Nectar of the Gods?

These days, everybody wants to have their sweets and eat less sugar, too. Demonized as pure granulated nutritional evil, and even pinned as a leading cause for America’s obesity explosion, it’s no wonder that many people are avoiding the white stuff like the plague, treating it more like poison than edible ingredient. For the record, I have no problem with sugar, as evidenced by many of my recipes. Treated with respect and consumed in moderation, just like anything else, I see nothing inherently wrong with it, and its unique crystalline structure gives so many desserts their stellar texture and flavor.

That said, what works for me may very well sound like madness for others, and of course my perspective isn’t appropriate for the estimated 24 million diabetics in the US alone. For so many of them, agave has been like manna from heaven, clocking in much lower on the glycemic index than any other traditional sweetener, in addition to being more potent in small quantities than white sugar. Although not necessarily suitable for all, it’s been quickly adopted as the poster child of natural, low-impact sweeteners.

Even beyond the light and amber variants, it turns out that not all agave is the same, as I had originally thought. When I was contacted by a representative from Xagave, I wondered what could possibly be so special about this common ingredient, but it turns out that this particular nectar really does have a leg up on the competition. 100% raw and organic, it has a remarkably clean, uncloying taste, especially perfect for mixing into drinks. Plus, unlike any other brand I’ve found so far, Xagave had a bit of fiber- A nice little bonus for such a simple syrup!

When it came time to make my Nana’s birthday dessert, I didn’t hesitate to reach for this bottle, knowing that it would be the only appropriate option, as she must watch her sugar intake. Although not quite a traditional birthday cake, she claimed to thoroughly enjoy it, and that’s what really counted at the end of the day.

Swimming in a pool of lightly spiced cinnamon caramel, each individual round of cake is redolent with almond flavor, snaking in the periodic toothsome pop of roasted chestnuts, Lightened with a creamy swirl of unsweetened whipped coconut creme, and finished off with one whole candied chestnut, the whole plate is an elegant celebration of honest, simple ingredients, with not a speck of white sugar in sight.

Now, it does call for a whole lot of agave… But really, you must try this recipe, and I’d love to help you out. So generously provided by Xagave, I will be giving away one big 18-ounce bottle of the sticky stuff! To enter to win, just leave me a comment telling me about your favorite use for agave- Recipes, though they won’t improve your chances of winning, are highly encouraged! Make sure you leave your name and a valid email address, and get your comment in by midnight, November 9th. The winner will be announced shortly after.

Almond Chestnut Cake

2 Cups Plain, Unsweetened Soymilk
1 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
2 Cups Almond Meal
3 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Chopped Cooked Chestnuts

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease a 10 x 15-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the soymilk, agave, oil, vinegar, and both extracts so that everything is thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a separate, large bowl, sift together the almond meal and flour, and stir in the baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the chestnuts, and toss to coat with the dry goods so that they don’t all sink to the bottom of your cake. Pour the wet mixture into the dry, and stir just enough to bring the batter together, without any big lumps (aside from the chestnuts, of course.) Pour the batter into your prepared pan and spread it out evenly into the corners, smoothing down the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely before cutting into approximately 1 1/2 – 2-inch wide rounds (you can use a cookie cutter or even a drinking glass as a template to cut around.) Have yourself a little snack with the scraps, because there’s still plenty of work to be done before the whole plate is finished! Alternately, you could just cut it into squares if you don’t want it to be so fussy.

Cinnamon Agave Caramel Sauce

1 1/2 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Combine everything but the vanilla in a medium sauce pan with high sides, and set over moderate heat. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally to mix, until the mixture turns a deep amber brown and thickens significantly. Turn off the heat once you’ve caramelized the agave sufficiently, and stir in the vanilla. Either serve immediately, or pour into an air-tight jar for storage. If you plan on holding it for a while or refrigerating it, you will need to heat the sauce before serving, as it will solidify when chilled.

Candied Chestnuts

8 Ounces Whole Chestnuts
1/2 Cup Agave

Place both the agave and chestnuts in a medium sauce plan and place over moderate heat. Stir every few minutes, and cook until there’s no longer a pool of agave on the bottom of the pan (it should caramelize and adhere to the chestnuts for the most part.) It may threaten to burn, so keep a close eye on the mixture and don’t leave it unattended. Pour the chestnuts onto a baking sheet, silpat, or piece of parchment paper to let cool. They will probably remain soft and sticky on the outside, so handle with care.

Coconut Creme

1 25-Ounce Can Coconut Milk

Chill the can of coconut milk thoroughly before begin. When you’re ready to serve the cakes, pull it out of the fridge, but do not shake. Carefully remove the top so that you don’t disturb the contents of the can, and skim off all the thick white creme on top. Place it in the bowl of your stand mixer, and whip on high for 3 – 6 minutes, until fluffy liked whipped creme. Transfer to a piping bag.

To assemble, set one round of cake on a plate (ideally with a rim or lip around the edge to contain the caramel) and spoon about 1 – 2 tablespoons of caramel on the bottom of the plate around it; a little goes a long way. Pipe the coconut creme to cover the top of the cake, but don’t mound it up like a cupcake, because you’ll run out too quickly. Finally, place one perfect chestnuts on top, in the very center.

Makes 15 – 16 Servings

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