Usually you will not find me promoting any recipes high in sugar, or any sugar content at all. This is where I make an exception to the rule. Rules are meant to be broken…well, maybe not, except very occasionally! This is my exception, just like today’s date (29 February). It’s been a rough start to the year all round and a little sweet treat last weekend was on the cards. The operative word being little.
Cooking relaxes me. I let my creativity run wild in the kitchen when I have time. Last weekend I took advantage of having the house all to myself for long enough to put these sweet power balls together using a fig paste, almonds and chocolate.
Fig paste is popular in some parts of the Mediterranean and usually served with strong cheeses. It is also used for desserts. I had some in my fridge, the souvenir from a visit to a specialist Spanish delicatessen some time back. I’ve always loved fresh ripe figs but they are difficult to find where I live and the odd times they appear on the shelves they are sold at prices not for the faint of heart. The second best thing to fresh is dried fruit, except that since the sugars concentrate the calories go up…. But putting that aside for once, I decided it was about time to use up that fig paste.
First things first, since it had hardened somewhat, I had to start by rehydrating (and softening) the paste first. This is easily done with all dried fruits. Just place them in a bowl with hot water and wait long enough for the fruit to plump up or soften.
My fig paste is a combination of dried figs, walnuts and unspecified spices (I suspect cinnamon is one of them). However, if you do not have access to fig paste and you do not want to make it yourself for whatever reason, the next best thing is to use dried figs which are widely available. The rest of the process is quite simple and straightforward and in less than 15 minutes you can create your own little balls of sweet heaven.
Ingredients (appox 18 pieces)
125g dried fig paste (soaked in hot water to soften)
approx. 100 gm almonds
100 gm dark cooking chocolate (this is enough to cover half the fig balls)
cold water (to wet your hands)
1. Soak the dried fig paste in hot water until softened. This can take up to 2 hours depending on how large the pieces are. I shortened this waiting time to under 30 minutes by chopping it up into smaller chunks
2. Pre-soak the almonds for at least 30 minutes to remove the phytic acid. This helps absorption of the nutrients as it neutralises the enzymes, and aids digestion.
3. Drain the almonds, then place them on an oven tray to roast in a hot oven (180°C) for approximately 10 minutes. Allow them to cool before proceeding to the next step.
4. Place the almonds in a food processor with the blade and whizz until you get small floury crumbs.
5. Drain the fig paste, squeezing excess water out as much as possible. Then place these in the food processor and blend with the flour at maximum speed until you obtain a smooth paste.
6. Turn out the mixture onto wax paper. Using wet hands (to prevent the paste from sticking to your hands), make small balls, around 1,5cm in diameter. Set aside. (The quantities above will make around 18 fig balls).
7. Cut up the dark chocolate into small chunks or grate it. Melt it using the bain marie method: put the chocolate in a heatproof metal or glass bowl, and place this over a pan of hot boiling water, but not touching the water. Allow it to melt slowly mixing with a wooden spoon. Add a little bit of butter or milk if it is too thick but no more than 1tbsp. (I kept mine quite dense).
8. Once the chocolate has completely melted, take the balls, one at a time, and using a fork dunk them in the chocolate, rolling them so that they are completely covered. Then transfer each ball onto a cold platter lined with wax paper.
9. Put all the fig balls, chocolate coated or not, to the fridge and allow to rest for about 1 hour so they firm up and the chocolate sets.
10. Store in the fridge in an airtight container or freeze.
By the time I got to stage 8 I was no longer alone in my kitchen and more than a fig ball disappeared right under my eyes, hot chocolate or not! I managed to save a few to take the photographs for this blog post when I took them out of the fridge just before serving, but not without some attempts at reducing my already depleted numbers! I guess this is a testament to their deliciousness.
You can replace the figs with dates and the almonds with walnuts or hazelnuts, or mix and match. Dark chocolate works best and the more bitter the better as it will provide a nice contrast to the already sweet fruit paste. Whatever you do, share them with your friends. Sharing is caring! (And sharing calories is good for your waistline!)