Truffles – one sweet gift

Alternate a healthy version of homemade “truffles” for the store bought chocolates.

It is the season for love and February is the month of romance. Valentines’ Day is popularly celebrated with flowers, cards, candy and gifts. Store shelves are lined with bags of candy, tantalizing shopper’s taste buds and gifts of chocolate may decrease your will power for eating healthy. Is there a special sweet gift that can be given to conquer a person’s love for chocolate and sugar – without breaking too many health habits? Yes, there is!

There is nothing nicer than a homemade gift, especially one from your kitchen. Chocolate truffles are a favorite holiday treat, but they are traditionally made with lots of heavy cream and chocolate. Here is a healthy alternative: Simple no-bake confections based on nutrient-rich dried fruits and nuts, which highlight the flavor of a little bittersweet chocolate. Dried fruits are a nutrient-dense food and a particularly good source of dietary fiber, potassium and phenolic compounds, which are linked to a number of health benefits, including decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Tree nuts are cholesterol-free and chock-full of important nutrients, including protein and fiber. They are also a great source of vitamins such as folic acid, niacin and vitamins E and B6, and minerals like magnesium, copper, zinc, selenium, phosphorus and potassium. Be aware, however, that even though nuts and dried fruits have health benefits, they are still calorie-dense foods.

Michigna State University Extension recommends the following recipes from www.allrecipes.com in moderation to have a happy, healthy holiday.

Peanut “truffles” with dried cherries and chocolate

Beat a 1/2 cup of unsalted chunky peanut butter (or sunflower butter), 1/3 cup confectioners sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract with an electric mixer until smooth.

Add a 1/2 cup of coarsely chopped dried cherries, 1/3 cup chopped roasted almonds (see tip), and 1/3 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate chips. Mix with wooden spoon.

Form mixture into one inch balls. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least two hours or overnight.

Makes 24 “truffles,” each 67 calories, two grams of protein, seven grams carbohydrates, one gram fiber, four grams total fat, one gram saturated fat, zero cholesterol, two milligrams sodium.

Fig-hazelnut Chocolate “truffles”

Place 3/4 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts (see tip), 1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest in food processor; pulse until finely chopped.

Add 3/4 cup dried Calimyrna figs and pulse until finely chopped.

Add two ounces melted bittersweet chocolate (or 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips, melted), 1 tablespoon orange juice, and 1 teaspoon honey; pulse until mixture is cohesive.

Place 2 tablespoons sugar in shallow dish. Form hazelnut mixture into one inch balls and roll in sugar.

Makes about 22 “truffles,” each 58 calories, one gram protein, eight grams carbohydrates, one gram fiber, three grams total fat, one gram saturated fat, zero cholesterol, one milligram sodium.

Apricot-almond “truffles” with ginger

Place 3/4 cup toasted slivered almonds (see tip) and 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger in food processor; pulse until finely chopped.

Add 3/4 cup dried apricots and pulse until finely chopped. Add 1 tablespoon honey and 1 tablespoon orange juice; pulse until mixture is cohesive.

Form mixture into one inch balls. Place “truffles” close together on a baking sheet or tray that is lined with wax paper. Drizzle one ounce melted bittersweet chocolate (or 2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips, melted) over “truffles.” Refrigerate until chocolate has set.

Makes about 22 “truffles,” each 63 calories, one gram protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, one gram fiber, two grams total fat, zero saturated fat, zero cholesterol, nine milligrams sodium.

Place “truffles” in candy cups, if desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Tip: Toasting nuts enhances their flavor. Place them in a small skillet over medium-low heat and toast, stirring constantly, until light golden and fragrant – about two to three minutes. Alternatively, spread nuts in small baking pan and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until light golden and fragrant, about five to seven minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Blueberries are also a sweet super food that is superior to health. These little blue marvels are the antioxidant leasers, plump with nearly four grams of fiber per cup and provide a good dose of vitamin C. They also have cancer protective substances that may help boost your brain health and vision.

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