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.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Chocolate Cherry Valentine Cupcakes (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

When special occasions like Valentine's Day are near, I often enjoy using the time that I'm home alone to bake a surprise treat that my three guys and I can all enjoy together. This afternoon I had several hours free, so rather than turning to one of our old favourite chocolate recipes (cashew butter balls, mmmm!), I decided to play around a bit and come up with something new. Will was thrilled when he came home and discovered the heart-shaped silicone baking cups drying in the dish rack -- he went rushing around the house on an instant treasure hunt to find whatever it was I had made in them. His eyes lit up enthusiastically when he came across these chocolate cherry cupcakes in the fridge, and he wanted to know how soon he could eat one. With their delicious chocolate base and their toppings of a homemade cherry sauce, whipped coconut cream, and a sprinkling of dark chocolate, these cupcakes are making all of us eager for dessert this weekend!

Chocolate Cherry Valentine Cupcakes

For the cherry topping:

2 cups frozen pitted sweet cherries
1 tbsp water
1 tsp coconut palm sugar
1 tbsp ground chia seeds

Add the cherries, water, and coconut sugar to a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the cherry mixture for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cherries have softened, stirring often and using the spoon to break the cherries up a little.

Gradually add the ground chia seeds to the hot mixture, stirring continuously while adding them, then lower the heat and cook for another 10 minutes or until the cherry mixture has thickened. Remove the cherry sauce from the heat and let it cool slightly. Place it in a lidded glass container and put it in the fridge to set while you bake the cupcakes.

For the cupcakes:

3 cups blanched almond flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tbsp arrowroot flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 tbsp unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Arrange twelve heart-shaped silicone baking cups in rows on a baking sheet.

Combine the almond flour, cocoa powder, arrowroot flour, baking powder, and sea salt in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, maple syrup, almond milk and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well. Add the mashed bananas to the mixture and stir until all ingredients are well combined.

Divide the cake batter between the twelve heart-shaped baking cups, using a spoon to make sure it's spread out smoothly to fill all parts of each heart. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool. Once cooled, remove the cupcakes from the silicone cups.

For the whipped topping:

1 398ml can of chilled, unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk (I used Native Forest Organic brand)
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

plus one square of dark chocolate, shaved, for garnish

Turn the can of coconut milk upside down and remove the lid. Drain the liquid out of the can, then scoop out the remaining solid coconut cream into a mixing bowl. Beat the cream with an electric mixer to soften it up a little. Add the maple syrup and vanilla extract and beat the cream again until it is smooth and fluffy. Spoon the whipped coconut cream into a piping bag fixed with a wide star tip.

To assemble the cupcakes:

Carefully spread a spoonful of the cherry sauce over the top of each cupcake, following the outline of the heart. Pipe a heart-shaped serving of whipped coconut cream in the centre of each cupcake, then sprinkle the shaved dark chocolate on top. If not serving immediately, store the cupcakes in the refrigerator.

Happy Valentine's Day! I hope your weekend finds you enjoying good times with loved ones.

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