When it comes to the subject of desserts, having a child around the house is a lot like having a crackhead with a law degree as a roommate. The incessant negotiations, bargaining, and meticulous parsing of every word in a simple phrase like “If you eat your dinner” are exhausting in the extreme. How much of the dinner? During what time frame? Will the quantity of sugar correlate with the volume or percentage of dinner consumed? Can we renegotiate these terms after a nonzero percentage of said dinner has been consumed, pursuant to the the stipulation that the painful levels of hunger expressed during the preparation of said meal have in fact vanished mysteriously, leaving only a tiny amount of hunger that is exactly equal to the quantity of dessert, but no more? Will there be seconds?
One tactic that works pretty well is to allow for a teatime treat at about 4:00, once something nutritious has served as an after school snack. This takes a lot of pressure off of dinner. It does not, however, address the very real issue of how bad sugar appears to be for our bodies in quantity. I’m not draconian, but finding ways to not be a dick about it and still limit the consumption of crap can be taxing. Enter this pudding sort of concoction and its myriad variants.
I first invented this back in Brooklyn when I was messing around with some of the techniques espoused by raw food proponents. The fad never interested me, but some of the methods for transforming foods without cooking them did. Chief among them for a while was soaking nuts, for obvious reasons—who among us does not enjoy nicely soaked nuts? I made a pretty nice pine nut sauce that was wicked for marinating shredded kale in overnight. I should do that again, now that I think of it. And various desserty things also resulted, among them this recipe.
This works with all kinds of nuts—macadamia are excellent, if less healthy—and the sweetness and chocolate levels are easily adjusted to taste. I like cashews, so I tend to use them, but they all go famously with chocolate.
Soak some raw, unsalted nuts in water overnight in the fridge, then dump them in a blender or food processor with enough of the liquid to spin the blade freely. once they’re churning nicely, add a handful of pitted dates and some cocoa powder. I use organic, free-range, fair trade stuff because I’m an elitist and it tastes better. You can soak the nuts in milk (real or grain/legume) for added richness; soaking almonds in almond milk is a logical step. Maple syrup is an excellent choice in addition to or instead of the dates. Once it’s smooth, have a taste and add more chocolate or sweetness if you like. Other spices like cinnamon and cardamom can be great, too. A banana is another good idea, or vanilla, or a shot of espresso, or mint leaves in season. You can go a million different ways with this depending on what you or your kids enjoy.
I like to chill it in the fridge for a while afterward, but that’s optional. It can be superb if run through an ice cream machine for 20 minutes, a technique that also works with smoothies and helps fool even the savviest kid into thinking that they’re enjoying a real dessert and not some hippie bullshit like carob that will give them issues for the rest of their lives. I remember a LONG time ago—I must have been just a bit older than Milo—and I went on a day trip with my friend and his Dad, who was a health nut. This would have been the late 1970s, so health food was not as sophisticated as it is now, not by a long shot. We stopped at some store for provisions, and I ended up with this blunt brown sub-looking thing that contained “wheatmeat!” according to my friend’s father. I figured out years later that it was seitan, which I actually like when it’s cooked properly, but this limp dirigible was basically soggy wheat between two pieces of soggy wheat with a thin layer of wilted, vinaigrette-infused lettuce like slimy day-old salad. It still makes me gag to think about it.
This pudding is not like that; it is a response, a defiant fist shaking against both the sugary garbage unethically aimed at our children and strident, killjoy overcompensation for that phenomenon. It’s not chocolate pudding, so don’t sell it that way. But it can be very good, and filling, and something that they can help you make and tinker with to arrive at the ideal blend. It’s a great foundation for seasonal fruit, like these fall raspberries that are growing next to my studio. Grownups enjoy it, too; it works really well with a variety of booze, especially those in the cognac/armagnac spectrum. For non-child applications, adding booze to the mix works really well. Or just give your kids the pudding and drink cognac for dessert. Everybody wins!