Choco­late heaven

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You shouldn’t need rea­sons to jusifty your in­dul­gences, but when it comes to choco­late the good news is that your plea­sure need no longer be a guilty one. The world over, stud­ies on the ef­fects of eat­ing choco­late have re­vealed some fas­ci­nat­ing ben­e­fits. I’m talk­ing dark choco­late here, with at least 70 per cent co­coa solids (milk choco­late doesn’t fit the bill as it con­tains few if any co­coa solids and can of­ten con­tain up to 50 per cent su­gar). Sev­eral long-term stud­ies have linked eat­ing dark choco­late to a re­duc­tion in the “bad” LDL choles­terol. Oth­ers sug­gest that when choco­late fer­ments in your gut it forms use­ful an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory com­pounds that are also good for heart health. Dark choco­late has been shown to im­prove brain­power and mem­ory, as well as im­prove in­sulin sen­si­tiv­ity, which en­hances our abil­ity to ab­sorb sug­ars rather than store them as fat.

In the Nether­lands, a study showed that even smelling dark choco­late re­sulted in a de­crease in the hunger hor­mone, ghre­lin. In 2009, a Swiss study found that sub­jects who ate 40g of dark choco­late each day for two weeks recorded re­duced lev­els of cor­ti­sol, our nat­u­ral stress hor­mone. It’s all good news un­less you suf­fer from ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, in which case the stim­u­lat­ing ef­fects of the caffeine in choco­late can wreak havoc on your gut.

And it turns out that all the happy vibes you al­ways sus­pected you got from good-qual­ity choco­late do have an ac­tual foun­da­tion in sci­ence. When di­gested in the hu­man gut, choco­late re­leases sev­eral neu­ro­trans­mit­ters with fancy sci­en­tific names, which make us feel happy. Phenethy­lamine, which is some­times called “the love drug”, causes alert­ness and a de­gree of ex­cite­ment, quick­ens the pulse rate and makes you feel happy. Sero­tonin, another mood-lifter, is re­leased by tryp­to­phan, a pro­tein also found in (wait for it!) choco­late. Theo­bromine is a stim­u­lant sim­i­lar to caffeine (and also hap­pens to be the mol­e­cule that makes choco­late poi­sonous to dogs). Among the many fats in choco­late, one called anan­damide, named af­ter the San­skrit word for “bliss”, ac­ti­vates a re­cep­tor that causes dopamine pro­duc­tion, pro­duc­ing in­tense feel­ings of well-be­ing.

The Aztecs weren’t wrong when they granted choco­late the high­est sta­tus in their food chain. They be­lieved that ca­cao seeds were the gift of Quet­zal­coatl, the god of wis­dom, and they were once so highly val­ued that they were used as a form of cur­rency.

Choco­late is such a key part of the cel­e­bra­tions of Christ­mas, it re­ally is the ul­ti­mate feel-good food that you now have every rea­son to feel good about. So bring on the bak­ing, and wel­come the fes­tive sea­son with these di­vine choco­late treats — just per­fect for an in­dul­gent, make-ahead Christ­mas Day dessert.

I’ve even in­cluded a won­der­ful choco­late mousse that tastes rich and creamy but is free of gluten, dairy and re­fined sug­ars, so it’s per­fect for tricky Christ­mas Day guests. Make it with maple syrup in­stead of honey and it’s even suit­able for ve­g­ans.

MERINGUE ROULADE WITH CHOCO­LATE MOUSSE Ready in 1 hour Serves 8-10 4 egg whites 2 Tbsp corn­flour 1 tsp white vine­gar 1 cup caster su­gar, plus a lit­tle ex­tra to dust Quick choco­late mousse 100g dark choco­late 2 cups cream 1 tsp vanilla ex­tract To serve 1 cup rasp­ber­ries or sliced straw­ber­ries, plus ex­tra to gar­nish Ex­tra choco­late, melted, to gar­nish

Pre­heat oven to 160C fan­bake. Line a large slice or swiss roll tin (about 36cm x 25cm) with bak­ing pa­per, trim­ming edges and cor­ners to fit neatly, or mark a 33cm x 26cm rec­tan­gle on a piece of bak­ing pa­per and in­vert on an oven tray. To make the quick choco­late mousse, melt choco­late in a bowl set over a lit­tle sim­mer­ing wa­ter, or in short bursts in the mi­crowave. Re­move from heat and stir in ¼ cup of the cream un­til smooth. Al­low to cool while you whisk the re­main­ing cream with the vanilla to soft peaks. Stir into the cooled choco­late. Chill un­til needed — it will firm fur­ther as it cools. Place egg whites in a very clean bowl and whisk with an elec­tric mixer or beater un­til fluffy. Beat in corn­flour and vine­gar. Grad­u­ally add su­gar and beat un­til the mix­ture forms stiff peaks but is still just a lit­tle gritty. Spread evenly into pre­pared tin or within marked bor­ders on bak­ing pa­per and bake un­til puffed and very lightly golden (12-15 min­utes). It needs to be fully set like a sponge — if not cooked enough it will split when you roll it. Leave to cool for 10-15 min­utes. It will be puffy when it comes out of the oven but flat­ten as it cools. Lightly dust a sheet of bak­ing pa­per with ex­tra caster su­gar, then care­fully in­vert the meringue on top and re­move the bak­ing pa­per it was cooked on. Cool fully. Spread choco­late mousse over the meringue and top with 1 cup fresh rasp­ber­ries or sliced straw­ber­ries. Gently roll up, fin­ish­ing with the join at the base. Slide on to a plat­ter and chill un­til ready to serve. Serve with a driz­zle of ex­tra melted choco­late and berries. You can freeze the filled roulade in a con­tainer for up to six weeks (re­move from freezer about half an hour be­fore serv­ing).

