Recipe: Decidedly Un-Roman Cherry, Date and Cacao Balls

Ugly, certainly, but that just means you won’t have to share…

I have a friend who is allergic to quite a few things, with nuts and eggs being at the top of the list.  She’s always terribly apologetic about this and tells me not to cook for her (fat chance), which drives me nuts (tee hee!), because she’s also extremely awesome – intelligent, creative and kind, and clearly deserving of delicious food.  And, actually, I don’t find nuts and eggs  all that difficult to work around most of the time

Of course, it does become a trifle more challenging when I’m experimenting with raw foods, because raw food recipes have nuts in everything, replacing flour, biscuits, and even dairy.  Which, actually, is fascinating, and it’s entirely possible that I just accidentally went online and ordered a whole book of raw food desserts, but that’s beside the point.  Anyway, I’m not the world’s greatest nut fan (though there are those who would say I am more than a little bit nutty), but I am most definitely fond of things chocolatey, which brings me to a favourite new discovery of mine: cacao beans!

Cacao beans are basically proto-chocolate. They are the primeval fluid from which chocolate, bubbling, evolves.  OK, this may not be entirely true.  I’ve been cooking non-stop for the last 8 hours, and am possibly a little silly.  But they certainly are the things which, after a certain amount of processing which I knew once but have temporarily forgotten, get turned into things like cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and of course CHOCOLATE. 

Cacao beans also behave pretty much exactly like nuts for culinary purposes, with the useful exception being that they don’t give people like my friend anaphylaxis (which was never my favourite nutty property anyway). 

You do see where I’m going with this, don’t you?  The lovely Hannah over at Wayfaring Chocolate keeps creating all these lovely raw truffle / cookie recipes which are really irresistible in this weather.  I looked at the ones made of dates and dried cherries and cashews and thought, I wonder what would happen if I used cacao beans instead of the cashews?

It turns out that what happens is I get very, very tired of shelling cacao beans, and then wish I’d shelled a lot more, because these little sweetmeats are amazing – dark and chocolatey and neither too sweet nor too bitter, with a definite cherry kick to them.  You can’t taste the dates – they are basically acting as sweetener and glue – and you don’t really taste the Stealth Oats, hanging out in there, making you healthy when you aren’t looking.  I can’t express how delicious these are, and I’d never had known this if my friend wasn’t allergic to nuts...

(And before I get on to the recipe, I feel I should reiterate that this really is Hannah’s recipe – I changed one ingredient, and increased the quantities slightly, but that really was all I did.)

Your Shopping List

75 g cacao beans, or 70g cacao nibs if you don’t want to spend fifteen minutes shelling beans
50 g rolled oats
100 g mejdool dates
100 g dried sour cherries

Now what will you do with it?

First, shell your cacao beans.  I do this by soaking them in hot water for a few minutes until they swell and I can get a sharp knife under the skin and peel it off.  Some you can get off with your fingernails, but others will fight you to the last cacao nib, and if you are me, you will probably have several near-misses with the knife.  Don’t worry, it’s worth it!

Stone the dates.  No, don’t throw stones at them, that isn’t nice.  Don’t get them high, either.  That may or may not be nice, but it’s certainly not legal, and I’m fairly sure they can’t consent to that sort of thing anyway, which is definitely not nice.  What I’m actually suggesting you do with these dates is remove the stones from them.  It’s possible that the dates don’t think that is very nice either, but if we keep anthropomorphising the dates we are never going to get anywhere with this recipe so we’re going to stop now.

So much verbiage for a recipe which really is only two sentences long.

Put dates, cacao beans, dried cherries and oats in the food processor and process until they go from being finely chopped objects into a big cohesive ball that is careening around the food processor in a somewhat alarming fashion and looking as though it could escape at any moment.  Stop the food processor, get out the giant truffle ball, and pinch off bits the size of medium-sized marbles and roll them into balls.  Refrigerate or eat at once.  I recommend the latter.

See what I mean? Nowhere near enough.


This recipe is vegan, low-GI and nut-free, but what is really important is that it is unbelievably good and I now want to try it with every kind of dried berry known to man.  And then with dried apricots, dried pears, dried apples, and so forth.  I am so very, very taken with this cacao+dried fruit truffle concept that you wouldn’t believe it.

You could make this recipe gluten-free by replacing the oats with cashews or rolled quinoa if you could find it.  Then it would be high protein as well, and practically a dietary requirement!  I do think you could use this as a template for just about any combination of fruit, nuts or cacao you like – just keep the quantities fairly standard.  Actually, I’ve been doing just that, ruthlessly adapting Hannah’s truffle recipes to suit my own ends.  So far, I am finding that there’s nothing wrong with any combination I’ve tried that can’t be fixed with a bit of brandy, marsala, kirsch or cointreau, but then, I am a bit of a lush when it comes to cooking.  You do need to think about keeping similar proportions of dry and sticky ingredients, and if your mixture isn’t sticky enough and you aren’t the sort of person who likes adding alcohol to everything, you could use agave nectar or honey if it needs to be sweeter, or orange, apple, or any other suitable juice if you don’t want too much of a sugar kick.

