Chocolate Nut Hearts

Makes about 40 x 2.5 cm shapes

Paleo, vegan; no dairy, gluten, cane sugar, soy

Charming chocolate shop-worthy morsels. Store in the fridge or freezer and they last well. Great for snacks or as a dinner party dessert on a platter with grapes, berries or sliced seasonal fruit. Children can help make these in minutes. As with eating the finest chocolate though, it will melt from warm fingers that then need to be licked. Sorry about that.

They have intense flavour and nutrition. Cocoa for flavonoids, iron and magnesium; nuts for zinc and protein; prunes for calcium, potassium, soluble and insoluble fibre. The recipe is strikingly delicious as is. More flavour options are also provided.

You can use tiny paper cases or buy novelty ice cube trays from houseware and $2 shops. These soft trays are made from silicone, so you can easily push out each chocolate. I used heart and star shaped ones. However, I do not promote using silicone pans and trays for baking. Heat can release toxic EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals) from all plastics. I also tried using a standard ice cube tray. Forget it. It was messy and difficult to remove the chocolates.

¼ cup hazelnuts
¼ cup almonds or walnuts (or use ½ cup of any one type of nut)
½ cup cold pressed coconut oil*, or cocoa butter (from speciality and health stores)
¼ cup maple syrup (or honey, but this is not vegan)
3 Tbsp nut butter (peanut, almond or as preferred)
2 Tbsp Milk Option*
1 tsp vanilla extract*
½ cup cocoa or cacao powder*
½ cup finely chopped prunes
½ tsp sea salt with kelp*

Optional Flavour Additions
grated orange peel
chilli flakes
candied ginger (this has added cane sugar)

Place the nuts in a sturdy cast iron fry pan. No oil is needed. Toast the nuts over low-medium heat. Stir occasionally, about 5 minutes, until fragrant and medium brown. Watch carefully to prevent burning. Finely chop but do not grind. You want some texture. However, if pieces are too big (same with the prunes) they could create holes in the finished shapes.

In a small saucepan place the oil, syrup, nut butter, Milk Option and vanilla over low heat to combine. When the oil has melted and everything is well mixed, turn off the heat. Beat in the cocoa until smooth. Stir in the nuts, prunes and salt until well mixed. Spoon the mixture into the novelty silicone ice cube trays, or tiny paper cases. Press on each chocolate to help prevent holes.

Freeze 1 hour or longer until completely firm. From the underside of the ice cube tray, press each chocolate out on to a container or serving plate. The underside will be the pretty, immaculate version to serve upright. Keep chilled until serving. Store in the fridge or freezer.

Shopping and Preparation Tips*

• Cocoa and Cacao Powder: Cocoa powder has been roasted (less expensive, more bitter), while cacao powder is from cold-pressed, unroasted beans (raw, more expensive, less bitter). Use in same measure. Raw food has more of some nutrients, while cooked food can be easier to digest.

• Coconut oil: white, solid and available in jars from health stores and most supermarkets. Best quality is virgin or cold-pressed and organic, such as Ceres brand. Flavour and aroma should be mild. Less prone to oxidation and damage by heat than most other cooking oils. High in medium-chain fatty acids such as lauric acid, which can enhance immunity through antiviral and antibacterial benefits. Most oils and fats contain long chain fatty acids that might be harder to break down and more readily stored as fat. Use to replace oil or butter in recipes.

• Milk Options: organic cow, goat, soy, oat, almond or hazelnut milk is available in supermarkets. Or use rice milk – to each cup add 1 Tbsp coconut cream or mild cold-pressed oil for more body. Use options in same quantity as regular milk called for. Check packets for added sugar; ensure soy milk is made from the whole bean (less processed). Pure Harvest is a good organic brand.

• Vanilla and other Extracts: use top quality vanilla without artificial additives; it and other real flavours such as almond are often termed extract (as opposed to faux essence, often labelled ‘vanillin’). Good brands available locally and overseas are: Heilala Vanilla and Equagold. These are in most supermarkets and health stores.

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