I have always loved chocolate and desserts and was baking brownies (albeit in an Easy Bake Oven) long before I could boil water. I have also eaten many brownies in my life ranging in quality from mediocre to bad and subsequently felt thoroughly disappointed by what I had hoped would be a perfect ending to my meal.
Why can't people get these right? I think the main answer to this question is that too many people make brownies using a store-bought mix. I'll admit that I've made brownies from a box before myself, but I'll also admit that they were never quite as good as making them from scratch.
Like most baked goods, the ingredients in a brownie recipe are pretty basic. Most people who bake on any sort of regular basis, even if it's just once a year for Christmas cookies, could probably throw together the ingredients for a basic brownie from baking supplies sitting in their cupboard. Alas, I realize that I'll never win the battle against boxed baked goods, but I still want to pass along 2 lessons that I've learned about brownies:
1) Even the most basic brownie recipe that you make from scratch tastes way better than any brownie mix, and
2) For the most part, any brownie that you make at home from scratch will be better for you than a brownie that you buy premade at the grocery store.
I'd also like to challenge the myth that there is no such thing as a healthy brownie. While any brownie that you make is never going to be as healthy as eating a cup of nonfat yogurt, that's not really the point, is it? For me, the reality is that I like (OK, love) brownies, and that I'm going to want to eat one from time to time. Why not remove the guilt and bake something that satisfies your chocolate craving but doesn't leave you feeling like you fell off the healthy-eating wagon? I really hate guilty eating, and I feel like it does way more harm than good to your overall health and well-being.
I have been searching for the holy grail of healthy brownie recipes for a while, and most of them cut some of the butter (or switch to vegetable oil alternatives) and use cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate. While that might be a good start, it's still completely based on the traditional recipe and removes ingredients rather than re-imagining them. The recipe that you'll find below doesn't just subtract butter; it's a radical reassessment of what ingredients should make up a brownie recipe.
To start with, these brownies gluten-free. One of my best friends can't eat gluten and has a great blog about eating and cooking without gluten in her daily life. She moved to DC from NYC this weekend, and so these brownies are partly in honor of her arrival. In addition, these brownies contain a couple rogue ingredients: a can of black beans and a banana. These are ingredients that you might want to keep to yourself when serving them to friends and family, at least at first.
People tend to prejudge desserts, especially traditional favorites like brownies, that vary from the standard butter-sugar-flour-chocolate-egg recipe. There's a widely-held notion that desserts are supposed to be your "guilty pleasure," and that you eat them even if you know they're bad for you and then just atone for it later. Now I was raised Catholic, but the last thing that I want to have to atone for is eating a delicious brownie. And these are honestly delicious and extremely easy to make.
These brownies are moist and rich (very similar to fudge), with chunks of chocolate and walnuts mixed into the batter to give them great texture. I can promise that you will not taste the black beans in these, though you might detect a hint of banana (which I think goes really well with chocolate). I loosely based these on a Flourless Brownie recipe I found, which I infused with Ina Garten's flavor additions from her Outrageous Brownie recipe. Ina is the Queen of Flavor, and while also perhaps being the Queen of Butter, she really understands how to enhance the flavor of the most important ingredients in a recipe. I added the banana to this recipe to provide richness and sweetness to the brownies without adding extra butter and sugar, and I used light agave nectar instead of refined sugar.
Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook that I picked up from the DC Library last week. Agave nectar is 25% sweeter than sugar and has a low glycemic index to prevent a spike in blood sugar. My biggest problem with desserts often has to do with the way that refined sugar makes me feel, and switching to agave nectar definitely helps with that.
Toasted walnuts and chocolate chips are classic brownie ingredients, though I may experiment with this recipe further and give peanut butter or toasted pecans a try in the future.
Chocolate Fudge Walnut Brownies (Gluten-Free)
*You can generally find instant coffee at the grocery store, and I use the kind they carry at Trader Joe's. It does not make the brownies taste like coffee, but rather brings out the true flavor of the chocolate. It's a tip that I picked up from Ina Garten, and it really does make a difference.
**You might want to check to make sure that these are gluten-free if you're cooking for someone with an allergy. The chocolate chips I used, also from Trader Joe's, stated on the package that they were gluten-free.
I promise that you will really feel like you're indulging by eating this dessert, but you definitely shouldn't feel guilty about it.
I cut these into 12 brownie squares. Here are the nutrition facts for each brownie.
|Vitamin A 1%||•||Vitamin C 2%|
|Calcium 3%||•||Iron 9%|