Dark Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie Hot Cocoa – Proof That Sugar-Free Doesn’t Have To Be Icky

There’s a fat man inside me struggling to get out.

I’m not going to let him.

Part one of my three-step plan to thwart the fat man is to cut sugar out of my diet. Part two removes fat and carbs. Part three eliminates food altogether. That’ll show him.

Turns out it’s not so easy to forego sugar when it seductively whispers your name throughout the day, promising ecstasies beyond mortal comprehension. To silence the voice (that lovely, wonderful voice), I have tried sugar-free everything, but I just can’t get past artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, and the thought of contorted, glowing green lab rats with cancerous pustules oozing atop other festering cancers.

The after-lunch cravings are the worst.

Here’s Where the Cocoa Comes in…

I had a solution… nurse a cup of sugar-free cocoa, like a baby with a pacifier, but more dignified and adult-like. The only problem, I couldn’t find a good sugar-free, packaged hot cocoa, or even a decent recipe for that matter. Empty-handed, I had little choice but to attempt to create a recipe of my own. Keep in mind, I’m no chef, but the bar was low. As long as it didn’t taste like wrung-out sweat sock juice, I was good. A quick analysis of the problem indicated three major hurdles:

First I needed to find a sugar-free, low fat substitute for milk (even 1% milk is loaded with sugar and fat, albeit the good stuff apparently), with a non-watery, pleasantly thick consistency. After testing every form of liquid known to man, including numerous varieties of tequila (those were good days), I settled on Silk’s Unsweetened Cashew Milk. There are other brands available, but they are too strong and nutty for my taste.

The next hurdle was finding a sugar-free sweetener that wasn’t potentially harmful or just plain icky (I’m looking at you Stevia. Yuck). Frankly, the sweetener was the toughest part. Monk fruit extract was my prime candidate for a long time, but no matter what I mixed with it, the fruity, sickly aftertaste remained (not as bad as Stevia, but not good either). I suspect it tastes fine in fruit drinks, but definitely not cocoa. Then I came across Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener. It’s a granular substance that looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, but is comprised of a tiny bit of Monk fruit juice mixed together with a whole lot of Erythritol (a scary sounding alias for fermented corn). The name alone almost turned me away, but I felt better after doing some research. Apparently it’s the Great, White Hope of sugar substitutes. You can find it at Whole Foods or online.

Finally, I needed a cocoa richer and tastier than the standard Nestle or Hershey powders typically found in grocery stores: a dark and rich chocolate, but not bitter (I don’t ask for much). The answer was Dutch-processed cocoa. My preference is Cocoa Barry Extra Brute. If you don’t want to order a two pound bag online, many grocery stores carry a wonderful, but more expensive, alternative by Droste.

Yet, something was still missing. I think it was the absense of Cocoa Butter. I needed something to replace its buttery taste. That something was English toffee extract. Amoretti is the gold standard with no alcohol, no chemicals and no artificial flavors or colors. LorAnn makes a great economical alternative.

The result is an all-natural, very dark chocolate loaded with flavonoids and antioxidants – read the 7 Health Benefits of Drinking Hot Cocoa.

If you are looking for a milky, hot cocoa… this isn’t it.

It’s dark. “As dark as your soul,” says my wife, Robyn, “and thick, like your B.S.”  I think it’s like drinking a candy bar.

Best of all, it’s:

  • Sugar-free with no artificial flavors and non-GMO
  • Zero on the glycemic Index
  • Relatively low in calories and fat, with just a few token carbs
  • Gluten, lactose and anchovy-Free
  • Compatible with all the trendy diets: Vegan, Mediterranean and possibly Martian (we won’t know for sure until we discover their ancient ruins). Sorry, it’s not Paleo. I guess cavemen didn’t ferment corn or use state-of-the-art industrial processing facilities.

Dark Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie Hot Cocoa

The four ingredients required for basic dark cocoa are listed above, but if you want to try the chocolate banana cream pie, you will need these, as well :

LorAnn Banana Emulsion. This is a flavoring used by bakers to enhance their creations (it is not sold at your local grocery store, but may be ordered direct from LorAnn or Amazon).

LorAnn Marshmallow Flavoring (an extract without alcohol). Who needs all the sugar and gelatin of real marshmallows. You know where gelatin comes from, right? If you want to have fun with your cocoa, try some of their many other flavorings, from Hazelnut to Cookies and Cream.

Shredded Coconut, Unsweetened.