Annabel says: Fancy a change from the tra­di­tional pavlova? This rolled meringue is just as easy to make, but looks even more im­pres­sive on the ta­ble. It’s also good driz­zled with berry coulis.


Ready in 20 hours + chill­ing Serves 20 Choco­late meringue 5 egg whites ¾ cup su­gar ½ cup co­coa 1¾ cups ic­ing su­gar Light-as-air choco­late mousse 450g dark choco­late, roughly chopped 3½ cups cream 8 egg whites 1 tsp vanilla ex­tract Choco­late ganache 150g dark choco­late, roughly chopped 150ml cream To serve Fresh rasp­ber­ries

To make choco­late meringue, pre­heat oven to 150C. Line 2-3 bak­ing trays with bak­ing pa­per and mark bak­ing pa­per with a to­tal of 3 rec­tan­gles, each mea­sur­ing 28cm x 12cm. In a very clean bowl, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Beat in su­gar a lit­tle at a time un­til the meringue holds stiff peaks. Sift to­gether co­coa and ic­ing su­gar and gently fold into meringue. Di­vide mix­ture be­tween the 3 rec­tan­gles and spread evenly to fit the marked shapes. Bake un­til meringue is crisp and dry (1¼ hours). Al­low to cool. To make choco­late mousse, melt choco­late with 1½ cups of the cream over a gen­tle heat or in a mi­crowave. Stir un­til com­pletely smooth, then cool. Whisk egg whites un­til stiff but not dry. In another bowl whisk re­main­ing cream with vanilla to firm peaks. Fold a third of the egg white into the cooled choco­late mix­ture to lighten the mix­ture, then gently fold in re­main­ing egg white and cream. Chill un­til quite firm (2-3 hours or overnight). To as­sem­ble, place a layer of meringue on a serv­ing dish and spread with a 1cm layer of mousse. Cover with fur­ther lay­ers of meringue, then mousse, then meringue, press­ing meringue into mousse to sand­wich firmly. (If the mousse be­comes too soft to work with, re­frig­er­ate be­tween stages.) Spread mousse all over the fin­ished cake. Cover and freeze overnight or up to three weeks. To make choco­late ganache, heat choco­late and cream over a low heat un­til melted. Whisk un­til glossy. Al­low to cool. About half an hour be­fore serv­ing, re­move bombe from freezer, swirl cooled ganache over the top and sides, and top with rasp­ber­ries. Al­low to soften slightly (about 10-15 min­utes) be­fore slic­ing thinly to serve.

Annabel says: Lay­ers of choco­late meringue are com­bined with a rich choco­late mousse and topped with choco­late ganache to cre­ate this spec­tac­u­lar frozen dessert, which is much eas­ier to make than its glam­orous ap­pear­ance might sug­gest. I like the fact that you make and freeze it in ad­vance for a stress-free Christ­mas morn­ing.


Ready in 10 mins Serves 6 7 med­jool or other very soft dates, pit­ted and coarsely chopped ¼ cup fresh or­ange juice Flesh of 2 large, just-ripe av­o­ca­dos ½ cup al­mond milk or co­conut cream ¼ cup runny honey or maple syrup ½ tsp vanilla ex­tract 3 Tbsp good-qual­ity co­coa pow­der or ca­cao pow­der 3 Tbsp chopped roasted hazel­nuts, to gar­nish Whizz dates and or­ange juice in a food pro­ces­sor un­til smooth. Add avocado, al­mond milk or co­conut cream, honey, vanilla ex­tract and co­coa or ca­cao pow­der then whizz un­til very smooth. Di­vide be­tween six serv­ing cups or bowls. Top with chopped toasted hazel­nuts to serve.

Annabel says: Sweet­ened with dates, or­ange juice and honey or maple syrup and free from dairy and gluten, this choco­lately treat suits just about every spe­cial diet (in­clud­ing ve­gan if it’s made with­out honey). It’s eas­ily dou­bled if you’re cook­ing for a crowd. If your dates are a bit hard, cover them with boil­ing wa­ter and leave them to sit for 5-10 min­utes while they soften. Drain well be­fore use.


Es­sen­tial Annabel Lang­bein (Annabel Lang­bein Me­dia, $65) is a beau­ti­ful compendium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cook­ing tips. It makes a great Christ­mas gift and it’s on sale now at Pa­per Plus, Whit­coulls, The Ware­house and all good book­stores. Buy it be­fore the end of De­cem­ber and you could win a Jeep Wran­gler! Find out more at or fol­low Annabel on Face­book or In­sta­gram.



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