetable you’ve been eyeing) and attack! Attack without mercy!

I attacked without mercy, and I document below the process of preparing a butternut squash.¬†It’s surprisingly simple, easily¬†done in minutes by those with a practised hand. My hand isn’t practised, but it took me under fifteen minutes from start to finish. I’ve broken it down into steps for those who, like me, prefer a methodical approach to their investigations of something new.

You will need:
1 butternut squash
1 very sharp knife
1 cutting board
1 vegetable peeler
The sort of determination that powers political upheavals (I kid, I kid)

Step 1. Wash the squash and dry it. (I have never bothered rhyming anything with the word ‘squash’ before, and here I have rhymed ‘wash’ and ‘squash’ without even trying to do so! Life is a banquet.)

Step 2. Slice about 1/2″ off the narrow end of the squash:

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The beheaded butternut squash. Viva la revolution!

Step 3. Slice about 1″ – 1.5″ off the wide end of the squash. This end contains a hollow compartment, which in turn contains the squash’s seeds – its progeny! Slicing off the end allows an element of stability while you peel the squash (more on that later). Make sure your knife is well-sharpened (inexpensive sharpeners are available on Amazon – mine cost $5, and works like a champ). The rind of the squash is tough, and you’ll need to proceed with caution. Some bloggers recommend getting the knife started through the squash, and then hammering it with a mallet. I didn’t feel the need to do that, but like Chris Rock, I understand.

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The subtext on this photo is hard to miss. I intended to show how the rind, while firm, can be nonetheless easily sliced by a knife, and… Never mind.

Slicing off this end of the squash will reveal a compartment that I, having never prepped squash before, was startled to find!

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The seeds and flesh revealed!

Step 4. Scoop out the innards of the squash’s little hidden compartment. I used a normal spoon, though apparently a melon baller or ice cream scoop would also work. The flesh is surprisingly pliable, very similar to the inside of a pumpkin. Scraping out¬†the flesh and seeds is easy.

You can clean and dry the seeds, and then bake them on a pan (line pan with aluminum foil) for 15 minutes at 275¬įF (or until they pop). Baked winter squash seeds are a Thing which I have never tried, though they seem as though they would be oddly satisfying.

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Step 5. Peel the squash with a sturdy vegetable peeler. Other people recommend a peeler with a carbon steel blade, but that strikes me as driving Howitzer to the grocery store. My little garden-variety KitchenAid peeler performed swimmingly at this task.

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The squash well on its way to nudity!

Step 6. Slice the squash into 1/2″ – 3/4″ rounds along its length. The larger you slice it, the larger the eventual cubes will be, and the longer it will take to cook the squash. The rounds at the wide end will be hollow.

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Step 7. Chop rounds into squares of roughly the same size.

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This is for all the anal-retentives out there. You know who you are.

And you will eventually wind up with this:

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Cubes at your service, ready for anything: roasting, turning into soup, throwing at squirrels. You dream it, they can achieve it.

You can store the cubes in an airtight container in the refrigerator, to make prepping future dishes faster and easier. Go forth and do amazing things with your freshly prepped squash! ūüôā