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11 comments for “Recipe: Decidedly Un-Roman Cherry, Date and Cacao Balls

  1. February 5, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Thank you Cate! I’m so glad this worked for you (and your friend?), because it’s awful to be left out of sweets-time because of allergies and intolerances. Also, phwoar! Shelling your own cacao beans? That’s some awesomepants right there 🙂

  2. February 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Thank you! It always feels odd posting someone else’s recipe just with minor changes, but I suspect the flavour difference is significant. And I’ve been vaguely thinking about substituting cacao beans for nuts for a while now – this seemed like the time to try it.

    (I have this café that I want to own one day which will specialise in very tasty, healthy vegetarian lunches and absolutely decadent desserts which fit every possible dietary requirement – the ‘no child left behind’ school of dessert cookery…)

    • February 5, 2012 at 9:36 pm

      I would live at that cafe 🙂

      I’ve actually been thinking myself about the ethics of posting recipes that haven’t been adapted. My decision has been that when the recipe isn’t substantially changed, I’m not going to post it in full because people generally don’t click over to the original in such a case, and that doesn’t feel fair to me. But as you say, I think this is significant enough change flavour-wise to take some credit yourself and post the new recipe, particularly after you shelled all the beans!! 🙂 🙂 Oh, I don’t know if I’m making sense, but I just meant to say that it can be a bit of a minefield but I’m really honoured by your words and version here 🙂 xo

      • February 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm

        Yes, you’re making sense, and I think you are also being quite generous. Though I would hope my readers would be clicking through to you by now, or indeed, reading you witohut further direction from me – I have cause to mention your recipes fairly often, and you have a very appealing writing style!

        … it’s all about the question of what is a substantial change, isn’t it? For some reason, my brain works on SCA heralding law (which I haven’t had occasion to deal with for fifteen years, mind you, but for some reason it sticks) – you need two points of difference between your coat of arms and anyone else’s, otherwise it’s too similar. And the good old academic rule of naming one’s sources. I didn’t quite get the two points of difference here, I think, but on the other hand, I don’t know of anyone else who is cheerily substituting cacao beans for nuts in recipes.

        The other one I always wonder about is recipes from books. In general, I wouldn’t copy a book recipe onto my blog – but if I’m reviewing a book, I like to include one recipe, just so that the reader can get a feel for whether they would use the book or not. To my mind, this seems like fair use (and the sort of thing that might encourage people to buy the book in question), but it’s all a bit murky…

        (and I’d live in that café too. That’s why I want to own it.)

        • February 6, 2012 at 1:56 pm

          I don’t know about true copyright, but I generally work under it being okay to post one or two recipes from a cookbook to “entice” people, but not excessive amounts. However, I tend to find it impossible to make a recipe verbatim, so there’s that!

          The two points of difference sounds like a good rule of thumb, but when it comes to a recipe like mine where there’s only, what, four ingredients to begin with, I think we can twist that rule when the falvour changes so much with one 🙂

  3. February 9, 2012 at 4:54 am

    Now those do look tempting. I thrive on small treats of this sort, they’re great for little pick-me-ups, but I have to keep the fat content of anything I eat really low due to gallstones, so I’m far less liberal with nuts than I used to be. That said, if you’re not eating many and they’re that small, it’s not really a big deal. Do you think that half cashews, half cacao nibs would work?

    • February 9, 2012 at 5:42 am

      And more to the point, will this come out OK if I use a baby food processor? Not a food processor for grinding babies in, of course, but one of those mini choppers that’s significantly lower-powered.

      As for dates, I do have the sort which are dried, chopped and dusted with rice flour, but I’m guessing that I should get the proper sticky sort for this kind of thing?

      • February 9, 2012 at 9:34 am

        Half cashews and half cocoa nibs would definitely work. And yes, you want fresh dates, for the stickiness and texture.

        As for the mini-food processor question, it’s difficult to say. I know the little ones chop nuts really well, but dates seem to be pretty hard work. Maybe chop the dates and cherries up a bit before putting them in, so it just has to get them more finely chopped rather than processing them from scratch?

      • February 9, 2012 at 10:46 am

        For some odd reason, this will let me reply to myself but not to you.

        Pre-chopping things a bit should be OK, I have minions to help after all. A few other things I’m wondering about are soaking ingredients to soften them, using nut butters rather than whole nuts, adding a bit of protein powder or something else Nutritionally Useful (I already do chocolate peanut butter balls with a bit of protein powder smuggled in there), and which other dried fruits might work. I’m fond of those ready-to-eat papayas, for instance, and prunes have always been divine with chocolate.

    • February 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm

      Yes, WordPress only lets comments go three deep. I don’t know why.

      Adding protein powders and such should be fine – go check out Wayfaring Chocolate’s blog, because she does this all the time.

      Using nut butters would, I think, change the texture significantly, and you’d risk winding up with something very mushy. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, but I’d put in more rolled oats or something to counteract it.

      Prunes definitely work. Papayas might be a little dry, but you can just juggle the liquid / solid balance a little. I’m not sure about soaking things.

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