What’s better than chocolate? Well, maybe pumpkin and pumpkin spice. How about all three options? This month’s Recipe Redux challenge theme was an obvious one for October: pumpkin. I love pumpkin and pumpkin spice, but not fake pumpkin spice. So, nothing but the real stuff in today’s recipe for Vegan Pumpkin Fudge Cups with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting.
Before I get into the recipe, let me tell you a little about chocolate and pumpkin and how they can contribute to good mood since I’m all about food and mood and using food to make us feel good!
Many years ago, I worked in a gourmet food shop and for the first three months, I didn’t get to hide behind a locked door working at a desk. I was helping customers and let’s just say that often times these folks had challenging methods of relating to customer service employees. That’s the nicest way I can put it! Every afternoon, my colleague and I would share a couple squares of dark chocolate, usually a Valrhona or Vosges bar, to get our emotional strength back! Worked like charm. Why though? Why did that chocolate give us that boost we needed?
Your body senses the rich and decadent mouthfeel once you bite into the piece of chocolate and sends signals to the pleasure center in your brain, causing that sense of relaxation and joy. It knows this is a pleasurable experience! The theobromine and small amount of caffeine may also give you a light stimulating feeling. Polyphenols called flavonols are also believed to play a role in this improvement in mood. Flavonols even create new neurons, improve the connections between neurons, and basically protect them.
Magnesium is crucial when it comes to brain health and mood and unfortunately, many people don’t even realize they’re deficient. It plays a huge role in the production of the feel good neurotransmitter, serotonin. We get magnesium mostly from veggies, seeds, nuts and whole grains. If you’re on the Standard American Diet (SAD) of fast food and highly processed foods, you probably aren’t getting enough magnesium. Luckily, cocoa contains this vital mineral! Be sure to eat some veggies too though!
When choosing chocolate, go with one that has the highest percentage of cacao you can get, which also means the least amount of sugar. I recently tried a 90% cacao bar and the flavor was so balanced that it didn’t taste overly bitter. My recipe for the Pumpkin Fudge cups uses 100% unsweetened chocolate. Gettin’ all the flavonols that we can!
Not only does pumpkin also contain magnesium, but it has fiber. What does fiber have to do with a good mood? Everything. Pumpkin contain fiber that our guts love because it feeds the good bacteria in our guts. The gut-brain connection is strong, so a healthy gut is going to have influence on brain health. Many neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers of the body, are even made in the gut!
Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin B6 which definitely plays a role in mood, especially in producing neurotransmitters. If our neurons can’t communicate with each other and the rest of the body, then problems are going to occur and they could manifest via depression.
If you don’t want to bake a whole pumpkin, no problem. The canned variety is a perfectly good choice. Just be sure to purchase one that doesn’t contain any added sugars. You just want 100% pumpkin in that can. In addition to adding to pumpkin puree to fudge and frosting, canned pumpkin is a great addition to oatmeal, energy balls, and pancakes and muffins.
I did not originally intend to create a vegan dessert. If I even say that word prior to consumption, my #1 taste tester will not try it. Once he did try this treat, he had no idea that the whole thing is vegan. Once the spices, maple syrup and pumpkin are mixed into the vegan cream cheese, it tastes like real dairy cream cheese frosting! It’s gluten free too!
Baking is not my favorite activity, so when I can make a quick dessert and not have to lug the food processor or mixer from my cupboard, it’s a great thing. After melting the almond butter, coconut oil, and chocolate in the microwave, you stir in a few more ingredients and spoon the mixture into mini cupcake liners. While that freezes for 10 minutes, mix the cream cheese frosting in a bowl. No need to use the mixer. Spoon the frosting on top of the fudge cups and that’s it! This dessert cannot get any easier!
Vegan Pumpkin Fudge Cups with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
Making a rich dessert filled with healthy ingredients couldn’t be any easier than with these pumpkin and spiced fudge cups. While they are vegan and gluten free, they still taste delicious and are the perfect sweet treat for the Fall and Winter seasons!
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pumpkin Pie Spice
- 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 Tablespoons smooth, unsalted, raw almond butter
- 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/4 cup unsweetened, canned pumpkin puree
Pumpkin Fudge Cups
- 12 Mini muffin liners
- Mix all spices together in a small bowl to make the pumpkin pie spice.
- In a medium microwave safe bowl, combine the coconut oil, almond butter and chocolate. Heat on high for 25 seconds. Stir mixture to distribute heat and help chocolate to fully melt. If you still have a few chocolate chunks, heat in microwave for another 10 seconds and stir.
- Add the maple syrup, pumpkin puree, and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie space and stir until thoroughly combined.
- Place 12 mini cupcake muffin liners on a sheet pan or plate. Spoon the chocolate mixture into the cups, distributing evenly between all 12 cups. Place pan in freezer for 10 minutes.
- To make the frosting, mix the cream cheese, maple syrup, pumpkin puree and remaining 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Stir until smooth.
- Remove chocolate cups from the freezer and spoon frosting over the cups, distributing evenly between all 12 cups.
- Place in fridge until time to serve.
The chocolate fudge cups are best eaten straight out of the fridge.
Recipe by Lindsey Pine MS, RD, CSSD, CLT