Susan Jane Murray: Cacao factor
Perk yourself up, says Susan Jane Murray, with a blood-gurgling boost of chillies and dark chocolate
Chocolate has the magnificent ability to vaccinate against bad moods. Something explosive happens in your veins as well as in your mouth. According to scientists, this is because of a neurochemical called dopamine.
Once stirred, dopamine can initiate an electrical cavalry through the veins and hit every imaginable spot. And I mean every spot. High levels of dopamine are associated with increased motivation, neuro-aerobics and general ri ra agus ruaille buaille. All diplomatic-speak for better nookie.
Luckily for us, Mother Nature gave the cacao bean heart-healthy flavanols and magnesium. Both nutrients are loyal friends of the cardiovascular system, helping blood circulation. In fact, I believe the smell alone of chocolate can send a feline's pulse into a frenzy. Quite the defibrillator.
The endorsement of chocolate comes with a very big qualification, however: it must be raw or dark. Untreated, raw cacao is the nutritional heavyweight champion of chocolate. Try Booja-Booja chocolates, or the recipe below for validation. Next best is any 85 per cent cocoa dark chocolate: indecently rich and muscular. Anything else is disqualified, especially the white or milk varieties. Commercial everyday bars rely upon nasty fats, sugars and artificial additives to make them palatable. They imitate chocolate, and only succeed as cheap imposters.
Raw Chilli Chocolates
The addition of chilli powder will give your lips a delicious sting and swell the, erm, senses. Chillies heighten body temperature and help release natural endorphins to keep your blood gurgling with excitement.
This recipe should yield 8-12 little chocolates, depending on the size of your mould. Have you seen the heart-shaped ice-cube trays in Dunnes Stores? Make sure they're of the soft, silicone variety. The hard plastic moulds are unsuitable. They always end up belching the tray's contents into mid-air while I emphatically try to remove the chocolates from their plastic grip.
You will need:
Roughly 1/2 cup cacao butter shavings (you'll find the Navitas brand online)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin coconut oil (optional)
1 tablespoon raw agave nectar
Pinch of cayenne or chilli pepper (optional)
5 tablespoons raw cacao powder, or Green & Black's dark cocoa powder
Handful of chopped hazelnuts (optional)
Tangerine oil (optional)
1 tablespoon maca powder (optional)
Start by chilling your chocolate-sweet mould in the freezer. Slowly melt the cacao butter shavings and extra-virgin coconut oil, if you are using it, in a bain-marie -- this is a pot of gently simmering water, which has a bowl sitting on top in place of a lid. The contents of the bowl will melt gradually because of the steam rising from the water underneath, but the bowl does not actually touch the water.
Using a fork, whisk in the raw agave nectar. Light agave appears to split the mixture, so do stick to dark agave. Natasha's Living Food, an Irish brand, does the tastiest raw agave that my lips have ever met.
Briskly stir in the remaining ingredients, keeping the bowl on the heat source. Add the chilli or cayenne, if you're using them but if you prefer less heat in your chocolate, leave them out. Chopped hazelnuts are also an option, as are a few drops of tangerine oil or some maca powder. But they won't amp up your circulation in quite the same way that chilli pepper does!
Pour the mixture into the silicone mould and return the mould to the freezer for 10 minutes. This helps the chocolates set quickly before they get a chance to stratify and form layers. Store in the fridge thereafter, or your belly. Whichever comes first.