Monday, February 7, 2011

Valentine Scones with Cacao Nibs and Dried Cherries

Saint Valentine's Day is almost upon us and a flurry of associations come to mind. The latent sugar-enthusiast remembers fondly the days of childhood when the heart-shaped box of chocolates would magically appear from my parents. My joy of the impending sugar rush was palatable. Later, as I became more aware of the world in general, I veered into the opposite direction by turning my nose up at the whole commercialism of it all and went on a 'Valentine's Day Fast' for over fifteen years. Then I had an epiphany a few years back and realized: what would be a more spectacular opportunity to live with more love, joy and gratitude than Saint Valentine's Day? Forget the superficial stuff and really delve into a day (and hopefully a full-time orientation) of appreciating those we love while aligning myself with a more heart-centered life.

As sweet treats reflect the 'sweetness of life', these heart-shaped scones are the perfect symbol to share with those you love and even those who look as though they need more love in their lives. Imagine baking up several dozen of these little hearts and passing them on to coworkers, friends, family, possibly even strangers. With the intention of loving-kindness?

If all of this is a little too idealistic, focus on the scones themselves. Good for your heart (no bad fats here) while not pushing one over the edge with sugar overload. Coconut oil replaces the butter, smart sweeteners like evaporated cane juice or coconut sugar add a subtle sweetness. This along with spelt pastry flour for those who are sensitive to standard wheat and the tangy zest of dried cherries to create a bit of balance. And do not forget the incredible cacao nib which is a tremendous source of antioxidants, micronutrients, as well as theobromine, one of the feel-good elements in chocolate.

I used a deep, 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter for this recipe. If you find it difficult to locate the cherries, dried cranberries make a nice substitute. Since the cacao nibs are unsweetened, a slight bitterness complements the mild sweetness of the scone. A high-quality, organic dark chocolate chip can be used if one needs less bite.

Wishing all a very loving and joyful Saint Valentines. Bon Appétit.

*Organic ingredients are always best for health, quality, and taste.

2 cups spelt pastry flour*
1/3 cup evaporated cane juice crystals or coconut sugar granules
1 1/2  teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons solid coconut oil
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
3/4 cup raw cacao nibs or semi-sweet dark chocolate chips
3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries
1/3 cup full-fat yogurt whisked with 1/3 cup almond milk (For vegans: substitute this mixture with 2/3 cup coconut milk)
1 egg or flaxseed egg substitute
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add coconut oil and orange peel; using a pastry cutter or your hands, mix until coarse meal forms. Fold in cacao nibs and dried cherries. In a small bowl, whisk yogurt-almond milk mixture, egg or flaxseed substitute, and both extracts; add to dry ingredients and mix with a fork until dough comes together in moist clumps. Form into a ball and press out on lightly floured surface to 3/4-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the scones. Transfer to oiled baking sheet and space 1-inch apart. Repeat process with remaining dough.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Bake until scones are crusty on top and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*for increased digestibility, decrease spelt flour to 1 cup and soak overnight with 1 1/2-cups water and 1/4-cup plain, unsweetened yogurt. Omit the yogurt-almond milk mixture. Mix soaked flour with wet ingredients and continue with recipe.