death by chocolate is a myth, this I know because I lived

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I recently was re-reading Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat, a book I turn to in times of crisis, happiness, fragility, anxiety, normality, national sporting-related success to which I’m entirely indifferent, pre or post-jeans shopping – there’s literally no mood this book can’t augment. I got my copy of this book in 2006 and it’s really something reading the little notes that I wrote by recipes in the first blush of ownership – so earnest, so youthful! “Didn’t have red wine but used leftover sangria and it worked a treat” was scribbled beside a slow-braised lamb and bean dish, a troubling phrase that raises more questions than its supposedly helpful inclusion answers (Did it really work a treat? Was it really sangria or was it just corner dairy red wine mixed with orange juice? Why, nevertheless, did we have leftovers?)

What cracked me up was the amount of times I’d put a tick beside a title with a modifying note stating what part of the recipe I actually had been able to afford to make. Lamb and chickpeas (tick – just made the chickpeas.) Cod and mushy peas (tick – just made the peas.) Who could have predicted that twelve years later I’d be equally as broke and meatless: tick and double tick.

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All this was in mind as I went shopping for ingredients for this week’s recipe, these Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars. It was precisely the moment where I considered abandoning the recipe altogether because nuts are so whole-assedly expensive; but then I shrewdly deduced that buying dark chocolate with almonds in it ($5-ish) would be markedly cheaper than buying dark chocolate ($5-ish) plus a bag of almonds ($9,000,000.) I already was darkly resigned to the fact that maple-flavoured syrup is monumentally cheaper than the real stuff.

This recipe is based pretty tightly on one that I found online. I was taken with the simplicity of the concept of blending up bananas to essentially use as glue, holding the coconut, chocolate and almonds to the base. Strangely, but appealingly, it barely tastes of banana – just kind of gently sweet and caramelly. I was a bit panicked because at first, straight from the fridge, the slice honestly didn’t taste like much of anything. But the more it gets towards room temperature the more all the flavours reassuringly make themselves known. I made some slight adjustments to the recipe – I nearly doubled the oaty base because the measurements given seemed to make hardly anything; I fiddled with the quantities of what went on top, I added more maple syrup and I added plenty of salt, which I think was the most important addition – it just makes everything taste so much more confidently of itself, so don’t be afraid to scatter a decent amount across the top. The oat base gets super hard over time so you definitely want to consume this within the next day or so; if you can’t get through it then might I suggest microwaving it or adding an oat-moistening scoop of ice cream to your plate.

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With this low-stakes rollercoaster of establishing whether or not it tasted good out of the way, I can assure you that this slice is in fact, really very delicious – the toasty, nutty oats, the flutter of maple sweetness from the fake but gamely hardworking syrup, the bitter, cocoa-rich dark chocolate for your teeth to slice through, the damply chewy shards of coconut, and barely a whisper of intrusive banana. Sorry banana, but sometimes what you bring to the table is what you don’t bring to the table, you know?

Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars

based on this recipe from feastingonfruit.com

2 and a half cups rolled oats
7 tablespoons maple syrup or golden syrup
3 bananas
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped (or 200g dark chocolate with almonds) 
3/4 cup shredded coconut
Sea salt

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a standard brownie tin (you know, one of those standard ones…rectangular…not too big) with baking paper.

Process the rolled oats in a blender till they’ve turned into fine dust, then pour in five tablespoons of the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and pulse briefly till it’s all clumpy. Spatula it into your brownie tin and carefully press it down evenly (use the back of a wet spoon and be prepared for it to take some patience) and bake for ten to fifteen minutes, until it’s firm and golden around the edges.

Meanwhile, rinse out the blender, and throw the bananas in with the remaining maple syrup, blitzing them to an airy yellow puree. Spread this evenly over the oat base, and then evenly sprinkle over the chocolate, almonds, and coconut. Sprinkle over another good pinch of salt. Return the tray to the oven for another forty minutes, although check after 30, and cover with tinfoil if it’s browning too much. Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight, and slice into bars. Taste to see if it needs some more salt sprinkled over – these ingredients really benefit from it.

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Should you wish to use different nuts (walnuts would be excellent here I think) or different chocolate or add other textural elements altogether – perhaps chopped dried apricots, or smashed up pretzels, or dried cranberries, or chopped crystalised ginger – you just go with precisely the amount of creativity that the intersection between what you want and what you can afford allows you to act upon, too.

And if you’re on a specific chocolate buzz, may I also recommend such recipes as Salted Chocolate Cashew Butter Slice, or Homemade Bounty Bars.

title from: Death by Chocolate from Sia’s fourth album Some People Have Real Problems, absolute years before her mainstream breakthrough. This song is just gorgeous, melancholy with these occasional major key bursts, with real classic torch song vibes to it and a stunning coda that I almost wish was its own song, it’s so lovely.

music lately:

Nina Simone, Children Go Where I Send You. This style of song is known as cumulative and there’s something so weirdly thrilling about the way it builds and expands with each verse. Obviously Ms Simone is an absolute master of interpreting a song and making it the best, most joyful thing you’ve ever heard in your life. However! I also strenuously recommend Johnny Cash’s version with June Carter Cash (and the casually fulsome snarl in her vocals) and family, Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers on backing, it’s so earnestly rollicking and you’re like how does it keep going up a notch each verse? Was there ever even a more exciting song than this to be sung? I’ve literally listened to both versions of this song every day for the last week and would be happy to continue on in this manner for the actual rest of my life.

The Pharcyde, Drop. The incredible video has this almost queasy surreal vibe from the backwards-forwards Spike Jonze direction but even without the slightest hint of visuals this song is so so good, mellow and soft but just slightly sinister with amazing lyricism. You should definitely watch the video though.

Next time: I genuinely just want to make absolute bathtubs full of the corn butter from last time, but will attempt to look further afield for all of our sakes.

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