Vegan chocolate muffins with pumpkin cream: easy, light and affordable
Time: prep. 5 min muffin
3 min squash cream
bak. 15-20 mins muffin
cook. approx 5 min squash
Difficulty: very easy
Yields: 6 portions
Cost: very low
The holidays are over and we find ourselves face to face with winter, its shorter, darker days. If you’re feeling a little down or listless, that’s completely normal; for some of us there’s a real disorder called ‘seasonal affective disorder‘ (SAD) and it’s a psychological state where people experience (almost) the same symptoms as depression, caused in part by altered hormone levels. To improve this tangible drop in ‘serenity’, whether we are aware of it or not, we try to compensate by eating more, in the hope of digesting the malaise as well.
But you should know that of all the foods possible and imaginable, there is one that would be just right for you: cocoa, the ultimate element to make us feel at our best and to get through the day, whatever shade of gray it may be.
Hence the reason for today’s recipe of vegan chocolate muffins.
Indeed, there is something miraculous about black gold, I mean both chocolate and cocoa. There are many studies on the subject, and scientists agree that it is a combination of factors that improves mood: from the psychological conviction of the ‘cliche’, to the irrefutable ability of the key substances present in the formulation of chocolate, preferably dark chocolate with at least 70-85% cocoa 1.
This is due to serotonin and tryptophan: the latter is an essential amino acid, a precursor to the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes us simply and legally happy.
Among other things hidden within that enveloping taste are two other very interesting substances: theobromine, which relaxes and reassures us – just as a mild dose of cannabis would do; and phenylethylalanine, which is responsible for the ‘simulation ride’ of a typical falling in love sensation, with its characteristic symptoms of that magical moment, namely accelerated heart rates 2. The acceleration of the heartbeat could also be associated with another crucial ingredient in cocoa, tyramine, derived from tyrosine – an amino acid like tryptophan, but precursor of dopamine. Dopamine is another molecule, I would say essential, for well-being, which as well as stimulating and coordinating the body’s movements, positively influences the ability to analyse and perform; it allows us to feel motivated, satisfied and ready to face life 3. Unfortunately, dopamine, working on the brain’s reward pathways, becomes addictive, and if not satisfied, gives rise to depression and sadness 4.
From all this, it can be seen that chocolate and of course cocoa, is a potent drug, which is why, in order not to find ourselves in a vicious circle, we must apply the motto of CHE: moderation before all else, with care and awareness.
Ingredients (for approx 6 vegan chocolate muffin)
250 g water
80 g cane sugar
110 g wholemeal flour
60 g 00 flour
3 tablespoons bitter cocoa
3 tablespoons peanut oil (or other seed oil possibly cold-pressed)
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of vinegar
oil to grease the molds
1 pinch of salt
the peel of one lemon or half an orange
for the pumpkin cream
50 g cooked pumpkin with 1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons of vegetable milk to make a smooth puree
1 tablespoon grated coconut (optional)
To say that these vegan chocolate muffins are one of the easiest and quickest cakes to make would be no exaggeration.
Before turning on the oven, combine the pumpkin cut into small pieces with the sugar and cook in a pot with a lid. Cook until the pumpkin is soft enough to mash with a fork (5 minutes in pressure cooker is enough, in a normal pan would require about 10-15 minutes).
Turn on the oven and set it on ventilated mode at 170 degrees, or 180 for the static one.
In the meantime, mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then slowly add the liquid ingredients (except for the bicarbonate and vinegar, which are added together at the last minute), beating gently to prevent lumps from forming. When the mixture is perfectly homogeneous –you can also use a hand mixer- pour it into the molds previously oiled, or lined with baking paper.
Once the oven reaches the set temperature, insert the molds and bake them for 15-20 minutes; if you don’t have the molds, you could bake the same mixture in a low baking dish: sometimes I use a 22 cm diameter one, and I use the cake thus created to fill it with pumpkin cream… simply divine!
Since ovens are all rebellious to homologations, I suggest you to set a shorter time, so you can check the cooking through the toothpick test: you have to put a toothpick in the heart of the dough; if it is dry and without residuals of batter, you can end the cooking and leave them to cool down; if it is wet, we understand that the humidity of the dough is still high, so be patient another 2-3 minutes to finish cooking.
Take them out of the mold only after they have reached room temperature. And if you are really good at not eating more than 1 a day, you can also freeze them keeping their freshness for whenever you need a little doping
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I served these vegan chocolate muffins, together with a delicate pumpkin cream; because pumpkin not only provides a flamboyant touch of sunshine, it also overflows with flavor and nutritional properties despite its low calories. It’s a treasure trove of pro-vitamin A, beta carotene and vitamin C, as well as dietary fiber and, in particular, minerals such as potassium, magnesium and iron. So don’t go looking for exotic superfoods, but use pumpkin more often in the kitchen, in both culinary and dessert recipes.
(However, any kind of fruit will do for a cream which balances out the distinct flavor of the muffins and provides a nice color contrast).
For the pumpkin cream, all you have to do is combine the cooked pumpkin with some vegetable milk (or normal milk if you prefer) and make a puree, with which you can fill, decorate or simply serve your vegan chocolate muffins on a plate.
Enjoy your dessert and good revolution to all
1) Guillén-Casla V et al. Determination of serotonin and its precursors in chocolate samples by capillary liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry detection. J Chromatogr A. 2012 Apr 6;1232:158-65. doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2011.11.037. Epub 2011 Dec 1. PMID: 22186492.
2) Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review. by A. Scholey and L. Owen from PubMed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the US National Library of Medicine <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24117885>
3) Brookshire, B. (2017, January 17). Explainer: What is dopamine? Retrieved from https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/explainer-what-dopamine
4) Diana M. The dopamine hypothesis of drug addiction and its potential therapeutic value. Front Psychiatry. 2011;2:64. Published 2011 Nov 29. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2011.00064