Vegan Brownies for Everyone

As many of my longtime readers know, I am a meat-eater who also swings meat-free. I'm hardly a vegetarian in the true sense of the word, but I do without meat, on average, in half of my weekly meals. Some may say I'm an omnivore, but the newfangled term is "flexatarian," referring to someone who eats a semi meat-free diet.

vegan brownies
Vegan, gluten-free brownies that will blow your mind. (Kim O'Donnel)

As evidenced by five years of my monthly vegetarian chat, readers know that I'm hip to new and different ways of cooking traditional dishes, particularly if the revisions are undetectable to our fat-conditioned palates. To wit: Last year during the holidays, I made the discovery of pumpkin pie made with tofu, an amazing, more healthful tweak on a Thanksgiving staple.

In keeping with this theme of delicious food that also happens to be free of animal products, I've got to share a recent dessert discovery. The latest issue of Food and Wine magazine features Baby Cakes NYC, a vegan bakery in New York that I wish I had known about when I was there earlier this summer. What's doubly interesting about this place is that in addition to being vegan (no animal products of any kind), its line up of baked goods is wheat (and gluten)-free.

Among the included recipes, the "Brownie Bites" seemed the most intriguing and challenging to a egg and dairy-based dessert lover such as myself. The words "vegan" and "gluten-free" combined with "brownie" sounded more like "kitchen disaster" to my spoiled palate.

What this means is there would be no eggs, no milk and no butter in my brownies. Oh, and no regular, all-purpose flour, either. Still with me?

Finding dairy-free chocolate was not the problem (if it's labeled "dark chocolate," it's processed without milk), but getting my hands on a reliable gluten-free flour was a new challenge for this gluten-centric baker.

Rather create a mix of gluten-free flours myself (which I had feared), I found a gluten-free, all-purpose flour made by an Oregon company called Bob's Red Mill. A mixture of potato starch, plus flours of garbanzo and fava beans, sorghum and tapioca, the flour is a dream for anyone with wheat allergies or the debilitating celiac disease.

When using this flour, however, you'll need the help of a binder called xanthan gum, which is used to help mimic the stretchy quality of a batter or dough containing gluten. Often seen on labels for commercial salad dressings and ice cream, xanthan gum is made from a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris.

Alright, I know, enough of the long words. What's the verdict, after all?

It was a vegan epiphany of brownie proportions. Baking skeptics, get off the gluten high-horse and join the party. These are delightful little morsels, with a devil's food-like texture and plenty of chocolate richness, particularly from the chips.

I didn't miss the butter, I didn't miss the eggs. And most surprisingly, I didn't miss the gluten.

Brownie Bites
From Food and Wine, September 2006

Vegetable oil spray
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons Bob's Red Mill gluten-free, all-purpose baking flour
½ cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ cup applesauce
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup dairy-free chocolate chips (I used Sunspire brand Organic Semi-Sweet chocolate chips, which are dairy free)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray mini-muffin pan with vegetable oil spray. (KOD note: Use mini-muffin liners if you can find them; they give some shape to end result.)

In a medium bowl, combine baking flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum.

In another bowl, whisk applesauce, oil and vanilla, then stir into dry ingredients.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into muffin tin, filling them three-quarters full. Bake for 15 minutes, or until set.

Allow brownies to cool in pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 15, 2006; 10:44 AM ET  | Category:  Desserts , Gluten Free , Vegetarian
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Have you tried the vegan bakery, Sticky Fingers, in Adams Morgan? They are moving to my neck of the woods, Columbia Heights, in the fall. I'm looking forward to trying them.

Posted by: WDC | August 15, 2006 11:37 AM

Here's another vegan brownie recipe, which can be made with either whole wheat flour or quinoa flour. The beans give it a very nice texture and you can't taste them at all.

Adapted from The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook, by Marjorie Hurt Jones (© 2000)

1/3 cup carob powder
2/3 cup whole wheat flour or quinoa flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon stevia powder (I use NuNaturals Pure Stevia Extract)
2 tablespoons coffee (optional)
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
15 ounce can unseasoned, black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup margarine
6 tbsp. water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 325'F. Coat a 9" x 9" baking pan with cooking spray. In a bowl, whisk the carob powder, flour, baking soda, salt, stevia, and coffee if using. Stir in the nuts if using.

In a food processor, combine the beans, Spectrum Spread, water, and vanilla. Process for 3 minutes, or until very smooth. Pour the bean mixture into the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Batter will be thick.

Spread into prepared pan and smooth with spatula. Bake for 35 to 50 minutes (baking time varies with different ovens), until a toothpick comes out almost clean. Makes 16 servings.

Posted by: Carrie | August 15, 2006 12:15 PM

Kim, a note that not all dark chocolate is dairy-free (some has milk or milkfat as an ingredient and much of it may contain traces of milk). It can be really difficult to find chocolate that is truly dairy-free, but much cocoa powder is. Another very easy way to make vegan brownies that is sadly not gluten-free is simply to take a store bought brownie mix that typically asks for oil, eggs, etc to make the mix and instead simply use one can of pumpkin (not pie filling, just plain pumpkin) with the mix. It takes longer to bake than the directions say, but they are really good and easy for a quick chocolate fix. It's even possible to find mixes that are free of traces of nuts, a huge boon for people with food allergies or those that live with someone with allergies like myself!

Posted by: Mary | August 15, 2006 12:24 PM

Re vegan brownies. What's the point of telling your readers about these delicious brownie and not including the recipe. That would seem to be a no brainer.

Posted by: leigh | August 15, 2006 12:36 PM

Where's the recipe? Pls share!

