Let's Talk About Lily's Chocolate
This week’s recipe was inspired by a Facebook post from my friend, Judy.
Judy works as a flight attendant for the same company as me, and is also from Louisiana.
I love reading Judy’s posts because the vast majority of the time she is sharing the beauty of her travels and the joys of working as a flight attendant.
Don’t get me wrong. There is an overabundance of negatives to our airline job, the least of which is the shoddy way our crews are treated by management.
We often work very long days in a toxic environment with frequently hostile passengers.
In the midst of this pandemic our company said they would be increasing our work days to include very little rest and even longer days. These days consist of multiple flights, with lots of time sitting around at airports. We are also not (nor have we ever been) provided with any food while at work.
With four day trips and layover times at ten or eleven hours, there is very little time to have dinner, unwind, shower and sleep before starting it all over again.
I could go on, but this post is not about that.
Despite the difficulties we face in our job, Judy only focuses on the positive. Her posts are a joy to read because she is a bright light in a sometimes dark environment.
A few days ago, however, I saw a post from her that made me pause. It was about sugar. A subject near and dear to my heart.
“Hey ya’ll I am near the border line of being diabetic and I am trying so hard to fight these urges for sugar...it is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I find myself automatically picking up a sweet dessert or about to order one without thinking and in horror cancel it or put it back! My hand grabbed a bag of those mini boxes of Junior Mints (that I love) before I even realized what I was doing. I threw them down and ran from them.”
I can totally relate. For years I have been trying to reduce or eliminate my sugar intake. Sometimes I can go months without any, other times I fall off of the wagon and eat four cupcakes at a time. Loving to cook and bake doesn’t help matters, despite the many alternative recipes out there. There is something about sugar that just can’t be duplicated. I think it will always be a struggle for me.
Most of us have probably heard that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Though this has never been proven, sugar addiction is real.
Cnet.com offers an excellent explanation, and article on the history of why sugar is so over-consumed in our country. Here’s a brief explanation and the link, if you’d like to read further.
“The American Psychiatric Association lists several key markers for addiction, including intense cravings for the drug, intoxication (an intense pleasure, calm or high), failed attempts to cut down on substance use, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms upon termination of substance use. These all fit the bill for dependence on sugar.
Sugar has addictive potential because it releases opioids and dopamine in the brain. Eating sugar also increases the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that gives us a "happy" feeling. Simply put, eating sugar causes chemical changes in the brain that make us feel good, and once that feeling has worn off, we're left wanting more.”
The most obvious and probably healthiest choice is just to eliminate sugar from your diet completely.
But doing so also eliminates cakes, pies, candies and all manner of the sweets that are so near and dear to our (my) hearts.
I am willing to cut down on my sugar consumption, but at this juncture I refuse to give up so many facets of the cooking and baking that I love.
The good news is that over the last few years products have come on the market that make it much easier for me to cook and bake the things that I love without sugar.
The products or sweeteners that I use most often are made up of one or a combination of the following: stevia, erythritol and xylitol.
Stevia by itself is bitter.
Erythritol can have a cooling effect in your mouth that a lot of people hate.
Xylitol is toxic to dogs.
These things sound terrible, right?
Maybe so. But to me, diabetes sounds worse. There is a whole world of flour and sugar alternatives that can really help when it comes to controlling your blood sugar. For this post, I’m just going to focus on one ingredient that I don't think I could ever do without.
Chocolate, we know, is good for you in moderation. The more cocoa content, the better.
There are many articles on the net touting the health benefits and effects that chocolate has on your mood created by its effects on serotonin and dopamine levels.
I’m not going to get into that here.
What I am going to do is share what has been a game changer for me.
This is not a paid post. I am not a brand ambassador or any kind of representative. I just love this line of products because not only do they taste great, but they have opened up a whole world of dessert options for me.
I am talking about Lily’s chocolate brand. Sweetened with a combination of stevia and erythritol, they are the next best thing to sugar sweetened treats that I have found.
Alternatively, you can use 85% dark chocolate in recipes. As long as the cocoa content is 85% or higher, you will receive all of the benefits of chocolate, with minimal sugar.
When purchased at grocers such as Aldi or Trader Joe’s, bars of 85% chocolate are likely to be more cost effective as well.
Back to Lily’s. Whatever the people at Lily’s do, it’s magic. There is no bitterness or cooling effect in their products. I use them as they are, and I also use them a lot in recipes.
Whole Foods carries them, and they show up on sale every few months. I stock up then.
My Publix just started carrying the chocolate chips and they carry some of the bars. Their prices can be a little less than Whole Foods, but the best prices are when Whole Foods runs a sale.
They also just started making white chocolate chips as well as salted caramel chips.
Laura, her daughter, Rory, and I just eat the white chocolate chips as it. Rory is 3 and sneaks handfuls of them if she comes across the bag.
In a previous post, I mentioned using Lily’s caramel balls in a sugar-free candy bar salad.
There is an even easier dessert that has kept me on the sugar-free track many times.
It’s just fresh whipped cream (add whatever sweetener you like), strawberries, blueberries or raspberries (or any combination thereof). Before Lily’s salted caramel chips came on the market, I used to chop up a salted caramel bar. But you could use plain chips or any flavor bar or chip that’s sugar free or an 85% chocolate bar, chopped.
