What’s better than chocolate? Well, maybe pumpkin and pumpkin spice. How about all three options? This month’s Recipe Redux challenge theme was an obvious one for October: pumpkin. I love pumpkin and pumpkin spice, but not fake pumpkin spice. So, nothing but the real stuff in today’s recipe for Vegan Pumpkin Fudge Cups with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting.
Before I get into the recipe, let me tell you a little about chocolate and pumpkin and how they can contribute to good mood since I’m all about food and mood and using food to make us feel good!
Many years ago, I worked in a gourmet food shop and for the first three months, I didn’t get to hide behind a locked door working at a desk. I was helping customers and let’s just say that often times these folks had challenging methods of relating to customer service employees. That’s the nicest way I can put it! Every afternoon, my colleague and I would share a couple squares of dark chocolate, usually a Valrhona or Vosges bar, to get our emotional strength back! Worked like charm. Why though? Why did that chocolate give us that boost we needed?
Your body senses the rich and decadent mouthfeel once you bite into the piece of chocolate and sends signals to the pleasure center in your brain, causing that sense of relaxation and joy. It knows this is a pleasurable experience! The theobromine and small amount of caffeine may also give you a light stimulating feeling. Polyphenols called flavonols are also believed to play a role in this improvement in mood. Flavonols even create new neurons, improve the connections between neurons, and basically protect them.
Magnesium is crucial when it comes to brain health and mood and unfortunately, many people don’t even realize they’re deficient. It plays a huge role in the production of the feel good neurotransmitter, serotonin. We get magnesium mostly from veggies, seeds, nuts and whole grains. If you’re on the Standard American Diet (SAD) of fast food and highly processed foods, you probably aren’t getting enough magnesium. Luckily, cocoa contains this vital mineral! Be sure to eat some veggies too though!
When choosing chocolate, go with one that has the highest percentage of cacao you can get, which also means the least amount of sugar. I recently tried a 90% cacao bar and the flavor was so balanced that it didn’t taste overly bitter. My recipe for the Pumpkin Fudge cups uses 100% unsweetened chocolate. Gettin’ all the flavonols that we can!
Not only does pumpkin also contain magnesium, but it has fiber. What does fiber have to do with a good mood? Everything. Pumpkin contain fiber that our guts love because it feeds the good bacteria in our guts. The gut-brain connection is strong, so a healthy gut is going to have influence on brain health. Many neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers of the body, are even made in the gut!
Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin B6 which definitely plays a role in mood, especially in producing neurotransmitters. If our neurons can’t communicate with each other and the rest of the body, then problems are going to occur and they could manifest via depression.
If you don’t want to bake a whole pumpkin, no problem. The canned variety is a perfectly good choice. Just be sure to purchase one that doesn’t contain any added sugars. You just want 100% pumpkin in that can. In addition to adding to pumpkin puree to fudge and frosting, canned pumpkin is a great addition to oatmeal, energy balls, and pancakes and muffins.
I did not originally intend to create a vegan dessert. If I even say that word prior to consumption, my #1 taste tester will not try it. Once he did try this treat, he had no idea that the whole thing is vegan. Once the spices, maple syrup and pumpkin are mixed into the vegan cream cheese, it tastes like real dairy cream cheese frosting! It’s gluten free too!
Baking is not my favorite activity, so when I can make a quick dessert and not have to lug the food processor or mixer from my cupboard, it’s a great thing. After melting the almond butter, coconut oil, and chocolate in the microwave, you stir in a few more ingredients and spoon the mixture into mini cupcake liners. While that freezes for 10 minutes, mix the cream cheese frosting in a bowl. No need to use the mixer. Spoon the frosting on top of the fudge cups and that’s it! This dessert cannot get any easier!
Vegan Pumpkin Fudge Cups with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
Making a rich dessert filled with healthy ingredients couldn't be any easier than with these pumpkin and spiced fudge cups. While they are vegan and gluten free, they still taste delicious and are the perfect sweet treat for the Fall and Winter seasons!
Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pumpkin Fudge Cups
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
2 Tablespoons smooth, unsalted, raw almond butter
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup unsweetened, canned pumpkin puree
Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup vegan cream cheese (I used Trader Joe's brand)
Mix all spices together in a small bowl to make the pumpkin pie spice.
