Valentine’s Day is almost upon us. When I was kid, I loved seeing all the heart shaped boxes of chocolate candy, and red roses at the store. I secretly wished someone would give me a box of chocolate. One day, someone did. That someone was my mom, and she gave me the tiniest box of chocolates ever (but for good reason!). Thanks Mom.
Fast forward to now, and these chocolates are not on my list anymore. I enjoy finding ways to satisfy my sweet tooth without sacrificing my health. The same goes for my kids, too. They inherited my sweet tooth for sure! I love making new recipes with ingredients that are wholesome and healthy, but taste decadent and indulgent.
These days there are numerous sugar alternatives to choose from. Here are some options that I’ve seen and few that I have used.
This first sweetener is my favorite. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used as a sugar substitute. It looks and tastes like sugar but has 40% fewer calories. It is a great alternative because it has negligible effects on blood sugar. It is naturally occurring in small amounts in plums, strawberries, cauliflower, and pumpkin. I primarily use it in baking, but it can also be used as a sweetener in tea and coffee. It is super sweet compared to regular sugar so remember that a little bit goes a long way. One major down side to xylitol is that it is very harmful to dogs. If you own a dog and use xylitol, make sure it is stored properly, and that your furry friend does not eat any food made with xylitol.
Steviais a plant native to South America. This sweetener is made by extracting the sweetness from the leaves, and then it is purified to produce a stevia leaf extract. It is sold in different forms such as in a liquid and crystal. Stevia is commonly used to sweeten drinks such as tea, coffee, lemonade, and smoothies. Another great way to use stevia is to sprinkle it on plain Greek yogurt (add fresh fruit) instead of eating flavored yogurts that are loaded with sugar. It is not the best option for baked goods as it may leave a licorice-like aftertaste.
Most agave nectar is produced from the blue agave plant grown in desert regions like the hilly areas in Mexico. The syrup is extracted from the “honey water” found at core of the plant, filtered, heated and then processed to make it into thicker nectar. This makes agave a good sweetener for vegans (who don’t eat honey).Its color varies from light- to dark-amber, depending on the degree of processing. I have never used this sweetener, but I have heard that it tastes great in coffee and tea. It can also be used in baked goods, although there are recommended guidelines for doing so. Agave nectar is 1 and ½ times sweeter than sugar, so you don’t need as much.
Molasses is the left over liquid that remains after sugar cane and sugar beets have been boiled. The liquid is boiled to concentrate it, promoting sugar crystallization. The result of this first boiling is called first syrup, and it has the highest sugar content and is the lightest in color. Second molasses is created from a second boiling and sugar extraction, and has a slightly bitter taste and darker color. The third boiling of the sugar syrup yields dark, viscous blackstrap molasses, and has a robust flavor. Molasses is the key ingredient in gingerbread cookies. It contains a number of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, iron, phosphorus, chromium, cobalt, and sodium.
Honey is a sweet food substance produced by bees that is stored in wax structures called honeycombs. Honey has about the same relative sweetness as granulated sugar. When buying honey, look for a local beekeeper that sells honey from bees in your area. Local honey contains a blend of local pollen, which can strengthen your immune system, and reduce pollen allergy symptoms. Honey is great a quick pick-me-up snack. It can also help in soothing a sore throat. Delicious in tea, and baked goods, it is an all-around versatile sweetener. At our house, we love to drizzle a little honey on peanut butter toast.
Maple syrup is made by boiling down the sap from maple trees. The trees are tapped by drilling holes into their trunks and collecting the exuded sap. It is then processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup. Maple syrup tastes great on all things breakfast: pancakes, French toast, bacon and sausages. It contains zinc and manganese in fairly high amounts, in addition to potassium and calcium.
Now that we know more about sweetener options, let’s take a look at a delicious chocolate cake recipe that you can be proud of, and might fool your kids and spouse (they'll never know they are eating healthy cake!). Here’s to you, Valentine!
Chocolate Avocado Frosting
Yield: 1 cup
2 ripe organic avocados
1/2 cup cocoa powder
6-8 tbsp pure maple syrup or sweetener of choice
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp Real salt
optional 2 tbsp coconut oil
Be sure to use soft, ripe avocados. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender until completely smooth. You can add a little oil–such as melted coconut oil–for an even richer taste or if your blender has any trouble getting the frosting smooth (which can happen if using a smaller or low-power blender). Because of the lack of preservatives, it’s best to make up a batch of this avocado frosting right before you plan to use it. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days and will still taste delicious, but color and texture are best immediately after blending.
Chocolate Valentine Cake
Yield: 8-10 slices
1 cup spelt or white flour
6 tbsp dark cocoa powder (Dutch Cocoa Powder)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Real salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar of choice or xylitol
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, optional
1/3 cup applesauce or yogurt of choice
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup oil or almond butter, OR allergy-friendly sub
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F, and grease an 8-in square or round pan. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, optional chips, and sweetener, and stir very well. (If nut butter is not stir-able, gently heat until soft.) In a new bowl, whisk nut butter, yogurt, water, and vanilla. Pour wet into dry and stir until just combined (don’t over-mix). Pour into the prepared pan. Bake 25 minutes or until batter has risen and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean. (I like to take it out when still a little undercooked, let it cool, then set in the fridge overnight. This prevents overcooking, and the cake firms up nicely as it sits.) If you can wait, I highly recommend not even tasting until the next day… the cake is so much richer and sweeter after sitting for a day.
Adapted from www.chocolatecoveredkatie.com