Chocolate & peanut butter pies

10159After living in France for almost eight years now, and having traveled a lot before that, my sense of nationality and culture is somewhat fluid. I’m not French, but I also don’t really feel American anymore. Yet I still have a taste for certain American foods that are not always met with enthusiasm by people from other places. One of these is peanut butter. Often relegated to obscure shelves of mainstream French supermarkets, including the “world cuisines” section, peanut butter is not a guaranteed find at the average grocery store. And when you do encounter it, it’s sometimes quite expensive or not very good. But about a year ago I discovered a nice one from the Ethiquable brand in the fairtrade section of my local Franprix. It comes from a woman-inclusive cooperative in Nicaragua and isn’t any more expensive than most of its non-fairtrade (unfairtrade?) counterparts. And so, safe in the knowledge that I have this steady supply available, I have been freely experimenting with peanut-based recipes like Thai satay sauce, peanut-butter cheesecake (yep!) and of course, desserts with the magical peanut butter and chocolate combination, of which we will see an example below!

First, some history, and the answer to a pressing question. Is peanut butter actually from the United States? A widespread legend has it that it was invented by George Washington Carver (1864-1943), an American botanist and inventor who was born into slavery. But in 1884, before Carver had even begun studying botany, pharmacist Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Canada patented a process to make peanut paste. And much, much before that, as far back as the first century of the Common Era, the Aztecs also mashed roasted peanuts into a paste. So, it’s actually a Mexican-Canadian creation.

But Americans are still very fond of it. We are the world’s leading exporter and, according to this source, we eat around 700 million pounds (317 million kg) of peanut butter per year (about 3 pounds/1.4 kg per person). That’s not too hard to believe. When I was growing up, children brought their lunch to school, and very often it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I carried mine proudly in my metal Pigs in Space lunchbox alongside carrot sticks and a Hostess cupcake. Now, peanut butter has apparently been banned from most schools due to the high number of kids with peanut allergies. I don’t understand how this allergy can have become so common, but that’s a matter for the experts to solve.

So the other week, I began experimenting with chocolate-avocado mousse, and the idea came to me to pair it with peanut butter in some way. I looked around my kitchen and spotted my set of mini-pie plates, and was on my way. The crust proved a bit tricky. My first version was made of ground almonds with peanut butter as a binder, but it wasn’t peanut-buttery enough for me. A second attempt with the addition of toasted millet (for crunch) wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Finally, a third try with a combination of ground roasted peanuts and ground almonds was just right. The rich-but-light texture and slight fruitiness of the mousse is nicely complimented by the earthy, salted peanut crunch of the crust.

As desserts go, this easy, no-bake recipe is definitely on the healthy side. It does contain fat (from the peanuts, avocado and coconut), but has no cholesterol or refined sweetener. And it packs a punch as far as protein goes, so the next time someone asks you where you get your protein, you know what to answer!

Chocolate & peanut butter pies

Makes two mini-pies (5 in./12 cm in diameter at widest point) 

Note: several hours before making this recipe, place the coconut cream/milk and your metal mixing bowl plus the beaters of your mixer in the refrigerator to chill. The lower temperature helps ensure a nice firm whip.

Ingredients

For the peanut crust

  • 1/2 cup (75 g) salted peanuts, whole (snack/party kind)
  • 2 tablespoons (12 g) ground almonds
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter, either creamy or chunky
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup

For the chocolate mousse filling

  • 1 large avocado (9 oz./250 g weighed when whole)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • small pinch salt

For the whipped coconut cream

  • 3/4 cup (200 ml) coconut milk (full-fat) or coconut cream, chilled
  • 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the garnish: roughly chopped bar chocolate, cocoa powder, finely chopped peanuts or gomasio

Equipment needed: food processor for the nuts, electric mixer with beaters to whip the cream, plastic wrap, mini-pie plates (or small bowls/ramekins)

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First, grind the peanuts by pulsing them just a few times. Be careful not to grind them too much, or (depending on the power of your processor) you could end up with something closer to peanut butter and the structure of the crust will not hold up as well. I stopped when my peanut chunks looked about like this (see next photo):

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Now add the ground almonds, peanut butter and maple syrup. Don’t be tempted to add more maple syrup, as it could make the crust too soggy. It’s okay if the crust is not especially sweet, since the filling and whipped cream will be.

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Combine the ingredients, mixing and pressing the mixture against the sides of the bowl with a large spoon or spatula (alternatively, knead with your hands) until you have a sort of sticky dough. Taste it at this point and if it seems to be lacking salt, for example if you have used a natural peanut butter that contains no salt, consider adding a small pinch.

Rip off a piece of plastic wrap that is the length of two mini-pie plates. Cover the inside of the pie plate with one end of it and press half of the crust dough into the plate as shown above. Be sure to fill the tops of the ridges well to get a nice result when the crust is unmolded. Then double the plastic wrap back over the top to cover the crust. Repeat with the second pie plate.  If you’re making the crusts well ahead of time, you can place them in the refrigerator to chill at this point, stacked together if space is a problem, but if you will be finishing and serving the dessert right away this step is not necessary.

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Cut the avocado in half, scoop out its flesh and transfer to your food processor. Add the cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract and salt. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides once or twice.

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Now you have your mousse! Taste it and add more maple syrup if you want it to be sweeter, and more vanilla or cocoa powder if it seems to need it (the results of different cocoa brands can vary). Process further if you have added something, and be sure that no chunks of avocado remain.

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Fill the crust with the mousse. The crust should still be in the pie plate at this point, as the filling process could make it crack if it were unsupported. Next, holding onto both sides of the plastic wrap, carefully lift the crust out of the pie plate and transfer it to a small dessert plate, removing the plastic.

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Take the pre-chilled coconut milk or cream, metal bowl and beaters out of the refrigerator. Transfer the milk or cream to the bowl. If using a can of coconut milk, stir the cream and liquid part together before measuring. Add the maple syrup and vanilla extract and beat on high speed until soft peaks appear (this will take a few minutes). Continue until you have reached the desired thickness, but be careful not to overbeat as it can become too thick. If this happens, do not despair as it can be salvaged—just continue beating and it will eventually revert to a more liquid state (unlike overwhipped dairy cream, which turns into butter!).

When ready to serve the dessert, top each pie with a dollop of the cream and decorate the top with a garnish of roughly chopped bar chocolate, a sprinkle of cocoa powder, some finely chopped peanuts or a pinch of gomasio.

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Note that the avocado will begin to oxidize and darken upon contact with the air, so it is best to fill the crusts not long before they will be served. Alternatively, if the top has already darkened, you could opt to cover the entire top with the whipped cream. The lighter color of the mousse inside would then not be noticeablely different from the color of the top, and you would also have an interesting tiramisu effect.

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Variations:

  • Make the crust with ground almonds and almond butter (no peanuts) for a chocolate & almond version.
  • Add banana to the mousse for a tropical flavor.
  • Serve parfait-style in clear glasses so that the various layers show, alternating with additional layers of whipped cream and chocolate mousse.

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