I love everything about Easter. It is a time for family, friends and frivolity. Spring has sprung and there is a lightness to the mood and atmosphere, a hopefulness for the coming seasons and a slight (rabbit-like) spring in everyone’s step. It is also a time for indulgent treats – decadent and decorative chocolate, dark and rich in both colour and flavour; squidgy, aromatic hot cross buns, bursting with plump sultanas and draped in golden butter which seems to twinkle with glee as it melts into the toasted buns; slow-cooked spring lamb with all the trimmings, the tender meat falling seductively off the bone and bathing in its juices.
Yet it is not just the taste buds that are in for a treat. The air is filled with the smell of fresh, evaporated raindrops and smiling spring blossom as their petals fan out and they sigh in appreciation of the sun on their faces. Then there are the smells from the kitchen – the homely scents of Easter cupcakes, dense Simnel cake and rich roasting meats floating out from the oven door and lulling the house into a state of comfort and contentment.
But it is chocolate that is always on everyone’s mind at Easter – without a doubt if you ask someone what they think of when they thing of Easter it will be at the top of their list. I have always loved chocolate – it is a trait I inherited from Marge who often has a hankering for the sweet stuff as a last piece of bedtime luxury. Chocolate has the ability to improve even the sourest of moods, it offers the kind of comfort second only to a hug from one of your closest family and friends, so it seems perfectly fitting to me that it is so closely associated to this seasonal celebration, when we spend quality and valuable time with our loved ones.
As I have got older, my taste for chocolate has developed, moving away from the saccharine delights of Cadbury’s and the velvety indulgence of Galaxy milk chocolates (although don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for ALL types of chocolate and I never say no to a bit of Fruit and Nut) towards the darker, more sophisticated treats, those with a high percentage of cacao. The brilliant thing about this taste-shift is that, whilst you are still eating an uplifting, soothing treat, you are also nourishing your body. Cacao – the purest and least processed form of chocolate you can consume – is one of the richest sources of antioxidant polyphenols of any food on the planet and contains many vital vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, calcium, sulfur, potassium, and manganese, as well as monounsaturated fats, cholesterol-free saturated fats, fibre, natural carbohydrates, and protein. This nutrient-dense food has a number of health benefits: it can lower blood pressure and cholesterol and improve circulation, thus promoting cardiovascular function & health; it supports immunity by boosting the response of antibodies and protecting the body from a buildup of free radicals; and it can help improve digestion.
It therefore seemed not only seasonal but also completely sensible to make Marge a delicious Easter treat with this superhero ingredient. Nothing is more satisfying and more indulgent than a sticky, gooey brownie – they are one of life’s simple pleasures. However, by making a variation of this decadent dessert and by replacing the chocolate/cocoa with raw cacao and the processed flour with black beans, you not only improve the nutritional value of this tea-time treat, but you can prove to everyone that you can treat yourself with delicious sweets whilst still feeling entirely virtuous.
There are a number of different recipes out there, but I opted for Hemsley + Hemsley’s Black Bean Brownies as it seemed to require minimal ingredients and effort. They turned out brilliantly and went down a storm with the entire family. The texture was fantastically fudgy and dense, almost truffle-like in its consistency, and though very moreish and rich they remained surprisingly light. But the best part: you don’t feel guilty about going back for seconds (or thirds…).
Recipe: Black Bean Brownies
- 2 x 400g tins cooked black beans, drained
- 230g (8oz) unsalted butter or coconut oil
- 4 medium eggs
- 85g (3oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 150ml (5fl oz) maple syrup
- 1½ tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp coffee extract, or use extra vanilla extract
- 130g (4¾oz) chopped walnuts or dried fruit, optional
- Preheat the oven to 170°C/330°F/160°C fan.
- Rinse the black beans and leave to drain. Melt the butter/cocnut oil in a saucepan over a gentle heat, then set it aside.
- Place the drained beans, eggs, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract and coffee extract (if using) into a food processor with a large pinch of salt. Pulse a few times and then blend until smooth.
- Add the melted butter, very slowly so as not to cook the eggs, while the machine is running. Taste the batter – add more maple syrup if needs be – then stir in most of the chopped walnuts or dried fruit, reserving a handful (if using).
- Grease the inside of a 24 x 20cm (9¾ x 8in) china or glass baking-dish. Pour in the brownie batter and gently tap the baking-dish on to a kitchen counter to even out the batter.
- Sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the brownie feels firm and springy and its surface is cracked. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.