Those in my close inner circle can count on me for two things: always cooking up something new and healthy, and the ability to eat copious amounts of chocolate. Usually these aren’t happening at the same time. Sure, I have a handful of less-guilty indulgences tagged as “anytime treats” in my repertoire, but most of the time when a friend asks me for a sinfully good dessert recipe that’s on the healthier side, I find myself drawing a blank. Because most of the time, when I decide to bake something, I go all out with real butter, sugar, and flour – and make sure I have plenty of people to share with. Obviously that was the case with The Rice Krispie Treats I showed you last week.
So what happens if I really want to make something “just because”? Just because it’s a random weeknight and I want something cake-y, chewy and chocolate-y just because it’s good. Not because I’m going to a baby shower or a cookie swap or a dinner party. I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that there are tons of bloggers constantly making incredibly tempting snacks and desserts free of refined sugars and white flours, and full of healthier fats, more nutritious flours, and vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables used in clever ways. (I’m not talking about recipes that are just “less bad” for you because of a couple “healthier” substitutions – I’m talking about sweet treats that actually have nutritional value!) I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a huge folder of these recipes bookmarked. But for whatever reason – lack of time and energy, worrying that the end result won’t be worth the effort and ingredients – I’m rarely motivated to actually try them out myself.
But recently, the stars aligned as I came upon a squeaky clean brownie recipe that I actually had all the ingredients for. Additionally, it was simple enough to throw together that it wouldn’t be a huge waste of time if they didn’t satisfy my chocolate craving. However, I had high hopes of not running into that problem because of one particular ingredient: almond meal.
You might remember my post about the Best Brownies Ever, which I shared in my Passover Prep Series last Spring. You won’t find any grains in these brownies. That’s why they’re great for Passover, or sharing with my gluten-free friends. In my family we all agree that these are far better than any other kosher-for-Passover brownie we’ve tried, and in fact, better than almost all brownies we’ve eaten. The secret is the almond meal. Using finely ground almonds in place of any sort of flour results in a sinfully rich, decadently moist chocolate brownie that is guaranteed to leave you thinking, “Celiac disease or Judaism? Bring it on! I wouldn’t miss a thing.”
Similarly, this brownie recipe that caught my eye contained almond meal, and plenty of cocoa. But that’s where the similarities end. Where the first recipe was packed with butter and sugar, this one is naturally tender and sweet from dates, applesauce, pumpkin, and maple syrup. It originally called for brown rice flour, but because brownies are one of the more forgiving baked goods when it comes to gluten-free ingredients, I substituted a mix of sorghum flour and peanut flour to throw in some extra fiber and protein. Chickpea flour might be another good choice, or whole wheat pastry flour if you aren’t worried about gluten or a few extra grams of carbohydrates.
To answer the most important question: did they truly satisfy my chocolate craving despite being low-fat, sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan? (yup- they are free of dairy and eggs too, I forgot to mention that!) The answer is a resounding YES. You all know that there are very few things the husband and I consider so rich or sweet that we actually need to slow down to eat them, but that’s how we both felt about these brownies! Not in a bad way, of course. Nuh uh. I mean it in a very good way – so good that I made them two weeks in a row so we could eat them for dessert night after night. They are everything a brownie should be: moist, chewy, and super-duper chocolatey, with the added bonus of supplying good fats, vitamins and minerals, and a couple grams of fiber. Simply put, they make you feel good, long after the taste sensation leaves your mouth. They are the total opposite of what I’ve always wished brownies were not: sugar-high inducing devils with way more fat and calories than seems right to shove into such a small space. Not to say I’ll never eat one of those again, I sure will! But just because I want to treat myself to something sinfully delicious doesn’t mean I can’t do my body good at the same time.
Squeaky Clean Fudge Brownies (Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Vegan)
Adapted from Clean Start: Inspiring You to Eat Clean and Live Well with 100 New Clean Food Recipes, by Terry Walters
8 pitted dates (56gm)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup (30gm) sorghum flour*
1/4 cup (30gm) peanut flour*
1/2 cup (60gm) almond meal
1/2 cup (40gm) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (80gm) pumpkin puree
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350ºF and line an 8×8″ baking dish with parchment paper. Place the dates in a bowl and cover with piping hot water. Let sit while you measure out the remaining ingredients.
Weigh the dry ingredients (sorghum flour through salt) into a bowl and whisk together.
Place the applesauce, pumpkin, maple syrup, and vanilla extract to the bowl of a food processor. Drain the dates and add these as well. Process until smooth, about 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Pour the dry ingredients into the food processor bowl and process to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl if necessary. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish, smoothing into an even layer with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 27-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool thoroughly before slicing.
Servings Per Recipe: 9
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat: 4.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 180.6 mg
Total Carbs: 23.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.3 g
Protein: 4.0 g
*1/4 cup rice flour, all-purpose flour, or whole wheat pastry flour may be substituted for either the sorghum or peanut flour (or use 1/2 cup to replace both) if you don’t need a gluten-free recipe. I do not have a gluten-intolerance, but I sometimes like to bake with different kinds of flours anyway, because they are usually higher in fiber and less processed.
Update, 2/1/2011: As soon as I made these, I couldn’t wait to share them with Amy for her Slightly Indulgent Tuesday Feature on Simply Sugar and Gluten Free. This is a wonderful feature that Amy does, and it’s always a source of inspiration for me.