I recently took a complete break from refined sugar for a long stretch of time. I’d been doing a lot of comfort baking during the peak of Covid Winter, but after a while all those trays of cookies stopped comforting me and started making me feel kind of crappy. I cut sugar out completely, and after a weird, icky, sweaty period of withdrawal and adjustment I unmistakably felt and looked better: clearer headed, clearer skinned. Most of us eat so much sugar that we forget what an extreme and intense food it is. Taking a break was just the reminder I needed.
Recently I’ve begun to add a bit of sweetness back into my life, but not in the form of refined white sugar—I am pretty much off that stuff for good. Fortunately, Lulu’s Chocolate is sweetened with coconut sugar, which is made from the dried sap of coconut palm trees and doesn’t stress my body out like white sugar. That’s probably because it has a lower glycemic index, meaning it doesn’t impact blood glucose levels as intensely as white sugar, and doesn’t result in the same insulin spike. It may also be because it contains trace minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc, which slow down its absorption.
Good news, I can still enjoy my Lulu’s. I love a piece of it with my afternoon tea and it has inspired me to experiment with creating my own low-sugar treats.
Here is my favorite of these creations. I call it Beauty Bark (not to be confused with the type of garden mulch by the same name!) because it is loaded with health-giving, beautifying ingredients: Ground maca root, which is known to help balance hormones and stimulate collagen synthesis; Cacao, rich in flavanols, plant-derived antioxidants that encourage circulation and can even protect us from the damaging effects of UV rays; Coconut oil, antiinflammatory and antibacterial; and cashew butter, high in antioxidants and a good source of essential copper, which helps build collagen.
The inspiration for this recipe came from Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar, a book which served as a handy reference during my strictly sugar-free days. Wilson is a fan of rice malt syrup, (a honeylike syrup made from fermented rice) as an alternative sweetener, and I am too. I love its mellow maltiness, and although I now try to keep my use of any sweetener to a minimum (this entire recipe only includes a total of two teaspoonfuls!), I love the flavor and texture it adds. I always use rice syrup in my version of rice crispy treats.
This bark is sweet, salty, and luscious, with a nice snap, a creamy interior, and flavor reminiscent of salted caramel. It’s also incredibly easy to make, a truly foolproof recipe. I keep the pieces in a sealed container in the freezer, so I always have a treat on hand, one that feels like a big indulgence and that always makes me smile—and what’s more beautiful than a big happy smile?
1-ounce bar of your favorite Lulu’s bar, chopped
Big pinch of flaky sea salt
½ cup coconut oil
¼ cup cashew butter
2 teaspoons brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons ground maca
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. I use a quarter sheet—the bigger the sheet, the thinner the bark.
Combine the chopped chocolate with the flaky sea salt and set aside.
Melt together coconut oil, cashew butter and brown rice syrup. You can do this by combining the ingredients in a bowl and microwaving for 1 minute, then whisking everything together until very well combined and totally smooth. OR you can melt the ingredients together in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly and then whisking until smooth.
Whisk in the ground maca, blending completely.
Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, carefully tilting the baking sheet to spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the chocolate and salt mixture over the top.
Place baking sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Break bark into pieces and store in freezer—keeps for weeks, but it won’t last that long.
IMPORTANT NOTE: bark will soften and eventually melt at room temperature, so don’t pack it in your lunch!