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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Healthy Desserts, Raw Desserts

Think "raw desserts". What pops into your mind? Healthy? Crunchy? Soggy? A sad alternative for someone on a diet? Raw desserts make the healthiest desserts on the planet, but they also make skeptics. Can desserts made without flours, fillers, sugar, or dairy products truly satisfy?

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Sweet fruits are one of the top ingredients in raw desserts. Fresh and dried fruits are bursting with sucrose, glucose and fructose (nature's natural sugars) and many have just as much sweetness as refined tables sugar. Dates, for example, are a common ingredient for raw dessert crusts and fillings, and have a 75-85 percent sugar content.

Now I don't normally advocate sugar, but we're talking about desserts here. Fact is that desserts are sweet. There is a difference between using whole fruits instead of table sugar, though -- it's in the fiber. For those who have experimented with the Atkin's diet, you'll remember that deductions in carbohydrate (sugar) intake can be made with the addition of fiber. Fiber, as well as protein and good fats, slow down the rate at which the sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. Since raw desserts are made mostly of high-fiber fruits and an array of nuts with high-quality fats and protein, they won't spike sugar levels as high as desserts made from table sugar and refined flours.

Ingredients for Raw Desserts

Fresh, organic ingredients give raw desserts their natural sweetness and delightful textures. Here's the top three foods that make up raw desserts:

Nuts and Seeds - Raw chefs always have a food processor at easy reach for chopping, grinding or pureeing nuts and seeds for a variety of uses. Course-chopped nuts can be used as a base for crunchy-textured crusts; ground nuts are used for finer crusts as well as a base for cookie and cake dough; and those with a higher fat content, like cashews, pine nuts, macadamias, coconuts and Brazil nuts, can be pureed into creamy mousses, whips and parfaits.

Bonus! Soaking Nuts and Seeds for Optimal Nutrition

Fresh and Dried Fruits - Summer's bounty of fresh colorful fruits make it the ideal time for raw desserts. Just as in baked desserts, fruits are used as a filling for tarts and pies, and can be pureed to make dessert sauces to top custards and cakes. Dried fruits can also be used. Most are soaked and then pureed to sweeten fillings and crusts.

Natural Sweeteners - Strict raw-foodies only sweeten with the simplest of sweet ingredients: whole fruits. The less dogmatic approach is to add mildly refined sweeteners in small amounts. These include: raw unfiltered honey, raw agave nectar, stevia, date sugar and even maple syrup. Most raw desserts incorporate dates into crusts and fillings; in most cases, their naturally high sugar content makes them more than adequate.

What Makes a "Raw" Food Raw?

A raw food is exactly that — it hasn’t been cooked. This means that all the delicate vitamins, phyto-nutrients and enzymes originally present in the food have not been cooked out, damaged or destroyed. Since these highly nutritional aspects of the whole food are left intact, raw desserts are actually good for us in moderation. You can’t say that about baked desserts, which are filled with sugar, flours and dairy products.

Generally, raw food is considered raw if it hasn't been heated above 105-120 degrees. If a raw food has been left in its original state, or even if it has been dehydrated between 105-120 degrees, the enzymes and vitamins have not been destroyed and the food will remain truly raw.

Getting Started

Many of my raw dessert recipes require little more than a food processor and a pan, but a few other basic kitchen tools can make it easier and just more fun. If you are starting to experiment with raw foods in general, you'll definitely want to consider the last two.

Springform Pan - Another word for a cheesecake pan. This pan has a removable side and allows cakes to hold their shape after they've been setting up in the fridge. Springform pans come in many sizes, from a single-serving to a 12-inch round, square or rectangle.

Tart Pan - A tart pan makes a short crust for a single layer of fruit to lie attractively on the bottom. Like springform pans, they also have a removable side to keep the filling from dumping while removing the tart. They come in single-serving sizes to a 12-inch round, square or rectangle.

Pie Plate - Whether it was handed down from mom or purchased, most home-cooks have at least one pie plate laying around the kitchen. A pie plate is good for thick crusts that hold deep, chunky fillings.

Dehydrator - A dehydrator adds chewiness and crunchiness to certain desserts that might be left soft and soggy without some kind of drying technique. If a dehydrator is set within 105-120 degrees, it will take the water out of the food without cooking it. As long as the heat stays low, a raw food will remain truly raw even if left in the dehydrator for 12-plus hours. I recommend the Excalibur Dehydrator - it allows you to adjust the temperature. I found mine new on eBay for $200.

Food Processor or High-Speed Blender - Although a food processor is all one really needs for raw desserts, many raw foodists enjoy the luxury of a higher powered blender to really cream and smooth pureed foods. Its fast blending acting can puree leafy greens into smoothies in just 30 seconds! I recommend the Vita-Mix Blender; it's pricey, but worth it. Find it new on ebay for $280.

Now all you need are the healthy ingredients to create your raw works of culinary art! 'Tis the season for a variety of fresh, ripe fruits at the organic farmers' market. You can purchase nuts and seeds at your local natural foods store. The best choices are organic, vacuum packed nuts that have been processed and transported in lower temperatures. These are becoming more accessible at natural foods markets and on the internet.

So don't knock it 'til you try it. People new to raw foods always proclaim how neat it is to "cook" raw in the kitchen. "It's so alive!", they say. And once you try it, you'll be a believer too!


At 6:05 AM , Blogger Deb Schiff said...

Hi Alison.

This is such a great recipe! I also like your cooking show technique.

I've been working a bit on two of my own blogs: and Both focus on natural foods, although Altered Plates is a study in using agave nectar instead of sugar in baking recipes. If you can give me any tips on how to improve my presentation, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks!

At 8:28 AM , Blogger CookingDiva - Chef Melissa said...

I LOVE your videos!!! congrats, you have inspired me to make some :D


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