Who does not love chocolate? Not only does it taste amazing, but it makes us feel good too. It contains the feel-good chemical serotonin and the amino acid tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, and, eaten in moderation, may even be good for our hearts.
It is a phenomenal cooking ingredient, not just for sweet dishes, but also for savoury. A little dark chocolate added to a chilli gives a beautiful bit of depth and richness of flavour. Chocolate is fantastic with venison if you are feeling a little fancy. Either a chocolate sauce or a sprinkle of roasted and ground cocoa nibs sprinkled over the meat to complement a blackberry sauce.
A little grated dark chocolate can also make a healthy snack taste a little more indulgent. Some Greek yogurt, fresh berries, and toasted pecans with just a square of good quality dark chocolate grated over the top is a wonderful healthy snack or dessert.
People have been eating chocolate for more than four thousand years. The peoples of present-day Mexico roasted the seeds of the cocoa tree and then ground them to a powder to make a chocolate drink, adding honey to sweeten it, or chilli to add some heat. The Spanish brought chocolate back to Europe, and now the global market for chocolate is worth over $100 billion. We consume more than 8 million metric tonnes of chocolate globally annually.
Despite the size of that market, farmers in the global south who produce all the cocoa we need, live in precarious conditions, and benefit the least from our love of their produce. Cocoa, the raw material for all the chocolate we eat, is one of the most difficult commodities in the world with the average farmer in West Africa living on just US$0.90 cent a day. The Fairtrade movement is working to rebalance this, and this is the second week of Fairtrade Fortnight, which this year is focused on chocolate.
The good news is that as consumers, we can make a real difference. The growth in Fairtrade chocolate in recent years, and its easy availability mean that we can make choices that will have a direct and meaningful impact on the lives and livelihoods of cocoa producers in the Global South.
Many of the big chocolate producers and retailers offer Fairtrade options, and there are great artisan chocolatiers and producers here in Ireland too. Fantastic chocolate, ethically sourced and produced is readily available. One such supplier is Exploding Tree in Clonakilty, Co. Cork. Allison Roberts, who founded Exploding Tree, produces an amazing range of Fairtrade Cocoa and Chocolate products, all of which can be traced from the bean to the bar.
To celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight, the work of Fairtrade Ireland and amazing producers like Allison, I have come up with a lovely recipe using her gorgeous dark chocolate. I also use another beautiful ingredient from a Cork based artisan food producer; lovely smoked chilli flakes from Frank Hederman’s Bellevue Smokehouse in Little Island.
These Chocolate, Lime and Smoked Chilli Cookies are easy to make, perfect for some baking with the kids, and would be wonderful as a Mother’s Day treat. They can be made in advance and stored in the freezer until you are ready to bake, so they are perfect for batch cooking. I usually make more than I need and then I have a supply in the freezer that I can take out and bake in less than fifteen minutes if someone calls unexpectedly, back when people did that sort of thing of course!
- 60g Exploding Tree dark chocolate
- 50g soft brown sugar
- 40g coconut sugar
- 125g plain flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ to ¾ tsp smoked chilli flakes
- 30g butter
- Grated zest of 1 lime
- 2tbsp milk
This recipe makes about 12 cookies. These are perfect for batch cooking too; you can freeze any leftover cookie dough balls and bake them off on demand.
Pop all the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine well. If you do not have coconut sugar, just use all soft brown sugar. You can get beautiful smoked chilli flakes from Frank Hederman at Bellevue Smokehouse. I highly recommend them for this recipe. If you cannot get them, you can use a little smoked paprika or some plain chilli flakes. I like the heat the chilli flakes bring to these cookies, so I use three quarters of a teaspoon. Use half a teaspoon if want a little less heat. Melt the butter, pop it into a bowl along with the lime zest and milk. Mix well to combine. The dough will seem very dry at first but keep mixing it for a few minutes and it will bind well.
Form the dough into a big ball and pop in the fridge for 2 hours to chill covered in some cling film. If you are in a rush, 30mins in the freezer will do.
When the dough is well chilled, take it out of the fridge. Preheat your oven to 165c. Roll the dough into individual cookie balls - each weighing about 30g. Get them nice and round, they will look lovely and be consistently shaped when baked if you do.
Pop them onto a baking tray, leaving a little room for them to spread when baking. Remember you can bake only what you need and save some for later. Just freeze any you do not need right away, and they can be baked upon demand from frozen later. Pop your cookies in and bake for 14 minutes.
When they are done, let them cool on a wire rack for about ten minutes before tucking in.