Recipes: These chocolate treats could brighten your mood

Recipes: These chocolate treats could brighten your mood

Tangerines along with dark and milk chocolate make a tasty dessert. (Photo by Nick Koon)

Dig through your pantry. Find a little chocolate. Bars, chunks, chips or cocoa powder. It could make you feel better.

That’s one of the things that Cheryl Forberg had to say about chocolate in our recent  telephone chat. Forberg, a registered dietitian as well as bestselling author and chef, said that chocolate cravings may seem psychological, but they are real. They are physical.

“Our nerve cells speak to us by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters,” she said. “We are probably most familiar with the feel-good messenger, serotonin. Neurotransmitters send messages from one nerve cell to another determining what we think, feel, do and eat. If serotonin is low, we crave sweets. And carbohydrate foods, pasta, bread, desserts, raise our serotonin levels, make us feel better and reduce our cravings.

“If we took a poll on highly craved favorites, chocolate would be numero uno. One creamy bite not only fulfills a longing for its rich flavor, it can satisfy a desire for ‘feel good’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. Chocolate’s caffeine delivers an energy burst, and its fat promotes satiety. Its taste is heavenly and hinged on memories for most of us.”

So, what about other benefits?  She explained that cocoa beans contain antioxidants called flavonoids, like those found in wine. These compounds help reduce the blood’s ability to clot and this lowers the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Roasted cocoa beans yield chocolate liquor. The amount of liquor in the chocolate is the final determinant of flavonoid content. Dark chocolates are richest in liquor (and flavonoids) while semisweet and milk chocolate have less. White chocolate has none.

“Cocoa beans are also a rich source of antioxidants,” she explained. “Of all chocolate products, cocoa powder has the highest concentration of antioxidant polyphenols. It contains nearly twice the amount found in dark chocolate bars and four times that in milk chocolate bars without added fat and sugar.”

Forberg’s words might be some of the best nutritional news ever. One of my favorite easy-to-prepare desserts combines shards of chocolate arranged on a platter with whole tangerines. The chocolate brings out the best in the bright sweet-tart flavors of the citrus. It’s a delicious duo.

Chocolate Icebox Cookies

According to “The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker (Scribner, 1997, $30), what Irma Rombauer called “icebox cookies” in the 1931 edition, were renamed “refrigerator cookies” in the ’50s by Marion Becker. But “Joy,” along with many other cookbooks, returned to the original nomenclature. Icebox harks back to a bake-from-scratch, bygone era. Somehow it seems homier. The recipe originally called for mint chocolate chips; I assume they may be difficult to come by under the current shopping circumstances.

Yield: About 3 1/2 dozen

The name “Ice Box Cookies” harks back to a time when things were made from scratch. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

Optional: 1 1/4 teaspoons peppermint extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

1 egg

Garnish: 6 ounces coating chocolate or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or mint chocolate chips


1. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend.

2. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in peppermint extract (if using) and vanilla extract. Beat in sugar in 3 additions. Add egg and beat until blended. Add dry ingredients and beat just until blended (dough will be sticky).

3. Divide dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. Using plastic wrap or wax paper as aid, form dough on each into 2-inch-diameter log. Refrigerate dough until well chilled, at least 2 hours.

4. Position 1 rack in center and 1 rack in top third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap cookie dough logs; roll briefly on work surface to form smooth round logs. Cut logs crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place rounds on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until tops and edges are dry to touch, about 15 minutes. Transfer baking sheets with cookies to racks; cool completely.

5. Stir chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Chocolate should only be warm enough to melt, not hot. You can either dip half of each cookie in the white or dark chocolate (and allow to harden on a sheet of wax paper) or place melted white chocolate in a pastry bag fitted with a small, plain tip and pipe polka dots or zigzags on the top of each cooled cookie. Refrigerate cookies on baking sheets until chocolate is set, about 10 minutes. If you use coating chocolate (such as Candiquik ) it will harden at room temperature and no refrigeration is needed.

Source: Adapted from “Bon Appetit Desserts” by Barbara Fairchild (Andrews McMeel, $40)

Chocolate Almond Pudding

This recipe for silky Chocolate Almond Pudding is sourced from Cheryl Forberg’s cookbook, “Positively Ageless“ (Rodale, $21.95). Forberg says you can use almond milk, a vegan option, or whole cow’s milk. And instead of agave syrup, you can use granulated sugar. For the photo I added some whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

Yield: 4 (1/2-cup servings)


1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Chocolate Almond Pudding, shown here with whipped cream and fresh strawberries, can made vegan by substituting almond milk for regular milk. (Photo by Nick Koon)

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups unflavored almond milk or whole milk

1/3 cup agave syrup or granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: To toast almonds, spread out on rimmed baking sheet and place in 350-degree oven until lightly toasted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Other toasted nuts can be substituted, such as toasted pecans, coarsely chopped.


1. In a 1-quart saucepan, place cocoa, cornstarch and salt; stir to combine. Add just enough milk to make a smooth paste. Gradually stir in agave or sugar and the remaining milk.

2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Pour into 4 serving dishes. Sprinkle with almonds just before serving.

Source: “Positively Ageless” by Cheryl Forberg (Rodale, $21.95)

Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches

An after-school snack in Spain often consists of a slice of white bread and a chunk of chocolate. Jose Andres, Spanish-born chef and humanitarian, riffs on the snack by drizzling fruity olive oil on the bread and running it under the broiler, then he adds a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. Charlotte Druckman, author of “Kitchen Remix” (Clarkson Potter, $28), applies a technique used in grilled cheese sandwiches; she swipes mayonnaise on the outer sides of the sandwich to achieve a beautiful patina and crisp texture.

Yield: 4 sandwiches


1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

8 (1/2-inch thick) slices sourdough bread

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate pieces, such as packaged chocolate morsels

Flake salt or coarse salt to finish


1. Combine the mayonnaise and brown sugar in a small bowl. Lay out the bread slices on work surface and spread the tops with half of the sweetened mayonnaise to coat. Flip them over and brush their other sides with olive oil. Divide the chocolate among 4 slices of bread, drizzle with a bit more olive oil (about 1 teaspoon per slice), and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cover the chocolate-topped slices of bread with the remaining slices, oil-side down.

2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet on the stove, gradually increasing heat from low to medium-low. Place 2 of the sandwiches in the skillet and cook until the bottoms are golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip sandwiches over with a spatula and cook until the second sides are golden brown, about 3 minutes more. The chocolate should be completely melted. Transfer the finished sandwiches to a rack, wipe the pan clean, and cook the remaining 2 sandwiches in the same way.

3. Let the sandwiches cool for a couple of minutes before cutting them in half and serving hot.

Source: “Kitchen Remix” by Charlotte Druckman (Clarkson Potter, $28)

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