In a medium microwave safe bowl, combine the coconut oil, almond butter and chocolate. Heat on high for 25 seconds. Stir mixture to distribute heat and help chocolate to fully melt. If you still have a few chocolate chunks, heat in microwave for another 10 seconds and stir.
Add the maple syrup, pumpkin puree, and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie space and stir until thoroughly combined.
Place 12 mini cupcake muffin liners on a sheet pan or plate. Spoon the chocolate mixture into the cups, distributing evenly between all 12 cups. Place pan in freezer for 10 minutes.
To make the frosting, mix the cream cheese, maple syrup, pumpkin puree and remaining 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Stir until smooth.
Remove chocolate cups from the freezer and spoon frosting over the cups, distributing evenly between all 12 cups.
Place in fridge until time to serve.
The chocolate fudge cups are best eaten straight out of the fridge.
There’s almost nothing I love more than a good cocktail. Yes, I’m a Dietitian and I love cocktails. Hence the word BALANCE in the title of my business name. While my favorite category of beverage is that of the complex tiki bar variety (you can read about that here), there’s something to be said for simplicity when I’m making drinks at home. Enter the classic daiquiri. I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t a daiquiri a frozen, sugary concoction that comes from a slurpee machine that you drink from a sippy cup in Las Vegas at the many Fat Tuesday’s located along the Strip? Believe me, I love a good sippy cup drink, especially because those cups are great for smoothies when you get home! However, those are not true, classic daiquiris.
A real daiquiri is nothing more than rum, lime juice and a little simple syrup. Shake shake shake with ice, strain and enjoy. While there are several versions of the origin story for this drink, we do know that this beloved beverage has its roots in Cuba. The daiquiri was introduced to the U.S. in 1909 when Rear-Admiral Lucius W. Johnson brought it from Cuba to the Army and Navy Club in Washington D.C. Their lounge is even called the Daiquiri Lounge, which honors the U.S. introduction of this tasty libation.
My favorite daiquiri version is the Hemingway Daiquiri, named after Ernest Hemingway, who of course in addition to being a famous author, was also quite the famous boozer. He fancied a much stronger version of the classic daiquiri and without the sugar. Nicknamed the Papa Doble, it had 4 ounces of rum with a splash of lime. Basically, he drank jet fuel! In order to make the beverage more palatable to the public, and probably to capitalize on his celebrity name, La Floridita in Havana created the Hemingway Daiquiri with rum, grapefruit juice, lime juice and maraschino liquor. Don’t think of those atomic red cherries when you think of maraschino liqueur. It’s actually an Italian liqueur distilled from Marasca cherries. The version of the Heminway Daiquiri at Carthay Circle Lounge at Disney’s California Adventure, called Ernest’s Daiquiri, is one of my favorite concoctions on the face of this earth. This drink is no joke. It’ll have you happy in about 5 minutes!
While I don’t like to bastardize classic cocktails too much, I knew I wanted to tweak the classic daiquiri for this month’s Recipe Redux where we were challenged to create a gut health cocktail. I chose to interpret that as using some sort of fermented substance such as kombucha, kefir, kefir water or yogurt in a drink. You could even create a cocktail using sauerkraut liquid. Perhaps a Bloody Mary might be nice for that. I personally chose strawberry kombucha because it imparts a slight fruity flavor, but doesn’t overwhelm the other simple ingredients.
My Strawberry Kombucha Daiquiri is super easy to make! Make sure you use fresh lime juice and not bottled. Since the drink is so simple, its taste relies on quality ingredients. While this boozy beverage contains probiotics (read my post about probiotics here), don’t think it’s going to be a miracle cure for your belly issues. It’s still an alcoholic beverage to be enjoyed in moderation! In addition to its gut health properties, I like using the kombucha as a mixer instead of fruit juice because it has less sugar. This daiquiri has only approximately 4 grams of sugar. Even though the drink is 5 ounces, if you’re a lightweight, watch out because it packs a punch!
This twist on a classic daiquiri uses strawberry kombucha for a dash of probiotics along with a refreshing light strawberry flavor. You can either buy simple syrup or make your own. Just add 1 part white sugar to 1 part water in a sauce pan. Heat and stir until sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Cool and use in your cocktails.