Chocolate season is on its way. I’m not suggesting you eat these instead of Easter eggs … maybe as well as?! Or enjoy them in the lead up while waiting. They are so much better for you than just breaking off a square of chocolate and shoving it in your gob (which has to be done sometimes). They do contain some chocolate from a block, but make that block go much further – and also include extra-virgin olive oil and raw cacao powder. I created the recipe for Mount Zero using their mandarin-pressed extra-virgin olive oil a few years ago. Having whipped the truffles up another few times recently, I am still a bit proud! They are silky and divine with the vibrant note of mandarin (but you can also use fresh mandarin or orange zest and regular EVOO).
I’ve been learning about where cacao comes from – the long journey it makes, both in the many transformations that turn it into chocolate (including fermentation of the fresh cacao beans – who knew?), plus all those food miles. For some reason I previously thought that most of the cacao of the world was grown in South America. Of course, that is where the plant originates, but these days 81 percent of cacao is grown in Africa, with Côte d’Ivoire producing an amazing 43 percent for the entire planet. Wow.
In recent years, my family has switched from using conventional cocoa in cooking, to always using raw cacao powder. At first I thought raw cacao would make chocolate baking less delicious (more coarse, more harsh), but it didn’t take much to get used to it. Chocolate pudding still tastes like chocolate pudding, and we even make hot/iced chocolates with raw cacao these days (I think you just need to use less cacao – or more sugar). Our daughter is crazy for these drinks and embraces the bitterness. Once I watched in horror as she put about 6 heaped teaspoons into her cup, matched with only about 2 teaspoons sugar. I am still impressed!
Raw cacao gives you maximum health benefits (antioxidants and lashings of minerals including iron, magnesium and calcium). In conventional cocoa, the super plant powers of cacao beans are dulled down due to roasting at high temperature, and from alkalising (soaking in an alkaline solution such as potassium carbonate) in order to deepen the flavour and colour. Yes, raw cacao is not as beautifully dark as Dutch cocoa can be – more a reddish brown, though it definitely becomes dark and mysterious when you add it to a batter or liquid.
In terms of food miles, this is not spoken about much, but I believe raw cacao is better than conventional cocoa because it can be processed in the place where it is grown – not part-processed (fermented and dried) then whipped off to Europe for roasting and alkalising, before making its journey to you. Just another reason to embrace it.
Olive oil chocolate truffles
I originally made this recipe with Mount Zero’s stunning mandarin-pressed extra-virgin olive oil. But if you don’t have that, you can use plain EVOO plus some orange or mandarin zest.
You can also make these truffles vegan by using coconut oil instead of butter, and maple syrup instead of honey. (For some reason, coconut oil makes them a little more difficult – melty – to roll, and weirdly enough, it also seems to set the truffles a little firmer. They are still gob-smackingly delicious … You will just end up with more chocolate on your hands while making them. A mess you’ll just have to lick up; there is simply no other way.)
100 g dark chocolate with 70% cacao, broken into pieces
20 g (¼ cup) raw cacao powder, sifted, plus extra to dust
80 ml (1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, or mandarin-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
grated zest of 1 large orange or several mandarins (if not using mandarin-pressed oil)
60 ml (¼ cup) honey (or maple syrup or rice malt syrup for vegan)
50 g butter (or coconut oil for vegan – coconut butter will give an even firmer result)
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and set it above a saucepan of water. Allow the water to come to the boil, then turn the heat down to low. Stir the chocolate mixture occasionally until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat.
You can either let the chocolate cool down in the bowl you melted it in, or for quicker cooling, scrape it into a second wide bowl. Transfer to the refrigerator for a few hours to set firmly.
Put some extra cacao powder in a bowl to use for dusting. Take the bowl of chocolate out of the fridge and use a teaspoon to scoop out a bite-sized amount of mixture, dropping it into the bowl of cacao. Toss it in the cacao, then use your fingers to squish the chocolate into a roughly round shape. Toss it in the cacao again, and this time roll it briefly in the palms of your hands to make a smooth ball. Place on a plate and continue making truffles with the rest of the mixture. Store in the refrigerator.
Makes about 30 truffles