Chocolate Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

(originally published February 2002, in Co-options, the newsletter of Sevanada Natural Foods Cooperative in Atlanta, GA. http://www.sevananda.coop)

“Chocolate makes the heart grow fonder.” Isn’t that the way that old saying goes? Or is it “Absence makes the heart crave chocolate”? Either way, doesn’t a nice warm cup of hot chocolate sound good right now? Or a piece of chocolate pie? Or a bite of chocolate cake with warm chocolate drizzled over it?

Chocolate? Whaddya mean chocolate? Vegans aren’t supposed to eat chocolate, are they? OK, I thought I put that myth to rest LAST month, but for those of you who might not have read that column (“Frequently Asked Questions”), here’s the skinny on chocolate. Chocolate is a plant product, except when some wiseacre decides to sully it with dairy. Cocoa is vegan, as is unsweetened baking chocolate. There are also lots of vegan chocolate chips available at Sevanada. Refer to my last column for more information on how to handle them.

Chocolate has a long history of making people happy. The origins of chocolate consumption are lost in the mists of time, but we do know that Native Americans were harvesting the beans of the cacao tree and making a drink from them before Columbus arrived. Columbus brought chocolate to Europe (1493), and Cortez and his men started sweetening it (around 1519). Montezuma is said to have considered it a powerful aphrodisiac and drank a large cup of “chocolatl” each night before visiting his harem. But why? What is it about this bitter bean that makes it so irresistible?

Researchers in the US believe that they have found a pharmacological explanation for the chocolate craving phenomenon. Emmanuelle di Tomaso and his coworkers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, believe that chocolate contains pharmacologically active substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana.

The researchers found that, in addition to small amounts of caffeine, cocoa and chocolate fats include substances that are chemically and pharmacologically related to the brain lipids anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine), N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine. (The word anandamide is derived from ananda, Sanskrit for ‘bliss’ – like the second half of Sevananda [‘service is bliss’].) These N-acylethanolamines target the endogenous cannabinoid system of the brain, not causing the eater to become high, but otherwise mimicking the psychotropic effects caused by plant-derived cannabinoid drugs either directly (by activating cannabinoid receptors) or indirectly (by increasing anandamide levels in the brain).

Other researchers disagree, claiming that, while these chemicals are definitely present in chocolate, the amounts of the various thanolamines are too small to cause any increased feelings of well-being. They claim that “chocoholics” are either socially conditioned to believe that chocolate will make them feel good, or they are responding to the fats and sugars present in chocolate.

Whether it is chemistry or just conditioning, in the U.S. chocolate is associated with love and passion. That’s why you see those frightening red satin-covered heart-shaped boxes of chocolate available everywhere this time of year to give to your beloved. Now, don’t you think your beloved would rather receive a special chocolate confection that you made yourself?

Here are some quick and easy recipes that are amazingly rich and delicious. If you choose for whatever reason not to indulge in chocolate, you can substitute an equal measure of carob for cocoa and carob chips for chocolate chips in these recipes. The results will not be the same, but carob lovers will like them.

Stovetop Hot Chocolate

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett, with thanks to Ghirardelli Cocoa
Serving Size: 1 – multiply as needed
Preparation Time: 0:05

1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup soymilk (pref. VitaSoy Creamy Original)
cinnamon, Hip Whip, peppermint extract,optional

Whisk cocoa and sugar together and whisk in soymilk. Heat over medium flame, whisking constantly, until hot and steaming. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.

Serve immediately, dusted with cinnamon or topped with Hip Whip (or both).

For minty hot chocolate, add a few drops of peppermint extract instead of the cinnamon.
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A wonderful, quick dessert to serve to unexpected guests. It is yet another version of the ever-popular chocolate-tofu pie, but this one uses firm refrigerated (Chinese-style) tofu instead of the silken variety. It also spends some time in the oven, so it’s nice on a cold winter night.
Warm, Rich Chocolate Pie

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from a friend of a friend
Serving Size: 12
Preparation Time: 0:30

10 ounces vegan chocolate chips
1 pound firm tofu (Chinese style – not silken)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract or Kahlua (coffee liquer)
1/4 cup sweetener (optional) such as Sucanat or maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350F.