Posted by: I want to bake! | August 15, 2006 12:52 PM

Please post the recipe or provide a link as my niece has celiacs disease and would love to make these for her. I looked at Food and Wine and couldn't find it.

Posted by: Laura | August 15, 2006 12:56 PM

Where can you buy xanthan gum? And do you think regular old wheat flour would work in this recipe, in the same quantities?

Posted by: Wanna bake, again | August 15, 2006 01:21 PM

Sorry for the earlier blooper of omitting recipe, folks. Now it's up. Re: Xanthan gum: Bob's Red MIll, the brand of all-purpose, gluten-free flour I mentioned, also has xanthan gum in its product line. I bought both at Whole Foods. I've also seen both at My Organic Market in the DC area. Xanthan gum is also available online.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | August 15, 2006 01:35 PM

A plus is that the recipe seems to also be soy free. For the past several years, soy has become ubiquitous in food products in many different forms. This is especially true for vegetarian foods. While soy does have some definite health benefits, I have concern with eating to much of any particular substance. Additionally, some people are allergic to soy. Tasty soy-free, vegetarian recipes are much appreciated.

Posted by: latu | August 15, 2006 01:49 PM

I have to echo the comment that "dark chocolate" is not necessarily dairy-free chocolate - any look at a product from Hershey's that is labelled as "dark chocolate" will confirm that. So even if it's labelled "dark chocolate," still check the label/ingredients list to confirm that there's no dairy present.

Thankfully there are a variety of chocolates out there that are dairy free, and most of those list that on the label under the food allergies comment after the ingredients.

Also, do please check out the local DC vegan bakery, Sticky Fingers (currently located in Dupont, they're moving to Columbia Heights next month). They have been heaven-sent for those of us with dairy allergies/lactose intolerance, and their chocolate cakes/cupcakes are absolutely wonderful. I can't sing their praises enough (and no, I don't work for them).

Posted by: Moose | August 15, 2006 03:38 PM

Thanks to the few of you who wrote in about the dark chocolate note. I agree a clarification is needed here; when I was thinking about dark chocolate, I didn't include Hershey's into my equation. Many artisan and smaller-label chocolates are conscientious about labeling if milk solids are added, and I suppose that is the lesson learned at the end of the day. Check those labels. Many thanks for your comments.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | August 15, 2006 03:41 PM

I'm a Food and Wine subscriber and a vegetarian. I was very glad to see that you had tried this recipe, since I have encountered countless vegan cookie pastry recipes which turn out just awful. Good to know that edible eggless brownies are possible!

I notice that you used sugar rather than the agave syrup called for in the F&W recipe. Was there a particular formula you used for converting?

Posted by: mknru | August 15, 2006 03:56 PM

Mknru, actually, agave is used in the other recipes in that story, not for the brownies. i am hoping, though, to try agave in this recipe and share my experience.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | August 15, 2006 04:08 PM

Would it be possible to use regular flour here instead of gluten free flour + xanthan gum?

THANK YOU so much for all of your vegetarian and vegan recipes!! :)

Posted by: justwondering | August 15, 2006 04:26 PM

Thanks for posting this! My husband cannot eat any wheat or dairy, and I was sorry to give up baking. Is "vanola oil" something special or is it a typo for "canola"? I've never heard of this.

Posted by: KJ | August 15, 2006 05:41 PM

You can also get terrific vegan brownies via DC's Sweet Haven Bakery, which wholesales directly to a range of clients around town. The Post did a feature on them last April. Their chocolate peanut butter bars are a favorite of mine, as well as their cake frosting. Sigh.

Posted by: TM | August 15, 2006 06:36 PM

Egads, no it's not "vanola" oil. Bad typo, bad. Canola oil is what the recipe calls for.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | August 15, 2006 07:43 PM

Ms. O'Donnell,

I'm excited to try this recipe after recently experimenting with "wacky cake" recipes - a vegan chocolate cake invented during the Depression Era. Please, keep the vegan recipes coming!

Posted by: Jason Ketola | August 17, 2006 01:55 PM

Noting Mary's comment about where the labeling on dark chocolate, Sunspire's chips have this clarification: Made in a facility that uses dairy, peanuts, sesame, soy and tree nuts. Not guaranteed gluten-free.

Posted by: Ben | August 21, 2006 08:58 AM

Hi Kim!

Not sure if you already know about - it's a handy website that lets you locate veg and veg-friendly restaurants in NYC. Hope this helps for your next trip in NYC!

Posted by: Patrick Kwan | August 22, 2006 03:38 PM

I think this recipe looks fabulous! I love using other flours in place of gluten ones such as rice flour, almond flour and oat flour, I also use coconut oil in place of margarine & other oils for most of my baking. The stevia is also a great substitution for sugar, i like the sweetleaf brand, their chocolate flavored liquid stevia is delicious in recipes that need a little extra chocoalte flavor & sweetness and the vanilla stevia replaces all vanilla extract in recipes, you get 2 in 1. I haven't baked with eggs, white flour or sugar in over a year and I don't miss a thing, cookies actually taste better with coconut oil! And you feel better knowing you made a healthier version of your favorite treat:)Thanks for sharing your recipe. Oh coconut milk, raw cocoa powder, ice, and vanilla stevia make the perfect chocolate milk shakes!

Posted by: rosa | August 22, 2006 05:04 PM

All of the ingredients in this recipe are available at my Wegman's in Fairfax. You just have to look patiently to find agave, e.g. It won't jump out at you.
And soon the new Whole Foods will open in Fairfax as well.

Posted by: KittyDuke | August 25, 2006 03:49 PM

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