Oh how times change.
If you were to hand me a Bounty Bar 20 years ago, I would have looked at you like you had gone coconuts (ahem, sorry). I thought Bounty Bars were totally sick-a-tating because coconut was a vegetable in my mind, and therefore decidedly not edible even when smothered in chocolate.
I don’t know when I came to my senses, discovered that coconut was in fact a not vegetable, and also totally delicious. These days, I’ll go so far to say that I don’t know what my life would be like without dear coconut around, as I likely employ one or more of its products on a daily basis. You can imagine then, that being in Bali was quite a gas for me, as it’s dripping with coconuts, quite literally. I loved being able to get fresh coconut water every morning; mammoth orbs heavy with well over a liter of liquid gold, for under a dollar. Freshly shredded coconut at the market, coconut palm sugar by the bagful, young coconut flesh blended in smoothies… it was the business!
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Big Tree Farms - a place where they make incredible coconut products among other things, such as raw cacao and sea salt. As I’ve been using their delicious coconut palm sugar for a while now, it was pretty amazing to see where the magic happens and meet the sweet people behind the sweetness. I was also introduced to a new product: coconut nectar! A gorgeous, full-flavoured syrup that looks a lot like honey, but with a citric, smoky flavour that surprised and delighted me.
Coconut Nectar of the Gods
Coconut nectar, and the coconut palm sugar that is made from it, have been produced and enjoyed for over 6,000 years. In fact, the first documented sweeteners ever used are that from coconut palms (Coco Nucifera).
Coconut nectar is made by harvesting the sap from the coconut palm blossom, which is collected twice daily by the farmers at Big Tree. They climb up each trunk in the morning, remove the vessel full of sap, slice the very tip off of each flower bundle and place an empty vessel underneath it to collect sap until the evening when they will repeat the process. The sap is then boiled down to remove all the water it naturally contains, leaving a thick, caramel-like syrup, which can then be cooled and bottled. To make coconut sugar, that same syrup is cooled and then rubbed, creating granules of the delectable coconut sugar that I love so much. You can watch a very cool video about the whole tree to table process, here.
Coconut nectar is high in minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron. It is happily low glycemic, ranking 35 on the GI scale, compared to agave at 42, honey at 55, cane sugar at 68. This is due to coconut sugar’s composition of long-chain saccharides, which are absorbed by the body at a slower rate than something like refined white sugar. Coconut sugar also contains amino acids, which are thought to slow down the rate at which the sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, acting as a “buffer” of sorts. You can read more about Big Tree Farms Coconut Nectar and Palm Sugar nutrition here.
After visiting Big Tree, I was feeling creative and hungry for chocolate. I decided to get my Willy Wonka on and recreate a favourite treat to pay homage to my coconut adventures, and also because, let’s face it, Bounty Bars are delicious. This is my (nearly) raw version of the classic candy, a very easy and scrumptious translation using simple ingredients. They are totally rich and coconut-y, just like the “real” thing, but way better because they taste real – not like science. The chocolate is smooth, rich and decadent, and the filling is extra coconut-y due to the virgin coconut oil I use. If you have a good-quality virgin coconut oil, I suggest employing it here, as you want to emphasize the coconut flavour. This is one of the few times I use virgin coconut oil, as I usually don’t want everything tasting of the tropics, but in this case I definitely do. If you don’t have any, regular coconut oil is fine.
And if you don’t have any coconut nectar not to worry – substitute it with honey or maple syrup and the results should be almost the same. These should be stored in the freezer, especially in the height of summer when the chocolate can melt in the heat. Plus, biting into one of these is quite refreshing when the 4 o’clock summer sun hits and you need something sweet to rouse you from your nap.
These are also really fun to make – who doesn’t love a good candy project? Get your kids involved, get your friends into it, and create some candy bars that you actually won’t want to share with anyone who has helped you. You’ve been warned.
Raw Bounty Bars
Makes 12 candy bars
2 cups / 175g unsweetened desiccated coconut
¼ cup / 60ml coconut oil, melted (virgin coconut oil if you have it)
2 Tbsp. coconut nectar (substitute with honey or maple syrup)
1-2 Tbsp. raw honey or maple syrup (depending on how sweet you like it – you can also use coconut nectar)
¼ tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 Tbsp. water
1/4 cup / 60 ml melted coconut oil
2 Tbsp. / 30ml melted cacao butter
1/3 cup / 30g raw cacao powder
1/4 cup raw honey
a couple pinches salt, to taste
- In a double boiler (or a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water) melt coconut oil. Remove from heat and add coconut nectar, honey, sea salt and vanilla seeds, whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Place coconut in a large bowl and sprinkle the tablespoon of water over top, stir well. Pour the coconut oil mixture over and fold to combine, using your hands if necessary. Taste for sweetness and adjust if necessary.
- Line a 7×7” (18x18cm) baking pan with plastic wrap, leaving plenty of extra to hang over the sides. Press the coconut mixture firmly into place, especially around the edges. (If you don’t have a baking pan, just use the plastic wrap as an edge, pulling it up around the open ends, pressing firmly to ensure it is compact.) Wrap edges around coconut and place in the freezer to firm, at least 30 minutes, up while you make the chocolate.
- In a double boiler (or a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water) melt coconut oil and cacao butter. Add honey and whisk to combine. When completely uniform, remove from heat and sift in cacao, and add sea salt. Taste for sweetness and saltiness, and adjust accordingly.
- On an open work surface, place a piece of parchment paper underneath a cooling wrack (and oven wrack will work just fine, but it helps if whatever you choose fits into your freezer). Make space in your freezer for the wrack to fit.
- Remove coconut from the freezer, unwrap and cut into 12 bars of equal size. Round off the ends by slicing off the corners if you like (this is just for aesthetic reasons, but it’s up to you!). One by one, place a coconut bar into the liquid chocolate and turn over a couple times to coat. Remove with a fork, allowing any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl, then place on the cooling wrack. Repeat with remaining bars. Once all the bars have been done and they re no longer dripping, place wrack in the freezer for the chocolate to harden, about 15 minutes. Remove from freezer and repeat the process, giving each bar with one more coat of chocolate. Return bars to the freezer.
- If you have any chocolate remaining, remove chocolate bars from the freezer and drizzle it over top in a design that you like (it’s fun to do with a plastic sandwich bag – simply slice a teeny corner off of one end and pipe chocolate onto the bars). Return to the freezer to firm up completely, at least one hour. Then remove bars from wrack and store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to two months.
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