Mix, chill and serve.
There is no one in my family who doesn’t love this dessert.
I also make candy bark with the Lily’s chips. Melt a cup of chips along with a tablespoon of coconut oil (or another neutral oil) in a metal pan on top of a pan of barely simmering water.
Or melt in the microwave. On medium. Make sure you don’t just press the button to heat it as normal. The chocolate will burn, become unusable and stink up your entire house. Ask me how I know this.
Start with 2 minutes. If the chocolate is not completely melted after you stir, keep melting in 30 second increments.
I have done this many times without the oil, and it works fine that way, too. If you choose to add oil, however, it will help create a smoother and shinier consistency.
Pour the chocolate onto a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Top with nuts and other chip flavors. We most recently did pistachios and white chocolate chips.
Refrigerate until hardened and then break apart into bark shards. Store in the fridge.
Another fantastic application for melted chocolate is chocolate covered berries.
Chocolate Covered Berries
*Use the same method for melting chocolate and put the chocolate in a deep but small dish.
Use the melted chocolate to dip berries. Place on a parchment or Silpad lined baking sheet and refrigerate.
Make sure that there is no water on the berries, or the chocolate won’t stick. This is super easy and fun to do.
Sometimes the girls and I skewer berries onto a stick and then drizzle the chocolate on it.
Recently, my brother (from another mother), Joey, gifted us with a chocolate tempering machine.
If you temper the chocolate, you won’t have to store it in the fridge, or deal with the chocolate eventually “blooming,” that is, becoming chalky in some areas.
Joey is a pastry chef extraordinaire, and worked for many years at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. If you ever had dessert at one of the Waldorf’s restaurants or banquet halls, chances are you were tasting the handiwork of Joey.
He sent me the machine because I had been asking his advice about tempering chocolate. Remy and I were trying to make chocolate bowls by dipping balloons into melted chocolate. It was not a successful attempt.
The machine, he said, takes all of the guesswork out of what can be a tricky process. He was right.
Remy, Rory and I had great fun tempering some Lily’s chocolate and then creating our chocolate berries and bark.
Later in the week, we had more fun with the machine making chocolate covered pretzels and molded candies. I will admit to using full on sugar filled chocolate for this project, though I promise I didn’t eat much of it.
After reading Judy’s post, I decided to try my hand at making a version of Junior Mints.
I, too, love Junior Mints. They are a treat that hearkens back to childhood.
In a never-ending effort to find the best sugar alternatives on the market, I recently ordered a bag of Besti from Amazon.
This particular Besti variety is made from allulose. According to the manufacturer, allulose is a rare form of sugar without the carbs or sugar spike.
I was interested in trying it because of its powdered form. I have yet to find a sugar substitute that will create a buttercream frosting that satisfies me.
Due to its very smooth texture, I thought it might be a good sweetener for the creamy white center of the mint candy.
It worked beautifully.
After creating the recipe, I was pretty excited about sharing it with Judy. I went back to her post and re-read it. Because my mind automatically goes to how I can fix people’s problems, I naturally thought about making a Junior Mint alternative. The last part of her post completely escaped me.
“I dislike artificial sweeteners and stevia, and such so don’t recommend them. Has anyone else been able to manage themselves and cut back almost completely? I’ll keep trying to be better- as this may affect my health in my later years as it did my mother.....”
There I go with another blonde moment. Good for Judy for trying to go cold turkey. I wish her much success, and hope to one day emulate her resolve.
For now, though, I’m going to keep making my sugar-free sweets. Here’s the recipe for the sugar-free chocolate covered mints.
If you try this and like it, please let me know. If you don’t like it, I’d like to know that as well. I really love it when people comment on my posts, whether they have tried the recipes or not.
It brightens my day to hear from my readers!
*Although I haven’t tried it (yet) I think powdered sugar and regular chocolate chips would work well if you weren’t trying to be sugar-free or keto.
Chocolate Covered Mints
4 tablespoons coconut oil (divided – and not liquefied)
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup Besti powdered monkfruit and allulose sweetener
1 cup Lily’s semi-sweet chocolate chips
Combine 3 tablespoons of the coconut oil and the peppermint extract in a small bowl. Add the powdered sweetener and mix until everything is incorporated and very smooth.
Place the mixture in a zip top bag and snip off the end. Pipe little circles about the size of a quarter onto a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet.
Wet your fingers just a little and smooth the tops of the circles so that they are somewhat uniform.
Place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
While the centers are chilling, melt the chocolate chips and remaining tablespoon of coconut oil in a pan on top of barely simmering water, in a double boiler, or in the microwave.
If using the microwave, heat for two minutes at medium. Heat at additional 30 second increments if the chocolate has not melted sufficiently.
Line another baking sheet with parchment or silicone.
Pour the chocolate into a very small bowl that is two or three inches deep. This will ensure that you are able to use the maximum amount of chocolate possible.
Remove the candy centers from the freezer.
Using two forks, place the candy centers between the two. Dip into the chocolate and make sure that the entire center is covered.
Hold the center above the bowl and let the excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
Carefully place the chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet.
When finished dipping, refrigerate until firm.
Makes about 40 candies.