Health food: Unbaked desserts and raw cakes

Rose and pistachio love tarts are ideal for impressing gluten-free friends.  <b>Styling and photography:</b> China Squirrel.
Rose and pistachio love tarts are ideal for impressing gluten-free friends. Styling and photography: China Squirrel. 

For a new breed of raw bakers, the only question is: Vitamix or Blendtec?

You won't find recipes in a Country Women's Association cookbook and you can't enter your finest in the Royal Melbourne Show, but making raw sweets has a growing fanbase. Wellness devotees are seeking out treats that are raw, gluten-free, refined-sugar-free and usually organic. They are filling Instagram with photos of dishes hashtagged #raw and they've helped the sales of Vitamix rise by 70 per cent in Australia and, internationally, sales have grown 400 per cent in the last five years.

Sarah Nolan, the Raw Food Mum, has built up a Facebook following of 44,352  since starting in 2012 (see therawfoodmum.com).

Raw chocolate mousse is a light version of a classic. <b>Styling and photography:</b> China Squirrel.
Raw chocolate mousse is a light version of a classic. Styling and photography: China Squirrel. 

People with an eye on what they eat have embraced its dairy-free, gluten-free charms and specialist raw dessert bars are opening at an impressive rate, offering a guilt-free version of coffee and cake.

It's a global trend, with Germany and Britain taking the lead, and both countries have a growing number of raw restaurants. In Melbourne, there's Raw Trader in the CBD, The Whole Store in North Melbourne, Shoko Iku in Northcote, Seratonin Cafe in Burnley, and Mastic in Kew. In Sydney, you'll find Pana Chocolate in Alexandria, Sadhana Kitchen in Enmore and Earth to Table in Bondi Junction.

Raw desserts use ingredients that have not been heated above 42C, so the food retains all its enzymes, providing optimal health benefits, raw-food advocates say.

At their most basic, raw cakes can be amateur affairs, reminiscent of the no-cook slices popular with '70s mums, albeit without the crumbled biscuit base. At the other end are stunning confections created by pastry chefs, decadently creamy and decorated with vibrant natural colours.

Usually dairy-free and gluten-free, they can also be soy-free, refined-sugar-free, nut-free, organic and vegan, which might leave you wondering what's left.

The ingredients are a roll call of It ingredients and superfoods found in organic grocers, such as raw cacao, cacao butter, cashews, coconut (oil, butter, nectar, flesh), spirulina, chlorella, maca, purple corn powder, agave syrup, activated buckwheat, dates and more dates.

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Last month Melbourne-based Pana Chocolate followed its popular Richmond store with its first chocolate shop in Sydney. It now has six qualified pastry chefs making raw cakes full time and, at Easter this year, lines were out the door. Owner Pana Barbounis​ attributes this rise to a global desire to eat food that nourishes our bodies and is more inclusive, given the amount of dietary requirements around today.

"Initially, we went after people who were already down the organic road, and now the paleo movement has become big. It's tapping into people wanting to eat something and feel good about it afterwards," Barbounis says. "Our biggest market is people wanting to take a cake somewhere who want something that will tick most of the allergy boxes [except nuts]."

Raw is becoming more popular with home cooks too, and blogs are filled with recipes for anyone with a high-speed blender and a cake tin. So what is Barbounis' advice if you're trying this at home? "Just enjoy it, love it. Start with good organic ingredients. Treat yourself, as they're raw you don't want something laced with pesticides, but even besides that, you'll get better flavours out of something that hasn't been grown conventionally."

Raw chocolate mousse

With avocado replacing the cream and eggs, it's a light version of a classic and a gateway raw dessert for those just starting to explore raw food or those armed only with a stick blender. This dessert can also be used as a luscious ice-cream base.

2 ripe avocado (reed and shepard work best)

3 tbsp raw cacao

3 tbsp raw honey (or rice malt syrup for fructose free)

3 tbsp coconut cream

pinch of vanilla salt

1. Put the ingredients into a bowl and blend until smooth. Adjust the sweetness and cacao to taste. It can be eaten immediately at room temperature, but overnight in the fridge will help the chocolate flavour develop.

2. For extra fun, stir through a handful of fresh berries or dried sour cherries.

Rose and pistachio love tarts

Feeling the raw love? These pistachio love tarts by Loving Earth's resident recipe writer, Emily Williamson, will have you falling for raw, and are perfect for impressing that gluten-free buddy or beau. See lovingearth.net. 

Base

½ cup pistachios

½ cup almond meal (or ground activated almonds)

¼ cup shredded coconut

½ tsp vanilla powder

1½ tbsp coconut oil

1 tbsp coconut nectar

Filling

½ cup cashews

1½ tbsp rose water

1 tbsp coconut oil, melted

2 tbsp coconut nectar

¼ cup coconut yoghurt

pinch of saffron

1. For the base, add half the pistachios (a quarter of a cup) to the blender and process until you have a fine powder, then add the rest of the base ingredients and process until it all comes together. The mixture should stick when pressed with the fingers. If it is too dry, you can add a little extra coconut nectar or coconut oil, depending on taste.

2. Divide the mixture in half and press firmly and evenly into two mini tart tins. Freeze for 30 minutes or until quite firm.

3. For the filling, soak the cashews overnight, then rinse well before using.

4. Add all the ingredients to a high-powered blender or food processor and blend until silky smooth.

5. Remove the bases from the freezer and divide the mixture into each and place back in the freezer for one hour.

6. In a mortar and pestle, crush one tablespoon of pistachios and sprinkle over the tarts to decorate. You can store these in the freezer. Just remove 20 minutes before serving.