Vegan Dark Chocolate Lavender Mousse

Before moving on to all things chocolate and lavender, here's a short and somewhat vague history on the gorgeous purple-flowering Jacaranda trees that grow on Maui:

The Jacaranda tree is native to South America, which was subsequently introduced to Portugal via travelers and adventurers during the 1600s. Between 1870 and 1910, thousands of Portuguese flocked to Hawaii in search of work. Ostensibly, a Portuguese immigrant with a strong affinity for the tree brought it on their tremendously long journey across oceans, and planted it on the slopes of the dormant Haleakala volcano. The number of Jacarandas suddenly spiked in the 1950s, when Elmer F. Cravalho — a Portuguese descendant and eventual mayor of Maui county — persuaded the Territorial Highway Commission to plant them up and down the main highways in the cooler climates of upcountry Maui.

Now every spring, upcountry bursts into lilac splendor, hundreds upon hundreds of these trees dotting the green rolling hills in every direction, their fallen flowers carpeting the sides of the winding asphalt roads. From my home on the north shore (where it’s too wet for the likes of Jacarandas), I was making the 45 minute drive up to 4,000 feet in elevation to visit the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm. Evidently, I was enjoying the scenery a little too much (read: driving below the speed limit to the dismay of drivers with a schedule to keep). To avoid being the catalyst of someone’s road rage, I found a place to pull off to enjoy the blossoming trees a little more before heading on to my destination.

Purple was apparently the theme of the day. By the time I reached the lavender farm, I felt like my entire morning had been drenched in the royal color. First the Jacarandas, and then a 13 acre lavender farm boasting 55,000 lavender plants and 45 different varieties (who knew there were that many?!), with every possible hue of purple represented along the hillside.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is a tucked away piece of Maui magic, a gem off the beaten path which has rightfully received recognition as a “must see” among those who visit the island. It’s sloping acreage creates breathtaking panoramic views of the north and south shores of Maui, with views of the valley, the West Maui Mountains, and vast expanses of blue ocean. At 4,000 feet in elevation, the weather conditions more closely resemble a mediterranean climate, which allows the lavender to happily thrive alongside peach trees, olive trees, and jurassic-looking protea flowers. Because I arrived early in the morning, the incline of Haleakala just above the farm was still shrouded in low blanketing clouds, creating a soft muted silence that was utterly delicious. Upon further exploration of the grounds, I discovered intimate veins of pathways that led to all sorts of secret gardens, encouraging me to slow down and smell the proverbial roses — or in this case, lavender. It’s a place one can get dreamily lost in.

After my exploration itch had been satisfied, I wandered into the shop, which sells all sorts of goodies made with lavender grown on the farm, from soaps and candles, to lavender tea and lavender gourmet seasoning. I helped myself to a warm lavender scone, sat out on the deck to take in the view, and proceeded to top each bite with a healthy dab of butter and lavender honey. Before leaving, I bought a one-ounce bag of dried culinary lavender flowers, ideas of combining chocolate and lavender already surfacing in my mind.

This chocolate lavender mousse is incredibly luxurious and dark, with just enough lavender to be enjoyable without being overpowering. I hope by now everyone knows that chocolate and avocado are a match made in vegan heaven. While I’m not vegan, I often go weeks at a time without cooking with dairy, and thoroughly enjoy all sorts of healthy plant-based alternatives. Avocado blended with chocolate is one of those combinations that sounds totally whacky, but works better than imaginable. You can’t taste the avocado one bit, but the creaminess it creates is absolute perfection. Add a little natural sweetener, almond milk, freshly scraped vanilla bean, and in this case, lavender flowers for a hint of flirty flavor, and you’ve got a dessert that rivals (dare I say outshines?!) any of it’s dairy-based counterparts. Not to mention it’s so simple a monkey could do it. Add ingredients to blender, blend, refrigerate. Easy as pie…or should I say mousse?

Notes: The cacao nib maple brittle is a bittersweet addition that’s not totally necessary, but adds a nice crunch and look to the dessert. If you want to make this the easiest dessert ever, feel free to skip it, or alternatively simply sprinkle some cacao nibs on top of each serving for a little added texture.
A high powered blender (such as a Vitamix) will make this recipe much easier as the mixture is very thick. If you don’t think your blender can handle it, try making it in a food processor.

Vegan Dark Chocolate Lavender Mousse

recipe inspired by The Love and Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio

serves 4-6

2 cups mashed avocado
1 cup cacao powder
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, plus more if needed
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons culinary lavender flowers, plus extra for garnish
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 vanilla bean
Cacao Nib Maple Brittle (Optional. Recipe below)

To a high powered blender (or food processor if your blender can’t handle thick concoctions), add the avocado, cacao powder, almond milk, maple syrup, lavender flowers, and sea salt. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a knife, and scrape the sticky seeds into the blender. Blend ingredients until smooth, stopping intermittently to scrape down the sides. If still too thick, add a little more almond milk to incorporate all ingredients thoroughly. Divide mousse into individual cups or ramekins, and cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. To serve, sprinkle each serving with a pinch of lavender flowers, and top with pieces of Cacao Nib Maple Brittle (optional).

Cacao Nib Maple Brittle

1/3 cup cacao nibs
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

In a small saucepan, warm maple syrup over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Add in cacao nibs and salt, stirring quickly and continuously until mixture begins to get tacky and form visible strands as you’re stirring it, about 3-4 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Pour mixture onto a tray lined with parchment paper, spreading it out into a thin, yet still intact layer. Allow to cool until brittle, about half an hour. Break into desired size pieces.