When Blackbird Kitchen opened in my hometown in 2009, they introduced many of their fans to budino, the Italian, totally decadent dessert. It’s a knock-your-socks-off custard made with cream, eggs, sugar, and chocolate that’s cooked, chilled, then served with olive oil and sea salt on top. Its consistency is closer to fudge than regular custard. When my neighbor Susanna made it for my birthday a few years ago, everyone was delighted. I’ve served it once in a while for special occasions because it’s easy to put together in advance, as well as a huge crowd pleaser. However, since I’m now trying to be gluten free, sugar free, and eat dairy sparingly, I set out to give traditional budino a makeover. This reinvented budino is almost as decadent as the original one but with an undertone of spice. And it offers health benefits. No kidding.
With Blackbird’s budino as my goal in terms of decadent appeal, I started experimenting with a dark chocolate chipotle sweet potato fudge recipe (that I adapted from thevegan8.com), added cacao, and increased the amount of healthy fat (coconut milk). After a few misfires in terms of taste and consistency, I arrived at a Mexican chocolate budino with the spiciness of chipotle pepper and cinnamon.
When I served this budino for Thanksgiving, no one guessed that sweet potato was the “heft” instead of cream and eggs. The sweet potato base and cacao make this budino nutrient rich and provide a side of antioxidant goodness. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins A, C and E, and boast antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and blood sugar regulating nutrients.
Dark chocolate is rich in phytochemicals that provide heart health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, and reducing risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies have also linked chocolate flavanols with a reduced risk for neurological decline. The darker the better, as the higher the percentage of cacao, the more polyphenols will be in the chocolate. Be sure to choose a chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao.
Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing un-roasted cacao beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cacao and removes the fat (cacao butter). Cocoa looks (and is almost spelled) the same but it’s not. Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures. Roasting changes the molecular structure of the cacao bean, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value. Like sweet potatoes, cacao also promotes cardiovascular health. It is rich in fiber, potassium, and iron and helps stimulate the body’s production of digestive enzymes.
Cinnamon can have a beneficial effect on your health, too. Recent data shows that consumption of mildly sweet cinnamon may help to improve cardiovascular health for those with type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, 2006 research shows that cinnamon may also help to reduce body fat percentage and increase lean body mass—great news if you’re looking to release some weight.
Here’s the good part: the more the cinnamon and cacao in your recipe, the richer and deeper the flavor. So do you body some good and add some extra of both. Adding a bit of olive oil and some large sea salt flakes to the finished product, as they do at Blackbird, should not be optional.