Melt chocolate chips in microwave for one minute or over simmering water on stove. Take care not to burn them. Remove tofu from package, drain excess water, and break it into large chunks. Place in the workbowl of your food processor. Process tofu until relatively smooth (grainy-textured, but with no large lumps). Add chocolate and vanilla extract or Kahlua and process until thoroughly mixed. Taste and add sweetener if necessary (depends on brand of chips and your own taste). Process, then scrape batter into Chocolate Cookie Crust. Smooth top, then bake pie for 10-15 minutes, or until top is evenly colored and pie is warmed through.

Serve warm or cold. This pie is very rich, so serve small pieces.

Chocolate Cookie Crust

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size: 12
Preparation Time: 0:10

1 package vegan crème-filled sandwich cookies
(Frookie or Creme Supreme brand are two examples)
3 tablespoons Earth Balance margarine

Spray 9″ pie plate (Pyrex preferred) with pan spray.

Whirl cookies in food processor until fine crumbs. Reserve 1/4 crumbs for top of pie. Process margarine with the other crumbs to make a “dough”. Press mixture into pie plate.

Use like pre-made graham cracker crust, or use as base for Warm, Rich Chocolate Pie.

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This super-easy cake contains at least two supposed aphrodisiacs, chocolate and cayenne pepper. The cayenne will get the blood flowing in all those capillaries and will warm you and the object of your affection from the inside out. Tweak the amount of cayenne to your own level of comfort. The cinnamon and cloves are also warming and stir the senses.

Spicy One-Bowl Chocolate Cake – Two Ways

Recipe By: adapted from Minutemeals.com
Serving Size: 6
Preparation Time: 0:45

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup unbleached sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon to 3/4 teaspoon hot red pepper (cayenne)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola or safflower)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (optional)
Warm Chocolate Ganache (optional) – see recipe

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease 8-inch-square baking pan or a 6 compartment Mini-Bundt pan. In medium bowl stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, hot red pepper and salt.

Add water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Beat with a fork just until all dry ingredients have been moistened.

Bake square cake 35 to 40 minutes (Mini-Bundt cakes 15-20 minutes) or until center springs back when gently pressed. Cool cake or cakes in pan 5 minutes. Remove to serving platter. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.

Just before serving, if making the square cake, sift confectioners’ sugar over top. Cut into 4 squares; cut each square diagonally in half to make 8 triangular pieces.

If making the Mini-Bundt cakes, either sift confectioners sugar over all or, for a richer presentation, drizzle warm ganache (see recipe) over each. Serve while ganache is warm. Refrigerate any leftovers.

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Vegan Chocolate Ganache
Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size: 6
Preparation Time: 0:20

3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips – either cane sweetened (Method 1 or 3) or grain sweetened (Method 2 or 3)
1/4 cup soymilk

Note: No matter which method you use, when the chocolate gets soft and you start whisking, it will look like you have too much soymilk, but keep whisking and it will mix together. You should have a thick, dark, glossy, pourable chocolate ganache at that point.

Method 1: If using Tropical Source or other cane-sweetened chips, set in top half of double boiler or in bowl over pan of simmering (not boiling) water. Pour in soymilk – let chocolate get soft, then stir together.

Method 2: If using Chatfield or any other grain-sweetened chocolate chips, put chips and soymilk in an oven-proof bowl and set into 350F oven for 10-15 minutes, or over low heat source for an hour or more. Do not try to hurry melting or grain sweeteners will caramelize and chocolate will become irreparably lumpy. When chips look soft, try stirring. They will probably be melted by this point.

Method 3 (microwave): This is super quick and easy for either type of chip. Put chips and soymilk into a microwavable measuring cup (Pyrex is best). Cook on high for 1 minute. Stir until melted.

To use ganache for rolling or forming into candy filling – chill in refrigerator until moldable.