4 delicious dessert recipes that are good for you
Treats are definitely something I only indulge in occasionally, but there’s no way I’ll ever reach for anything refined. Instead, I opt for nourishing ingredients with just a little bit of natural sweetener.
That’s because it’s important to remember a treat is called that for a reason: sugar is still sugar, regardless of the source. When I was younger, I used to love freshly squeezed fruit juice until I realised it was doing me more harm than good.
You see, fruit juice is very high in fructose and any excess sugar, whether from natural sweeteners or the nasty refined stuff, causes you to gain weight, accelerates the ageing process and has a cumulative effect, meaning it builds up in your system over time and causes numerous mental and physical diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
It’s also highly addictive. Sugar triggers the release of chemicals that set off the brain’s pleasure centre, in this case opioids and dopamine. In a similar manner to the way the brain responds to highly addictive drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, people develop a tolerance for sugar.
A high sugar intake can also lead to metabolic disorders. New research is emerging that suggests Alzheimer’s disease (becoming known globally as type 3 diabetes because of its connection to sugar intake) is a metabolic disease caused when the brain’s ability to use glucose and produce energy is damaged.
By simply replacing white flour with coconut or nut flower, butter with coconut oil and refined sugar with stevia, honey, yacon or maple syrup, we can still bake cookies or a cake for a birthday celebration and know that what is on offer is delicious but, more importantly, so much easier on your system.
All this makes for even more food for thought when it comes to the amount (and kind) of sweet stuff we choose to consume, because it’s not just about ditching the fizzy drinks and the obvious sugars. I also encourage you to really read your labels because there’s so much hidden sugar in packaged foods.
Needless to say, my family avoids everything from muesli bars, biscuits, sauces, cakes and anything processed and packaged in favour of making our own sauces, dressings and, occasionally, treats using sweeteners such as green powdered stevia and raw honey.
You see, my goal as a paleo chef is to reinterpret family favourites by removing ingredients that have a negative impact on our health. By simply replacing white flour with coconut or nut flower, butter with coconut oil and refined sugar with stevia, honey, yacon or maple syrup, we can still bake cookies or a cake for a birthday celebration and know that what is on offer is delicious but, more importantly, so much easier on your system.
It’s why I like to use unheated, unfiltered honey straight from the hives on the farm because raw honey retains natural enzymes, antioxidants, minerals and some vitamins. One type of raw honey, known as Manuka, is particularly amazing. My wife Nic comes from New Zealand, where flowers from the native Manuka tree are used to make honey that has exceptional antibacterial properties.
In 1962, the antiseptic properties of honey were attributed to its hydrogen peroxide component, but research in New Zealand by Professor Peter Molan, from the University of Waikato, named the unidentified component that makes Manuka honey special — the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) — in 1998. This is the only worldwide standard in identifying and measuring the antibacterial strength or quality of some strains of Manuka. It’s a guarantee that the honey being sold has the special UMF antibacterial property.
Another way I love to naturally sweeten treats is to use organic fruit and vegetables.
This is really important in the new age of “super bugs” because, unlike with antibiotics, studies support evidence that microbes do not become resistant to UMF.
Normally, bacteria have the ability to mutate and become resistant to elements that are attempting to destroy them. However, Manuka honey destroys bacteria in a different manner, by drawing water out of the bacteria, making it impossible for the microbes to survive. To date, there has been no reported bacterium that has been able to develop a resistance to Manuka honey.
Along with its superior antibacterial properties, Manuka honey has been found to have a number of health benefits, from improving overall immune system function by killing harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to protecting against colds and flus by killing bacteria in the throat to fighting mouth infections, soothing burns, acne and eczema and as a good natural remedy for heartburn and acid reflux. Manuka honey has so many health benefits and that’s why it’s my favourite natural sweetener (although I won’t ever eat more than a teaspoon a day because I don’t want my blood sugar levels to spike).
The next time you’re baking for a school fundraiser or creating something with the kids in the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon, I encourage you to choose nourishing ingredients and a natural sweetener that fully supports the health of your family.
One of my favourite family afternoon baking recipes is featured in my book Fast Food for Busy Families. It’s a coconut macaroon recipe that uses coconut oil as its base ingredient. Coconut oil is great because it’s high in lauric acid and also has excellent antibacterial properties.
Another way I love to naturally sweeten treats is to use organic fruit and vegetables. When it’s a very special occasion, I’ll make delectable mud cakes using beetroot as a base. This delicious recipe was created because of my dear friend nutritionist Dr Libby Weaver. Dr Libby speaks the same language I do: food can be medicine or poison. In this recipe, I love the richness of the beetroot because it injects a whole new level of texture and flavour into the dish but it also works to support better health. You see, beetroots have excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can really help to detoxify your system.
When it comes to a chilly night, I can’t go past apple crumble. If you are going to indulge in this type of dessert, then a paleo version makes a better choice. What is so brilliant about this dish is how my paleo makeover has made the traditional crumble even more tasty and delicious. Use whatever organic or chemical-free fruit you can get your hands on and go for gold.
It’s really important to understand that eating for good health and being paleo doesn’t mean going without — quite the opposite, in fact. It’s about educating yourself so you can make wiser choices through the foods we consume to help us live happy, healthier lives. By replacing refined white flour, dairy and sugar with paleo alternatives, we can lessen the impact treats have on our systems but still enjoy the good things in life. Just remember that a paleo treat or cake is a once-in-a-while option only (if at all). Now that sounds pretty sweet to me!
