If there’s one thing I learned from my mom and grandma, it’s that “diet food” can taste really good. Sure, I regularly tout the benefits of real, wholesome foods, but I’m not going to apologize for the fact that I will still lick the bowl when it comes to boxed chocolate cake layered with sugar-free chocolate pudding and sugar-free whipped chemicals topping. If your taste buds and tummy still love that stuff on occasion too, don’t worry: this is a judgement-free zone.

Throughout the year I still make plenty of “diet” desserts but they are for a different kind of diet. Not one consumed with trying to eat the lowest number of calories or grams of fat, but one concerned with longevity and good health. And to get there, we need to natural, minimally-processed foods that not only nourish our palettes but provide essential nutrients like good fats, fiber, and antioxidants. And still, my “diet food” tastes really darn good.

You see those brownies up there? The ones that look undeniably moist and fudgy, and so decadently rich and chocolatey that they must be “bad” for you? This is just the kind of dessert I’m talking about. Perhaps you already guessed what comes next: these brownies are not only gluten-free, but grain-free, dairy-free, and free of refined sugar. And trust me when I say you won’t miss those things one bit, because this is most definitely one of the best chocolate desserts I’ve ever made. Well deserved after three tries, I must add.

Actually, there’s two most important things I learned from my mom and grandma. The second is never to pass up a good deal. But of course, only on things I actually need, or would use. So when California Walnuts tweeted out to bloggers looking to cook with walnuts, I wasn’t about to pass that up.

Walnuts are already a favorite in our house because, well, they taste good. A great walnut is truly almost buttery. But let’s not forget what I learned when researching walnuts for my Love Your Heart heart-healthy recipes event in February: Walnuts have the highest omega-3 content of all nuts, and are a favorite among dieticians for their lipid-lowering, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

I found the fresh California walnuts to be less bitter and more creamy than other grocery store varieties I’ve bought (who knows how old those things are?) and decided they would be the perfect base for a batch of grain-free brownies. But not just any brownies. Thanks to some other new recipes I’ve been working on, I’ve determined that chocolate with coffee and cinnamon is my favorite flavor du jour, and naturally the direction to go with these brownies. If you’ve never tried it, you’re in for a true out-of-this world chocolate experience. I’m talking about about a true chocogasm.

Trust me, I know my chocolate.

These brownies don’t require any grains to create their moist and fudgy crumb, and though they lack any butter or oil, they are quite the opposite of of dry, thanks to a silky puree of dates and maple syrup. Of course, these also serve to sweeten the brownies, along with a smidge of stevia, so we can get away without any added sugar. If I may say a few things about stevia, because I know plenty of people who are still hesitant:

  • It is all-natural – whatever you do, please don’t group it in with the wides class of zero-calorie sweeteners comprised of artificial substitutes like aspartame and sucralose
  • It is easy to find. I make it easy for you to buy!
  • Brand matters. Some are much better tasting than others. If you’ve tried one kind and hated it, don’t write it off altogether.
  • How you use it matters. I don’t love stevia in my coffee, but I find it works in plenty of recipes.
  • It’s most successful when used with other sweeteners.

And this, you guys, is definitely one of the best recipes you can start with to whet your stevia palette. Thanks to the strong flavors like cinnamon and coffee, and additional sweeteners like dates and maple syrup, there is absolutely no hint of any bitter aftertaste that people claim from stevia; rather, the small amount just intensifies what’s already there.

Phew. Now that we’ve got that covered, I’m heading back to my chocolate… where you can only imagine what fun times my taste buds are having. Until you go ahead and make these yourself.

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Coffee Cinnamon Walnut Brownie Cake

Yield: 12 servings

If you haven't paired chocolate with cinnamon and coffee, you're missing out. Enjoy this just-sweet-enough moist and fudgy cake - you won't believe it's grain-free and dairy-free too!

Note: this recipe has been tried in both a 9" pie plate and a 8" square pan. In the larger pan, the recipe produces a dense, fudgy brownie. In the smaller pan, the batter rises more and produces a lighter, more cake-like brownie.


1 cup dates (140 gm)
boiling water
2 3/4 cup (256 gm) walnuts
2 eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup date soaking water
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure powdered stevia extract*
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder

*If you have stevia packets, this is equivalent to 8 packets. For all other sweeteners, use equivalent to 1/3 cup sugar.


Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Place dates in a small bowl and pour enough boiling water over the dates to cover them. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Place walnuts in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Process until a soft nut butter forms, about 2-3 minutes.

Remove the dates from the water with a slotted spoon and add to the food processor. (Reserve the water.) Process for 1-2 minutes, until a smooth paste forms, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Add eggs and process again to incorporate, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. The mixture will be smooth and light. Add maple syrup, 1/2 cup reserved date soaking water, espresso powder, cinnamon, vanilla extract salt, and stevia. Process for another minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl once.

Lastly, add the cocoa powder and baking powder, and again process for about one minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.

Spray a 8 or 9" square baking dish or a standard pie dish with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the baking dish and smooth into an even layer. Bake for 32-34 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Nutrition Facts:

Amount Per Serving
Calories 219.3
Total Fat 15.4 g
Saturated Fat 1.6 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 10.2 g
Monounsaturated Fat 2.2 g
Cholesterol 30.8 mg
Sodium 143.0 mg
Potassium 202.5 mg
Total Carbohydrate 18.8 g
Dietary Fiber 3.5 g
Sugars 12.0 g
Protein 5.1 g

Cara Lyons, www.carascravings.com

California Walnuts provided me with a sample of walnuts to try out in my recipes. There was no compensation or requirement for a blog post. Opinions are my own and the recipe developed was purely for my own enjoyment.