Kids and no-bake desserts go together like Pb+J.
When I was in preschool, we made popsicles a few times. Maybe a bowl of Jell-O. Here in Israel, THE standard in day camps, preschool,and end-of-year and pre-holiday activities in elementary school is chocolate balls. They’re all pretty much the same: tea biscuits, sugar, cocoa, margarine, water to moisten, and sometimes a splash of artificial rum flavoring, mashed into a dough then molded by dozens of pre-licked fingertips into 3-D objects of various sizes and shapes (“balls”) and covered with artificially-colored rainbow sprinkles. It’s so common that I think the recipe might be on the first-grade entrance exams.
Seriously, though, with five kids ranging from three months to third grade, I’ve seen way too many chocolate balls. Even without the little fingers, the recipe turns my stomach. The last time a bar of margarine passed through my front door was when my son in first grade needed to bring it to school for making chocolate balls.
Now, I’m gearing up for Chanukah vacation. Five kids. Five days with their father away on reserve duty. They’re going to need a lot of activities. And I’m going to need a lot of chocolate. Just thinking about next week, I needed chocolate for breakfast, so I did a test run this morning. I’ll probably be making this again next week, with helpers.
Shhhh…don’t tell them these are healthy!
Before I get to that recipe, I’ll give you the simple version:
Yes! The chocolate balls are based on dates (one of the seven special fruits of Israel) and walnuts. Apparently, I was missing out on this classic Israeli snack for years. I only discovered them about five years ago, at a job interview. The principal had a plate with a pile of dates and a pile of walnut halves sitting on his desk that he proceeded to stuff and snack on while asking me about my teaching experience. He handed me one, and I’ve been hooked since. I didn’t get the job, but I learned about a great dessert.
One more little secret before we get to those chocolate balls: Most of the chocolate rugelach and yeast cakes in Israel are filled not with chocolate spread, but with date spread and cocoa powder (because it’s cheaper than chocolate). Hey, if it’s good enough for Angel’s, it’s good enough for me.
To make chewy, fudgey brownie bites, you need just three ingredients, dates, walnuts, and cocoa:
I pitted 15 medjoul dates, put them in a plastic container, and covered them with hot water to soak.
Meanwhile, I toasted 15 natural walnut halves in a frying pan to enhance their nutty flavor. You could skip this step if you’re in a rush or pop them in the oven. This worked well for me.
Next, I removed the soaked dates from the water, transferred them to a food processor, and ground them into a coarse paste.
I added 3 tablespoons of cocoa next and pulsed it a few times until it was evenly incorporated.
You may need to scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl with a spatula a few times.
I added the nuts last and pulsed just so they were broken up and mixed in. not finely ground. To me the walnut pieces remind me of toasted walnuts on top of a pan of brownies.
Refrigerate the dough for a half hour. This makes it firmer and easier to roll into balls.
I rolled my chocolate balls in more unsweetened cocoa for maximum chocolate taste. You could also try shredded coconut, sprinkles, or more ground nuts. Tell me your favorite topping in the comments below!
P.S. I know I write yield 18 and there are only 15 in the picture. It’s not because I can’t count. They’re just so good they didn’t all make it to the plate!
Gluten-Free No-Bake Brownie Bites
yield: 18 bite-size (~1 inch/2 cm)balls
15 large dried dates (such as medjoul), pitted
15 natural walnut halves
4 T unsweetened cocoa powder, divided
- Soak the dates in hot water for 5-10 minutes to soften.
- Toast the walnuts for 5 minutes in a frying pan or in a pre-heated oven.
- Grind the dates in a food processor until they form a coarse paste, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula if necessary.
- Add 3 T cocoa and process until fully incorporated, scraping down with a spatula if necessary.
- Add nuts and pulse until they are chopped and even distributed throughout the date mixture.
- Refrigerate for a half hour until the dough is firm.
- Roll tablespoon-size clumps of date mixture into balls.
- If desired, roll the date balls in cocoa, shredded coconut, sprinkles, or nuts to coat.