Sweet Sensations

Cressida Boyd went along to a raw chocolate workshop to learn how to make some yummy, toothsome but healthy treats!

Both Liz Bygrave and her brother suffered from severe eczema and hayfever in infancy and throughout their childhoods. As she grew up, Liz worked out that foods such as dairy and wheat played a significant part in her symptoms and gradually (with many ups and downs) cut them out of her diet.

At the same time she trained in massage and reflexology which stimulated her interest in healthy eating from a different perspective.

Finally, a few years ago she started eating a diet high in raw foods and found that it really suited her.

Her timing was impeccable as raw chocolate was just hitting the raw food scene and agave syrup and xylitol had appeared on the retail market. She started to experiment with these and other ingredients like coconut oil, which allowed her to indulge her sweet tooth without using sugar. She soon realised that other people might be interested in the results of her experiments so devised her chocolate and dessert workshops (in her house or yours) and started to market her recipes, her truffles and the more esoteric of the sweeteners that she uses.

Times have now changed. When tucking into a rich chocolate pudding the concern used to be 'a minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips'. Nowadays diabetes, food allergies and candida have eclipsed the rather mundane danger of gaining an extra pound.

Well worry no more! Liz has been creating mouth-watering desserts which are not only wheat, gluten and dairy free, but sugar free and positively good for you! And for nut allergics Liz has some delicious alternatives.

Chocolate fest

Armed with plenty of water and some celery sticks to combat indulgence, we set to making chocolate sauce, chocolate mousse, chocolate flan, chocolate truffles and chocolate chewy almond cake.

Over the last few years Liz has experimented with different raw ingredients and invented some no-cook puddings – which means if you are rubbish in the kitchen then you’ll be fine with her recipes!

As she introduced us to the ingredients, Liz talked us through their properties and why she favours using them.

Then, armed with a metal mixing bowl and fork, we began to prepare the chocolate mousse using avocado to create the lightest, fluffiest mousse, with a delicate bubbly consistency. The strong flavours of the other ingredients concealed the distinctive-tasting avocado which might otherwise have overwhelmed the mousse.

Mousses can be converted into flan fillings, by adding some other of Liz’s pet ingredients. When cooled in the fridge, the flans set to give a firm bite. Liz uses crushed nuts and agave syrup to make the bases for her flans. For nut allergics she suggests hemp seed, buckwheat and lucuma powder but you could also try roasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax or poppy seeds as alternatives.

Chocolate truffles
Next we made chocolate truffles, which we flavoured with all manner of oils and spices from Liz’s cupboards: rose, violet, peppermint, orange oil, Chinese five spice… After rolling the mixture into balls we covered them in a light coating of xylitol which gave them a shimmering frosty sheen.

Chewy almond cake

And finally, the pièce de résistance: chocolate chewy almond cake.

Liz had already soaked the almonds for eight hours for a more succulent texture and more digestibility. The base we made, and the topping, were both made of almonds, although the base can contain hazelnuts, brazils or pecans mixed with xylitol and coconut oil, pressed into the bottom of a cake tin and left to set in the fridge.

For our filling, under Liz’s watchful eye, we combined lucuma powder, chewy ground almonds, chocolate powder, xylitol and coconut oil into a sticky yummy mess, which Liz squashed down into the cooled base. The result? The crunchy crumbly base gave into the most delicious, sticky sweet chocolate chewiness, which would certainly go well with a dairy-free ice cream, or even a fruit fool.

Yum factor
Liz’s chocolate desserts certainly deliver on chocolatey-ness and sweetness, and have a depth and richness to them that far surpasses my favourite chocolate fridge cake! And they go down equally well with adults and children.

If you are not able to make it to a workshop, Liz also runs an on-line newsletter and recipe service and can sell you some of the more esoteric of her ingredients which you may have difficulty finding in your local Tesco!

And if you really want to spoil yourself, Liz is also a skilled masseuse and reflexologist, and might be persuaded to give you, as she did me, a treatment after you have finished your course!

Ingredients and sweeteners
Agave syrup
Agave syrup is made from the cactus plant, and is similar to a runny golden syrup in viscosity. Liz uses it for its distinctive flavour, its sweetness and its binding properties.

Avocado is used in sweet recipes in Mexico and is a great basis for mousses.

Cacao (cocoa) butter
This can be used on your skin as well as giving a delicate rich chocolate taste and smoothness to recipes. Liz uses cacao butter in her white chocolate truffles – recipes in her forthcoming book – and the truffles for sale from her website.

Chocolate - raw
This was the central ingredient of our workshop and is made by cold-pressing cacao beans, after which they are ground into a fine powder.

‘Raw’ chocolate is uncooked (it never exceeds 120 degrees Fahrenheit) and is minimally processed allowing all of its antioxidant nutrients – which protect our cells from free radicals and keep us looking and feeling young – to remain intact!

Coconut oil/ butter
Coconut butter turns to oil at a higher temperature. Liz uses coconut oil to harden other mixtures such as truffles, pie crusts and flan fillings.

Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit with a yellowy-orange flesh that is added to ice cream to produce Peru’s favourite flavour. So precious is it as an export to Peru that we can only get it as a raw dried powder. It has a dreamy butterscotch /maple syrup flavour and is high in Vitamin B3, beta carotene with a low GI.

Maca, grown at high altitude in the Andes, has been used for at least the last two thousand years as a food, a medicine and a natural aphrodisiac. It is high in amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and has a malted taste. It can be added to smoothies or just eaten in its raw powder form.

Mesquite has a sweet flavour like molasses and it gives a caramel flavour similar to the Caramac bar. It is high in protein, and contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc. It is another food that can be used safely by diabetics as it is high in dietary fibre and takes longer to digest than other grains. It also contains fructose which can be utilised by the body without the need for insulin.

Purple corn flour
Another mega nutritious Andean crop grown on high plains and in low valleys. It can take the bitter edge off raw chocolate.

Xylitol (or Zylitol)
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener first derived from birch in the 19th century although it is found in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables, including corn. It is a safe sweetener for diabetics because it is absorbed slowly by the body and therefore does not cause the same rise in blood sugar levels as sucrose. It has a low glycaemic index (7) compared with that of sugar (68) and doesn’t cause the famous ‘sugar rush’ or energy slump.

Xylitol is available in consistencies similar to caster and granulated sugar; you can also grind it further yourself to make icing sugar.

What is more, xylitol won’t rot your teeth as bacteria are unable to grow in it – good news also for candida sufferers. (When I asked Liz why we couldn’t use naturally occurring honey, she told us that honey bears are the only animal in nature that suffers from tooth decay!)

To try for yourself – and give yourself (or a friend) a real treat – you can sign up for one of Liz’s workshops, in your home as well as in her own. Workshop places cost around £45 for 3–4 hours tuition.

Liz sells her truffles from her website, www.sweetsensations.uk.com

Newsletter and recipes
Sign up for Liz’s on line newsletter and you will get two free recipes – Lemon Cheesecake and Chocolate Almond Truffles – to get you going..

If you cannot find any of the more exotic sweetners that Liz uses she can mail order them to you.

Massage and reflexology
If you ask her nicely she might, as she did for Cressida, give you a treatment after your course!

First published in 2008

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