When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sweet treats for Valentine's Day

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, love is in the air... and so is the scent of the chocolate and bakery goodies we associate with this special day. I like to share homemade sweet treats with my favourite boys on February 14th, so I've been busy lately melting and molding chocolate and baking cookies that all of us can enjoy. The smiles on my taste testers' faces this afternoon showed they were very pleased with my labours of love (even though these goodies are free of the large quantities of refined sugars and white flours usually found in heart-shaped sweets).

Today I made little chocolate hearts and heart-shaped lollipops for the chocolate lovers in our house, since Valentine's Day just wouldn't seem right without a taste of the rich, melt-in-your mouth indulgence. The trick with chocolate is to choose a dark variety that is at least 70% cocoa solids; "cocoa mass", not sugar, should be its first ingredient. Dark chocolate has a high concentration of flavonoids, natural compounds that have been found to lower the risk of heart disease.

To make your own heart chocolates, you will need:

2 85g bars of dark chocolate (I buy fair-trade bars with 72% cocoa at my local health food store)
heart shaped chocolate molds
lollipop sticks (if desired)

Coarsely chop chocolate and melt pieces in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently. Spoon chocolate into molds, making sure to fill each heart completely.
For lollipops, place sticks into stick channels of molds, with at least one inch of the stick embedded in the melted chocolate. Rotate each stick to completely cover its end in chocolate.
Lightly tap molds on a flat surface to release any air bubbles. Refrigerate molds for approximately 20 minutes.

When chocolates are solid, turn molds over onto a flat surface and gently tap them to remove the finished treats.

The boys love these smooth chocolate hearts, even though their flavour is more intense than the highly-processed chocolates kids are generally accustomed to. I'm really glad they've developed a taste for the good stuff!

I also baked heart-shaped cookies to share with my sweeties on Valentine's Day. I used a wonderful recipe for gluten-free linzer hearts from Elana Amsterdam, but rather than rolling out dough and cutting out heart shapes, I made thumbprint cookies with a jam-filled heart in their centres. The end results are pretty and delicious!

2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
raspberry jam (I use Crofter's Organic Just Fruit Spread -- it's sweetened with fruit juice rather than refined sugar)

In a large bowl, combine almond flour and salt. In a smaller bowl, combine grapeseed oil, agave, and vanilla.
Stir wet ingredients into dry and mix until well combined. Chill dough in freezer for 30 minutes.
Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls and place them on parchment lined baking sheets. Flatten each ball to about a half inch thickness with the palm of your hand.
Using your pinky finger, make a heart-shaped indentation in each cookie using the method shown below.

Carefully fill each heart with raspberry jam.
Bake cookies at 350 F for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown around the edges. Cool and serve.

The almond flour in these cookies makes them a protein- and nutrient-rich treat for a special occasion. They never last long in our house!

Sharing healthier, homemade, heart-shaped goodies is a sweet way to show your favourite people you care about them. I hope you and your loved ones have a very happy Valentine's Day!

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