Chef AJ’s 30 Day Challenge Ball-Off Results and Recipes

I had the honor of being a Guest Judge at the 30 Day Challenge Ball-Off. If you hadn’t heard of a ball-off before (neither had I), it is a competition where all participants are challenged to create the most perfect healthy “ball”. Because the challenge is based on eating a whole food, plant-centered diet depleted of processed foods (specifically sugar, oil, salt and flour), these balls mostly consisted of dried fruits, nuts, coconut, cacao, flax and hemp seeds.

Luckily, many people were up for the challenge and there ended up being 19 different samples to judge that evening. Mind you, these balls are rich in flavor, calories, fat, sweetness. And I have completely lost my palate for this type of food product, so this was rather challenging for me, as a judge. But, along with 5 other brave and fine-palated judges, I had an incredibly fun time participating! The balls were all very different, ranging in texture, density, and flavor. The criteria for judgement included creativity, taste and appearance.

And the winners were (drum roll, please)….

1st place: Michelle Wolf with a creatively named, and perfectly textured concoction called Chocolate Hazelnut Gianduia Truffles, a truly inspired creation with a surprise in the middle.

2nd place: Brenda Cohen with her Almond Overjoy Balls 

3rd place: Deborah Snider with Nanna Balls (which was actually both my favorite as well as the audiences)

And now for the recipes:
Michelle Wolf’s Chocolate Hazelnut Gianduia Truffles

Background Story:
At the age of sixteen, I had the unique opportunity to take a student trip to Europe. While the museums and architecture were feasts for the eyes, the cuisine was a feast for the taste buds. During our stay in Rome, my friends and I discovered a new love, named gelato, and proceeded to dine on this rich Italian ice cream six times per day! One of my favorite flavors was Gianduia(pronounced: zhahn-DOO-yuh) which was a blend of chocolate and hazelnut. The memory of this delicious flavor was my inspiration for the “Chocolate Hazelnut Gianduia Truffles” that I created for Chef AJ’s Ball-off competition.

(Pronunciation: zhahn-DOO-yuh)

Yield: 25 truffles

1-1/2 cups raw hazelnuts, divided
18 (or more for added sweetness) Deglet Noor pitted dates soaked overnight in unsweetened chocolate almond milk.
2 Tablespoons Ultimate brand Raw Cacao Powder (for dark chocolate flavor)
Alcohol-free Vanilla Extract (optional)
Alcohol-free Almond Extract (optional)

1. Place 1/2 cup of hazelnuts into the food processor and process until ground into coarse powder. Place into a bowl and set aside. (To be used later to coat the outside of the truffles.)
2. Place remaining 1 cup of hazelnuts into the food processor and process until ground into coarse powder.
3. Add cacao powder and the soaked dates (without excess soaking liquid). To enhance the subtle flavor blend, you can try adding 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract. Process until the mixture becomes a thick paste.
4. Remove by rounded teaspoon and place a whole hazelnut into the center of the chocolate nut mixture. Roll in palm of hands to form small round balls approximately 1-inch in diameter. (To avoid sticking, slightly wet palms of hands before rolling each ball.)
5. Roll each ball in bowl of ground hazelnuts until outside is even coated.
6. Place into container and store in freezer until ready to serve.

Definition (provided by the Nut Gourmet, Zel Allen, a fellow judge and co-publisher of Vegetarians in Paradise, a monthly online magazine that everyone must subscribe to):
Gianduia is the name given to a European style of chocolate made from chocolate and nut paste. Hazelnut paste is most common, but gianduia can also be made with almond paste. It comes in milk or dark chocolate varieties. Alternate Spelling: Gianduja

2nd Prize Recipe: Brenda Cohen’s Almond Overjoy Balls 

Background Story:

Well I used to love candy and I was trying to make something similar to an old favorite and that would appeal to a lot of people. I thought about putting an almond in the middle, but didn’t. Just like the commercial used to say……”sometimes you feel like a nut”


2 cups raw almonds
¼ cup raw cacao powder
2 cups pitted deglet noor dates
¼ cup raw shredded coconut (macaroon cut)
½ cup golden raisins
1 Tbsp alcohol-free vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract (or to taste)
Equal parts cacao and shredded coconut for rolling

In a food processor fitted with the “S” blade, process the almonds until they are almost nut butter consistency. Add cacao powder and process again until fully incorporated. Add dates and process again until mixture almost comes together. Add coconut and process again until thoroughly combined. Add raisins and extracts until the mixture will stick together and form a ball if rolled (clumped) in your hand. Roll into balls, and then roll in cacao & coconut mixture. Enjoy!

3rd Prize Recipe: Deborah Snider’s Nanna Balls

Background Story:

When I am in the mood for something sweet with a creamy texture these nutritious frozen treats really satisfy. Delicious as any fatty ice cream bon-bon, the ingredients are all whole and good for me. 

Sliced bananas (frozen solid on cookie trays)
chopped pistachios – placed on wide dinner plate or cookie sheet

Chocolate coating:
AJ’s FUNdue 
1 cup peanut butter (no salt or sugar)
1 cup date paste
1/2 cup raw cacao powder (1/4 cup more for less sweet dip)
3/4 cup non-dairy milk (less liquid for thicker mixture)
1 T alcohol-free vanilla extract
1/4 t caramel extract

Blend all ingredient in food processor with S-blade until completely smooth
When bananas are completely frozen, roll them in AJ’s FUNdue – it is easier to coat bananas right out of the freezer, so just remove a few at a time to coat. ( If they start to melt they get slick and are hard to coat.) Immediately roll the coated bananas in chopped pistachio and return to freezer for complete freezing.

Thank you so much to the contestants for sharing their recipes. These are all great choices when you are entertaining and want to offer individual-sized desserts. They are also healthy options for kids’ lunchboxes, adult lunches, and for an on-the-go treat. They are filled with nutrition that will also keep you satisfied and curb any sugar cravings. Keep them frozen for last minute, ready-to-go bites of heaven!

2016-11-29T15:12:21+00:00May 12th, 2010|Press|