Cook with love and laughter,
Makes: 16–20 pieces
- 200g raw dark chocolate (at least 80 per cent cacao, with no refined sugar), chopped
- 185mL coconut oil
- 3 tbsp cacao powder, plus 2 tbsp extra to dust
- 6 eggs, separated
- 300g honey
- 200g activated walnuts, toasted & roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease an 18cm x 28cm baking tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.
- Combine the chocolate, coconut oil and cacao powder in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) a saucepan of just-simmering water. Stir the chocolate mixture occasionally with a spatula until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and 175g of the honey in a bowl and beat on high speed with an electric mixer until doubled in size and fluffy. Fold the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture with a metal spoon.
- Whisk the egg whites and the remaining honey in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture until well incorporated, then gently fold in the walnuts.
- Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin and level the top with a palette knife. Bake for 30 mins, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the brownie comes out clean. The brownie will puff up a little during cooking. Allow to cool completely in the tin, then refrigerate for 2 hours before cutting.
- Turn the brownie out onto a chopping board and cut into portions.
- Dust with the extra cacao powder and serve. The brownies will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- 2 egg whites
- Pinch sea salt
- Pinch cream of tartar
- ½ tsp apple-cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 50g almond meal
- 1 tbsp melted coconut oil
- 100g shredded coconut
- 200g cherries, pitted & chopped
- Preheat the oven to 160°C and line a large tray with baking paper.
- Beat the egg whites and salt in a bowl until soft peaks form. Add the cream of tartar, vinegar and honey and continue to beat until thick and glossy. Fold in the almond meal, coconut oil, shredded coconut and cherries.
- Using a tablespoon, drop walnut-sized portions of the macaroon mixture onto the prepared tray, allowing a little room for spreading.
- Bake for 12–15 mins until the macaroons are golden brown. Allow the macaroons to cool a little before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the cupboard for up to a week.
Chocolate Beetroot Mud Cake with Chocolate Shavings
- 300g mixed activated macadamia nuts & Brazil nuts
- 6 medjool dates, pitted
- 55g currants, dried blueberries or dried cranberries
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
- 3 beetroot, grated, plus extra to decorate
- 200g desiccated coconut, plus extra to decorate
- 4 tbsp cacao powder
- 4 tbsp carob powder
- ½ tsp vanilla powder or 1 vanilla pod, split & seeds scraped
- 2 tbsp golden flaxseed meal
- 2 avocados, halved, stoned & peeled
- 60g cacao powder
- 175g honey
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- ½ tsp vanilla powder
- ½ tsp sea salt
- Place the nuts in a food processor bowl and process to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the dates, dried fruit and maple syrup and process until smooth. Add the beetroot, coconut, cacao, carob, vanilla powder or seeds and flaxseed meal and blend until well combined and even in texture.
- Line a tray with baking paper. Place eight 5cm cake ring moulds on the tray. Divide the nut mixture between the moulds and transfer to the freezer for 40 mins to set.
- To make the icing, combine the avocado, cacao, honey, coconut oil, vanilla and salt in the clean food processor bowl and pulse until smooth.
- Using a palette knife, cover the cakes with the icing, then refrigerate for 30 mins.
- Meanwhile, make the chocolate shavings (recipe below).
- Decorate the mud cakes with the extra coconut and beetroot and the chocolate shavings. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- 125mL melted coconut oil
- 1½ tbsp cacao powder, sifted
- 1½ tbsp carob powder, sifted
- 1 tbsp honey
- Mix the coconut oil, cacao, carob and honey in a bowl. Line a tray with baking paper and spread the mixture onto the paper as thinly as possible. Leave at room temperature for 5 mins, then carefully roll up the paper to form a cylinder. Place in the fridge for 10–20 mins to harden. Peel the paper away; you will be left with chocolate shavings. Place these on the baking sheet and return to the fridge for 2–5 mins to firm up again.
Apple & Berry Crumble
- 4 apples (about 750g in total), peeled, cored & chopped into 2cm pieces
- 85g honey
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp vanilla powder or 1 vanilla pod, split & seeds scraped
- 320g fresh or frozen mixed berries (such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries)
- Coconut yoghurt, to serve
- Crumble Topping
- 100g almond or hazelnut meal
- 65g activated macadamia nuts, finely chopped
- 60g activated pistachio nuts, finely chopped
- 40g shredded coconut
- 4 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- 85g honey
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Pinch sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 160°C.
- To make the filling, combine the apple, honey, coconut oil, orange zest, cinnamon, vanilla pod and seeds or powder and 3 tablespoons of water in a saucepan. Cover and cook over medium–low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apple softens, about 5 mins. Add the berries, cover and cook for 3–4 mins until the berries start to burst. Remove the vanilla pod (if using).
- Meanwhile, to make the crumble topping, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
- Spoon the filling evenly into a 1.5L baking dish. Sprinkle on the crumble topping to cover. Bake for 15–18 mins until the crumble is golden brown, checking from 10 mins onwards to make sure it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 2–3 mins before serving. Serve with coconut yoghurt.
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