In one of my former lives I worked in hospitality, spending time as cook / barista / food prep chick. Those who know me well know I love food and I especially love making desserts, which blends what I love to eat with being creative.
During the last couple of years living in Australia I got into vegan desserts which are both tasty and healthy. Quite a few of them required a food processor to grind seeds and nuts or blend together ingredients such as coconut and dates. So of course, living on board our yacht A B Sea, often without shore power and certainly without a food processor, I pretty much thought that vegan desserts were also a part of my former life.
That was until Dagmar and Oliver two beautiful German souls who are ‘overlanders’ that we met on Christmas Eve, invited us to their leaving dinner last week. I asked if I could bring something and Dagmar suggested dessert (they already know my love of all things chocolate!) Dagmar mentioned that another good sailor friend, Jim, was also going to be at the party. I’d recently discovered that Jim has a few food intolerances including dairy, gluten and sugar. So of course, my first thought was “Ah, I know exactly what to make. A vegan dessert.”
Of course the internet is abound with healthy vegan dessert recipes and I sifted through a few sites – mainly as food porn – but also for memory jogging ideas. Fortunately I have some tried and true recipes stored in my memory and on my computer, and after I’d discounted 99% of them as they required a food processor, I plumped for an old favourite of mine: Choc Chia Dessert. I’d seen a great idea as an alternative for whipped cream on a couple of websites that basically used whipped coconut cream so I decided to see what I could achieve with that, but without an electric whisk.
What follows is my take on one of my firm favourites that I zhuzhed up for the dinner party. It is dairy free (if you discount the chocolate shards for decoration), gluten free and sugar free (but includes a bit of honey). There are many ways that you can tweak this recipe and make it your own, so do experiment if you fancy.
While you can experiment with flavouring and milk, the only thing I wouldn’t change is the ratio of chia seeds to liquid, which works best in a ratio of 1:6, or 3 tablespoons of chia seeds for every cup of liquid. I used canned coconut milk as I find it richer than the coconut milk that you can get in the UHT milk section. For the whipped ‘cream’, it helps to chill the can of coconut cream in the fridge overnight as it is easier to scoop the solids from the liquid. Be careful not to tip or shake the can.
You can substitute agave nectar, maple syrup or sugar for the honey if you like, and if you’re not into coconut milk you could use nut milk, soy milk, rice milk or even cow's milk if you don’t have any food intolerances. You can also use raw cacao for this recipe instead of cocoa powder.
You can also get diabetic, or dairy free vegan chocolate for those who want the chocolate shards and really can’t tolerate sugar/dairy.
Tbsps = Tablespoons / tspns = Teaspoons / C = Cup
All right, enough chat, here’s the recipe!
Choc Chia Seed Dessert Recipe
This recipe serves 8, but you can halve it for 4 people, or 2 good portions
2 x 400ml cans Coconut Milk (with 2 Tbsps reserved in a microwave jug)
2 tspns (heaped) honey
2 tspns Vanilla essence
6 Tbsps Cocoa powder
6 Tbsps Chia seeds
¼ tspn Cinnamon powder
For the ‘Whipped Cream’
1 x 400ml can Coconut Cream (chill the can overnight and do not tip or shake)
For the chocolate shards - decoration
Half an 80g block of dark chocolate
Half an 80g block of milk chocolate
Gently warm the 2 Tbspns coconut milk in a microwave (or in a pan) and add the honey and vanilla essence, stirring until well blended.
Pour the coconut milk and coconut milk/honey/vanilla blend into a large bowl, add the cocoa powder, chia seeds, and cinnamon powder and blend well. I use a balloon whisk and whisk it well until all of the ingredients are well mixed together. Make sure the chia seeds are well mixed in, as sometimes they can clump together and either remain dry, or become a gel-lump.
Leave this mixture to thicken for between 30 minutes and 2 hours. Chia seeds will absorb liquid and expand up to 11 times their dry size. The idea is to get this thick enough to pour into little dessert glasses, but not so thick that it is too set as it will set further in the glasses.
While the chia seeds are doing their thing, cut two A5 pieces of baking paper.Melt the two dark chocolate – either in a bowl over hot water (being sure not to get water in the chocolate), or in the microwave. Stir until the chocolate is smooth and turn out onto one piece of the baking paper, spreading it into a thin oblong shape. Put flat in fridge until set. Repeat with the milk chocolate.
Stir the chia seed mixture.
Scoop the thick solids off the liquid from the can of chilled coconut cream, ensuring not to scoop out the thinner liquid. If you are organised, you can do this ahead of time and add the liquid to the coconut milk, increasing the chia seeds amount to include this extra liquid (in a 1:6 ratio as mentioned above).
Using a fork or a balloon whisk, mix the chilled coconut cream solids until smooth and return to the fridge until you are ready to make up the dessert.
To make up the dessert
Choose 8 dessert glasses
Give the chia seed mix a good whisk again to ensure it is all blended together and the right consistency and spoon into the glasses.
Spoon the coconut cream onto the top of the chia seed mix and whirl with the back of a spoon to give a nice appearance.
Cut each flat square of chocolate into 8 long thing triangles and stick them artistically into the coconut cream.
If you want, you can grate a bit of leftover chocolate over the top for a bit more zhuzh!
Keep in fridge until ready to serve.
And soon it will be time for Oliver and Dagmar to be on their exciting journey through the 'Stan' countries to Mongolia. Barry and I do wish you all the very best on your travels and may we meet up somewhere exotic one day to share stories.