Here’s the Recipe…

Sugar-Free Dark Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie Hot Cocoa

Zero Sugar, low carbohydrate, low fat, dairy-free, soy-free, non-GMO, Vegan

Course Beverages
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 2 minutes
Total Time 7 minutes
Servings 1
Calories 60 kcal
Author Tim Bjella


  • 1 cup Silk Unsweetened Cashew Milk
  • 2-1/2 T Cocoa Barry Extra Brute or Droste Dutch Cocoa
  • 4 T Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener, Classic
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 drops Amoretti English Toffee Extract (use an eye dropper)
  • 1 glop LorAnn Banana Emulsion (1 glop = 1 giant drop)
  • 5 drops LorAnn Marshmallow Flavoring (use an eye dropper)
  • 1 pinch Nutmeg
  • 1 sprinkle Coconut Shavings


  1. For basic hot cocoa, simply mix the cocoa, sweetener, English toffee extract and salt into the hot cashew milk. 

  2. For hot cocoa with an essence of marshmallow, also include the marshmallow flavoring.

  3. For chocolate, banana cream pie hot cocoa, add all of the ingredients together.

  4. For even richer, sipping chocolate (like drinking a candy bar), add 2 additional tablespoons of cocoa powder and two additional tablespoons of monkfruit sweetener

Recipe Notes

This cocoa is best prepared on a stovetop with a light and loving touch by gently warming the cashew milk until it is ready to accept the subtle nuances of the cocoa (I just nuke it in a microwave).

Don't care for sugar-free? Substitute sugar 1:1 for the sugar-free sweetener, and prepare to toss and turn all night wallowing in your guilt.


Simultaneous Sketching (a New Artform?)

When my son, Beck, was quite little I taught him the fine art of drawing monsters, mostly to show him what was lurking under his bed at night. While sitting on my lap trembling (hey, it was his idea!), we created a whole new concept in artistic teamwork: Simultaneous sketching. One piece of paper and three hands (to be fair, one of mine was tied behind my back). I’ll leave it up to you to determine who contributed what.

I think Beck wandered off during the drawing below, or I hid his pencils, or something):

After the lesson, I nudged, alright shoved, the little bird out of the nest. Here’s his final exam:

Honestly, I’d rather find one of my monsters under the bed than his.

Visualizing a Home Before it’s Too Late – An Example, via a Modern Home Plan

Here’s a plan of a home. Can you tell what the home looks like by looking at the plan? No? I can’t either.

How about the elevation below? Does it help? My answer would be, “a little, but I still don’t really get it.”

Part of my job is to help clients visualize the home I designed for them before it’s built to ensure they are satisfied with my work. Plans and elevations are not enough. These two dimensional representations simply cannot convey the feeling of three dimensional spaces or the impact of the architecture on the site. Virtually walking through the home via a 3d computer model provides a much greater understanding, but does not quite paint the whole picture, either.

But a rendering… now that can capture the essence of a design in an artistic way like nothing else can.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are four thousand:

Raw Computer Model of Proposed House Design
Daytime Rendering
Dusk Rendering
Nighttime Rendering

Throw in a view or two from another perspective, and now you actually understand what you are building.

To this day, it amazes me that the vast majority of homes, even very expensive ones, are built with, at best, a few elevations and a plan. No physical model. No computer model. No renderings. I don’t know how they know what they are getting. Maybe they don’t care.

I Have Seen the Light!

I put in hundreds of lights in every home I design, mostly in the kitchens to accentuate every glorious crumb on the counters, but sometimes in the dungeons, too (occasionally the homeowners want to clean out some of the dank or buff the chains).  My go-to fixtures use halogen, MR16 bulbs because of their gorgeous light quality. But, LED’s are taking over the world, and while they are much more energy efficient, the light quality tends to bluish and sickly, even the supposedly “warm” bulbs. They sometimes make me long for fluorescent. A part of the light spectrum is missing.

I received a new bulb sample today, the Soraa. It set me back $20. But, finally! I have found the holy grail of lighting, an LED light bulb that not only doesn’t make me bilious, but that I can honestly say I like.

If you have any Low Voltage, MR16 light fixtures in your home, I recommend you give these a look (literally).

It Gets Better Than This (But Not Much)

My morning path through the aspens – ‘taint a straight line, dude.

Floating on early morning powder, cutting the first tracks through the trees, my lungs scream for more of that damn, thin air.  I stop to suck in a few cubic yards. Motionless, except for my pounding heart (which is attempting to break through my chest on its way to a nice, comfy sofa), I revel in the moment. All is still and quiet – not the quiet of an absence of sound, but of sound dampened by a thick blanket of snow. You can sense its muffled struggling, but it can’t quite escape.

It occurs to me that this is the antithesis of my daily life. I am alone in an alien world. Not physically, of course (pretty sure I’m still on Earth – plus, there are no slimy creatures trying to claw their way out of my chest… unless … that’s not my heart pounding after all?).

What’s different is the mindset. As an architect, I spend my life meticulously planning, and then meticulously planning what I previously meticulously planned. Here, there is no planning – every move is a reaction to what’s happening this very instant, and the instants pass quickly.

