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Dear Dr Benson,

Why do I crave chocolate?

Food cravings are thought to be due to external prompts and our emotional state, rather than actual hunger.

We tend to be bored, anxious, or depressed immediately before experiencing cravings, so one way of explaining cravings is self-medication for feeling miserable.

…One way of explaining cravings is self-medication for feeling miserable.

Chocolate does contain a variety of substances, many of which can have the effect of improving our mood.

Sugar and fat are obvious, both of which stimulate the hypothalamus, inducing pleasurable sensations by increasing levels of serotonin(a brain chemical that is also increased by the use of anti-depressant medications). 

High levels of the amino acid Tryptophanis also relevant, as it can be used by the brain to make serotonin

The chemical known as Theobromineis also known to have a mood-elevating effect (and can be quite toxic to dogs and cats, which is why pets should never be fed chocolate). 

Chocolate has also been shown to contain N-acylethanolamines which may result in heightened sensitivity and euphoria… possibly explaining chocolate’s aphrodisiac reputation!

Chocolate… may result in heightened sensitivity and euphoria… possibly explaining chocolate’s aphrodisiac reputation!

However it is also interesting to know that such chemicals are also contained in other less appealing foods such as broccoli.

So it may be the combination of chocolate’s sensory characteristics — sweetness, texture and aroma — that largely explain chocolate cravings…

These are fun to make with children. To help keep the pastry firm, one trick I use is to pop soft ice packs underneath a metal baking tray. You can then cut out the rolled pastry on the tray and it will stay beautifully chilled while you and your little helper work. If you don’t have time for cutting out shapes, you can make simple chocolate rounds by using the cheat’s version of the recipe instead (see Variation).

MAKES APPROX. 20

INGREDIENTS

150g (1 cup) white spelt flour (see Tips)

110g (2⁄3 cup) wholemeal spelt flour (or wholemeal plain flour)

25g (1⁄4 cup) raw cacao powder (see Tips)

1 tsp baking powder

120g (7 tbsp) preferred brown sugar (see Tips)

200g butter, chilled, cubed (see Tips)

1 egg

2 1⁄2 tbsp jam of choice

PREPARATION

1. Place all ingredients, except jam, into a food processor or high-powered blender and process until mixture balls around the blades.

2. Transfer onto a floured work surface or a silicone mat and lightly shape into a ball. Divide dough into two portions and form each portion into discs, then wrap in plastic wrap and place into refrigerator for 1 hour to firm.

3. Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Line 2 large baking trays with baking paper and set aside.

4. Using a rolling pin, roll out each dough portion to a 4mm thickness. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter (approx. 7cm), cut out biscuits and transfer onto prepared trays. Gather off-cuts, gently re-roll (to 4mm thickness) and cut out remaining biscuits (approx. 40 biscuits total).

5. Using a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter (3cm), cut hearts out of half of the biscuits, so they have a heart-shaped hole in the centre.

6. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until cooked. Biscuits will be slightly soft.Transfer onto a wire rack to cool.

7. Once completely cooled, spread ½ teaspoon of jam over each whole biscuit and sandwich together with remaining (heart-shaped hole) biscuits to serve.

TIPS

If you don’t have spelt flour or wholemeal flour on hand, you can use regular plain flour. The wholemeal adds a fibre boost to these biscuits.

If you prefer, you can use regular cocoa powder in place of the raw cacao powder. Use your preferred brown sugar in this recipe, either regular brown sugar or a less refined option such as rapadura sugar (panela) or coconut sugar. (Note that the weights of these sugars can vary, so the gram measurement will be more accurate than the cup measurement.)

Try to source organic, grass-fed butter, as it’s the more nutritious choice. You can store these biscuits in the pantry in a sealable container for up to 1 week.

The biscuit dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

VARIATION

Cheat’s version: If you’re short on time, you can bake these biscuits as jam-free rounds. Simply form each of the two dough portions into a 20cm log shape.

Place into the refrigerator for 1 hour to firm, then cut into 8mm-thick rounds and bake as per the recipe (omitting step 8).

Courtesy of Sweet Nourish by Louise Keats.