Coconut magic

It just seemed too obvious to title a coconut-themed post “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts”, so I just went with a more nonchalant title which actually sums this whole situation up so much better.

Firstly, because I stole (I would say borrowed, but it’s not like I’m going to give it back) the idea from Angela‘s inspiringly beautiful blog, where she called them “Lightened Up Magical Coconut Bars“, adapted from the Post Punk Kitchen‘s “Magical Coconut Bars“. What a beautiful trail of coconut magic we are spreading throughout the world!

Secondly, because working with coconut to make healthy treats is quite a magical experience. It has properties that other fruits (which it is), nuts (which it isn’t), and fats don’t. It acts like an unhealthy, processed saturated fat for the benefits of cooking, yet is far healthier and natural.

Now, a little while ago I devoted a few sentences to my thoughts on the coconut oil craze. My views are still the same, and can be summed up something like this: fat is still fat, saturated fat is still saturated fat, and variety and moderation are key.

Coconut magic bars

With that in mind, these bars are not a health food, and I would not recommend eating a whole tray of them if you are trying to lose weight. If you are trying to gain weight, however, they may well be quite a smart option as they will provide some nutrients that other high-sugar high-fat snack bars may not. They are a healthy treat – and we all need treats, so they may as well be healthy!

Now I have a real problem eating things that are half healthy, half not, half natural, half processed, etc. It completely messes up my ongoing sense of guilt vs sense of achievement battle. So although I loved the thought of Angela’s bars, I knew I couldn’t go with a graham cracker crust (or Digestive biscuit crust, if you’re in the UK). If I was going to eat something with a graham cracker/Digestive biscuit crust, it would be a cheesecake. And if I am going to replace sugar with coconut sugar, its low-GI cousin, then I am going to healthify the rest of the recipe!

All I needed was a vehicle for my condensed coconut milk. Let me rewind. The lovely people at  Coconom kindly sent me a bag of their glorious granulated caramel-coloured sweet stuff of goodness after I was almost escorted away from their stand at V Delicious (not because I was causing trouble, I care to point out, but because the show was closing).

It smells as good as it looks!

It smells as good as it looks!

I have been set on experimenting with coconut sugar for a while now, so I didn’t want to just use it like any other sweetener – I wanted to showcase it in a recipe where it would really be a star. So I thought, why not pair it with coconut milk and leave it to transform into condensed coconut milk?

Condensed coconut milkSo that was literally the only reason I was led to try making these bars. It all started with a bag of coconut sugar… And I wanted something that could be topped with chopped low-quality dark chocolate, because I have a bar to use up, so this was perfect.

Now I’m not going to lie, I had a little panic all the way through this, because I am seemingly incapable of following recipes. So of course I skim-read Angela’s recipe and ploughed right in with how I felt like doing things, and then spent the next few hours worrying I had totally ruined it all. The worst bit was having to leave it to set while I went to training, knowing I could come home to an embarrassingly disappointing disaster.

The suspense lasted until I dug the knife in to the refrigerated tray – and got nowhere. Because, yes, I had also ignored Angela’s instructions to use parchment paper to line the tray as I forgot to check that we actually had any in the house, so I was convinced that everything has turned into a big block of oaty cement and stuck forevermore to the baking try. So I was over the moon when the first little square popped out neatly, cleanly and without a fuss!

Coconut bars slicedI will refer you to Angela for the recipe, partly because I don’t actually have one but mainly because her directions and photos are much better than mine would be.

What I will point out, though, are my substitutions:

  • For the crust, I used oats, melted coconut oil, medjool dates, and a tiny little drizzle of dark Sweet Freedom fruit sweetener. I didn’t really measure anything – but I think I used roughly 3 cups of oats (about half of which I ground into a fine powder in my food processor), 4 medium-sized dates which got processed with the oats, about half a cup to a whole cup of melted coconut oil, and about a quarter cup of syrup.
  • I used a thick coating of melted coconut oil to line the baking tray, which soaked into the oat crust.
  • For the condensed coconut milk, I used a can of standard coconut milk and about 6 tablespoons of coconut sugar – I kept adding them bit by bit whilst the coconut milk was simmering away. I should have left it longer I think.
  • I used toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds as the topping instead of pecans. Pecans would fit so much better but I had none left – and I quite like the look of the green pumpkin seeds studding the top layer!

Of course, you could make your own chocolate or use raw chocolate for a completely refined-sugar-free treat. That little bit of chocolate isn’t much – I used about 40g or so for a tray of 24 bars – and it really adds a depth to the flavour of these bars, so I wouldn’t leave it out altogether.

The whole process was easy and left me with minimal washing up, and I was so surprised at how well these bars came out! I normally overcook or undercook things because I have no concept of baking basics. Dense but not too hard, chewy yet moist, sweet but not too sweet, rich but still quite wholesome-tasting – I can testify that they work well as a pre-training snack, a satisfying dessert, or even a post-breakfast treat (that makes me feel a little bit better than admitting I had one for breakfast). Even Ben was impressed, except that he hates coconut so didn’t really enjoy them.

Honestly, if you were to make one thing this week it should be these. Apart from the coconut sugar, all the ingredients are easy to source and relatively cheap, and there is definitely scope to play around with added ingredients here (dried cherries? cranberries? toasted almonds?). They are easy to transport, satisfying, and a perfect way to showcase healthy substitutions in baking. Go!

Coconut bars stackedJust a quick note to say thank you to Coconom, without whom I probably never would have gotten around to making these!