Over-indulging in sweets during the winter festivities can produce unwanted weight gain and a general feeling of sluggishness—a not-so-wonderful gift for anyone. But adding a raw food dessert to our holiday repertoire could introduce a new, healthier tradition to holiday occasions that’s welcomed by everyone.
A raw dessert no longer means only a simple piece of fruit or a handful of nuts. While a traditional holiday story conjures sleeping children with “visions of sugarplums” dancing in their heads, the dreams of raw dessert chefs more likely spring from Medjool dates, cacao nibs and exotic fruits. That’s because raw desserts are made from uncooked, minimally processed and generally plant-based foods.
Raw foods aficionados say they are usually first attracted to this type of food preparation because the recipes do not contain wheat, refined sugar, eggs or dairy products, which eliminates the need to work around several food sensitivities. Plus, they feel better after they’ve eaten a raw foods dessert, which might feature nuts, fresh and dried fruits, agave nectar and/or chocolate.
When these raw foods are ground or puréed in a food processor or blender, they contribute mightily to dessert crusts, fillings, sauces and frostings to grace tarts, cakes, cookies, puddings and ice creams—all of which can be made without cooking.
Sometimes, dessert recipes call for using a dehydrator, a simple appliance that dries foods slowly at around 112° to 118° F, to avoid the enzyme changes that occur when foods are cooked at higher temperatures. The dehydrator yields a characteristic that raw foods enthusiast Nathalie Lussier describes as “... a warm, chewy, comfort food feeling, so that you can make cookies that come out slightly warm from the dehydrator.”
With raw desserts, “You really can have your cake and eat it too, because the recipes are packed with nutrients and fiber,” advises raw desserts chef Heather Pace, the author of four raw dessert e-books, including Just Desserts and Raw Party Parfait.
Most raw foods desserts, like most exceptional sweets, involve several steps to make each part. “While at first glance, a raw dessert might appear to be complicated and time-consuming,” notes Pace, “it’s really very simple. Each component can be thrown together quickly and easily and can be made ahead.”
The benefits of raw desserts extend beyond the simply nutritional, affirm devoted adherents. Rose Lee Calabro, author of Living in the Raw and Living in the Raw Desserts, had experienced a host of personal health issues that virtually disappeared when she began to eat a mainly raw foods diet a decade ago. But more than that, she says, “Eating raw foods has contributed to a career change and a dramatic shift in my life.”
According to eco-lifestylist and raw foods author Ani Phyo, “Eating more organic, fresh, whole foods helps us maintain an ideal weight, lowers cholesterol, boosts the immune system and helps us look and feel our best.” But for her, as well, raw foods are more than a diet. She remarks, “It affects the way I live and interact with planet Earth and all other living beings.” Phyo is the author of Ani’s Raw Food Essentials, Ani’s Raw Food Desserts and Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen.
Lussier agrees all the way around. “I believe raw foods can heal you on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level,” she comments, because like many others, “I’ve personally experienced it myself.”
Judith Fertig is a freelance writer in Overland Park, KS; for more information visit www.AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com.
Three Raw Cookbook Authors Share their Best Holiday Recipes
Chocolate Pecan Brownie with Maple Maca Ice Cream and Spiced Apple Compote
“Picture a dense chocolate nut brownie, smooth, cold ice cream and warm fruit compote that has just the right touch of spice, with a velvety chocolate sauce to round it all out. If that weren't enough, I garnish it with a drizzle of pure maple syrup,” says raw foods dessert chef Heather Pace. She explains that Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian root with a strong flavor and recommends using only a little, until one is acclimated to the taste.
For the brownie:
For the ice cream:
For the compote:
For the chocolate sauce:
1. For the brownie, grind the pecans into crumbs in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process into a moist, crumbly dough. Press the mixture into an 8-by-8-inch pan. Chill.
2. For the ice cream, blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy. Chill for a few hours. Process through an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions; or fill ice cube trays and freeze.
3. For the compote, soak the raisins and goji berries in water for 2 to 4 hours. Drain. In a food processor, chop the apples into small pieces. Add remaining ingredients to the apples, including the drained fruit, and stir together. Process half the mixture until smooth. Fold into the other half. Dehydrate for a few hours at 115° F, until the apples take on a warm, “cooked” feel.
4. For the sauce, blend all ingredients together until smooth.
5. To assemble the dessert, cut the brownies into portions and place a brownie on each plate. Top with ice cream. Swirl compote around the brownie and drizzle with chocolate sauce.
Pineapple Icebox Dessert
The pineapple, a renowned symbol of hospitality for centuries, can make a refreshingly welcome holiday dessert. “Pineapple is full of the enzyme bromelaine, which helps decrease inflammation and swelling—and that can translate to increased circulation and clear skin,” says Ani Phyo, of Ani’s Raw Food Desserts. “I always choose fresh when available, but frozen pineapple will also work for this recipe.”
Makes 6 to 8 servings
For the crust:
For the filling:
1. To make the crust, combine the cashews and vanilla in the food processor and chop to a crushed wafer texture (like a cookie crumb crust for cheesecake). Add the agave syrup and process to mix well. Sprinkle half of the crust onto the bottom of a loaf pan.
2. To make the filling, combine the cashews, agave syrup and coconut oil in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth, adding water as needed to create a creamy texture. Spoon the mixture into a mixing bowl; add the pineapple and stir to mix well. Spoon the filling into the loaf pan and sprinkle the remaining crust on top. Pat lightly. Freeze for 2 hours or until chilled. Will keep for 4 to 6 days refrigerated or for several weeks in the freezer.
Incredibly Decadent Chocolate Cake
This recipe from Rose Lee Calabro’s Living in the Raw Desserts gets its body from almonds, its sweetness from dates and agave nectar, and its scrumptious chocolateyness from cacao nibs—all available at better grocery or health food stores. Plan ahead several days to allow time to soak and then dehydrate the almonds.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
For the cake:
For the filling:
For the frosting:
1. For the cake, place the almonds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process into a fine meal. Gradually add the dates, almond butter, cacao, agave nectar and vanilla extract, then continue processing until the mixture is well blended and forms a ball. If mixture isn’t blending, add a small amount of water, as needed, to achieve the desired consistency. Divide the mixture into two equal parts (for two layers), and form each part into a round cake layer about 8 inches in diameter. Place each layer on a plate.
2. For the filling, arrange the sliced bananas on top of the bottom layer and place the second layer on top of the bananas.
3. For the frosting, combine all of the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth, thick and creamy. Frost the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with fresh strawberries or other seasonal fruit. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving.