Friday, January 15, 2010

Chocolate-Almond Brownies

I decided to make brownies to take to a gathering this evening. But wow... once I started looking at recipes and blog posts, I realized that the brownie is like the [insert perfect French phrase here--I'm sure there is one] of vegan baking. That is, the perfect vegan brownie is sort of a mark of competence. Everyone wants to make them. Everyone has a recipe. How to decide?

I knew I didn't want to make brownies with tofu or beans or anything weird in them. I ended up starting with the recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking because it seemed pretty basic. Having made many of the recipes in this book, however, I knew that the author tends to put a great deal more sugar in her recipes than I would, so I reduced the sugar by 33% (but then increased it a bit). I also used Zulka sugar, this less-refined-looking sugar that's made in Mexico, because it looked like it would be better in baking than turbinado sugar, and it wasn't any more expensive than the normal refined white sugar ($1.59 for 2 lbs at Jons). There also wasn't any fat in the recipe besides in the chocolate chips and the negligible amount in some flaxseed, so I un-substituted some of the recipe's applesauce for buttery-tasting corn oil (people typically go the other direction to reduce the fat).

Having worked in more than one bakery-cafĂ©, I’m also aware that nuts in brownies are a contentious issue. But as I like nuts, and as I wanted to avoid winding up with a textureless glop of chocolate in a pan, I went for nuts (also for the sake of texture, I subbed whole wheat flour for 25% of the white flour). Slivered almonds were what I had, so I toasted and chopped them. I’m not sure if toasting improved the flavor and texture of some rather sad nuts, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. Since I was adding almonds, I also added a bit of almond extract.

In the end, this brownie needed a little more sugar to taste as chocolatey as it should (cf. Chocolate-Coconut Muffins). The texture, after only 35 minutes of baking, was very moist but not gooey (i.e., it was "cakey"). Despite the lack of eggs, the brownies held together and came easily out of the pan, and the edges were slightly chewy. 1 c of nuts ended up being a lot, and I would use less next time. The recipe has been adjusted to address these changes. Also, this recipe was a bit more complicated than it needed to be. Although it asks for you to mix water and flaxseed separately before adding it to the other wet ingredients, there is so much more water than flaxseed that this is something of a moot point. Overall, I'm quite happy with how this brownie turned out.

Chocolate-Almond Brownies
(adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking)

1 1/4 c sugar
½ c unsweetened applesauce
¼ c corn oil
generous ½ c water
2 tsp ground flaxseed
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
1 c white flour
1/3 c whole wheat flour
¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 c semisweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped dark eating chocolate
1/2-1 c almonds, toasted (optional) and coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350*. Oil an 8x8 baking dish.
2. In a large bowl, combine ingredients sugar through almond extract. In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir just enough to mix.
3. Pour into baking dish. Bake 35-40 minutes (depending on your oven, and on your preference for gooey or cakey brownies).

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