The foreboding entrance to Heaven – keeps out the casual skier (and the sane). It’s their loss.

Here, you literally cannot see the forest for the trees, and those trees come at you awfully fast. You can see the trees immediately ahead, but what’s beyond them cannot be anticipated (except, maybe, by ESP – but I haven’t developed that particular skill beyond knowing who’s likely to steal my piece of cake from the fridge. I’ve got that down pat).

Here, each slight shifting of your skis commits you to an entirely new path with a different set of obstacles, all of them hard and immovable (except the occasional fluffy bunny, but you can’t feel them under your skis anyway). Often you fly around a pine tree, all the while praying there will be a gap large enough to fit through on the other side. Sometimes obstacles lurk beneath the snow [cue ominous music, like the theme from Jaws]. Once, my skis buried themselves under a hidden, snow-covered log. Unwillingly leaving them behind, I gracefully tumbled forward through the air, exactly unlike Baryshnikov. Think Tomahawk Missile. By the time I stopped rolling you could have stuck a top hat and carrot on me and no one would have looked twice.

It’s hard to describe the beauty of this place. Pictures don’t capture the quiet serenity, or how it changes as the sunlight filters through snow crusted branches. Some days the fog rolls in and cuddles you in a cocoon. Sometimes I just stand still and breathe in the essence of the place (ok, I’m really just catching my breath. Cut me some slack).

The Secret Exposed

The powder doesn’t last long enough for us powder hounds. Over time, it morphs into moguls, with trees sprouting up between them. Here’s a little secret, even for non-skiers, because this post isn’t actually about skiing, it’s really about life. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone: Most people try to ski around the moguls and sometimes even attempt to follow a predetermined path between them. This rarely works out well. Moguls need to be tackled head on. Skied around, sometimes, but more often over and through, with the flexibility of a human shock absorber. To ski moguls, just like trees, you can’t plan ahead, you take what comes at you, roll with it and use it to your advantage.

Obstacles vs. Obstacles, What’s the Difference?

We come to a place like this, Steamboat, Colorado, specifically for the challenges, to conquer the obstacles. Sometimes that merely involves tipping a glass at the end of the day without spilling in the hot tub. Some challenges are more worthy than others.

In daily life, our natural tendency is to avoid obstacles. We avoid trees (for very good reason), and we also avoid moguls, without differentiating between the two. But they are very different. One will hurt or even kill you (that’d be the trees, for those of you not paying attention), but the other will add spice and even joy to your life, make you stronger and, hopefully, a better person. Yep, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Never thought much about that saying until now.

Obviously we want to steer clear of trees, but that doesn’t mean staying out of the woods. Embracing life’s challenges makes life worth living. Without challenge there is no failure. Without failure, there is no success. Without success (and the hip bone’s connected to the…). Well, you get the point.

You can’t really know the joy of success unless you personally know failure. Hence my loathing of participation trophies (read about that here).

Embracing obstacles is only half the battle. The other half is how we tackle them. I was once asked why I ski so fast through the trees yet am a veritable turtle on the groomed runs. Isn’t it dangerous? Shouldn’t you go slower? There are two reasons:

Nothing to do on the groomed runs except pose.
Flashback 35 years. The skiing hasn’t changed much, but occasionally they move the trees around, just to keep us on our ski tips.

First, contrary to common sense, it’s safer. In order to maneuver effectively on skis, you need speed. Think about how hard it is to turn the steering wheel when your car is stopped or moving slowly. The same concept applies to both skiing and life. You either snowplow your way around every tree (what’s the point, really) or you push it to your limit. As long as you keep your wits and don’t panic, you’ll be fine (of course, you might want to master a few skills outside of the trees first. Just sayin’). Be loose and flexible. Tense up, and things go downhill quickly 😉 . If you hang in limbo, neither slow enough nor fast enough, you will likely become one with a tree, young grasshopper.

Second, and most important, once you have tasted the powder, trees and moguls (figuratively, I hope – or literally if that’s your thing. Hey, I’m not here to judge), groomed runs no longer excite. They have no obstacles.

Me and Beck – Apparently, it is my job as a parent to teach my kid about life. I cannot imagine a better place. It has both trees and moguls.

Far better it is to dare many things to win glorious triumphs, even checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

 Theodore Roosevelt 1899

Solution to ‘House on an Island – An Architectural Logic Puzzle’

Designing an island home led to this logic puzzle. If you haven’t read the puzzle, follow this link (preferably before reading the solution below).


The ferryman takes the contractor across to the island, leaving him there, alone.

He goes back to the shore and brings the architect across to the island. But instead of leaving the architect and contractor together, he brings the contractor back with him to the shore.

The ferryman then takes the engineer across to the island, leaving him and the architect to swap recipes.

Finally, the ferryman goes back to the shore and takes the contractor across to the island.

All ends well.