Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Great Vegan Brownie Experiment

Vegan Brownie Trio
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
Somewhere out there is the great vegan brownie. I know, because I've had one in the past, and for years my friend Kristen and I have been talking about trying to replicate it. When I heard about the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try out more recipes. I didn't sell the brownie experiments, but I think everyone trying one learned something about what goes into a vegan baked good.

What is the perfect vegan brownie? It should be dense, fudgy, and not too obviously out of the ordinary - no weird aftertastes or textures. I'm not sure I got there with the three recipes I tried, but I have made some definite observations that I can share with you, and apply the next time around.

The interesting ingredients used in vegan baking
What goes into a vegan baked good? There has to be a replacement for the eggs and butter, and some vegans don't use refined sugar (some recipes did, some didn't). This is an array of the products I bought to use in the recipes, which were used in various combinations. Coconut oil is nice to have on hand because it is solid at room temperature, which few oils accomplish, and particularly in the raw vegan brownie, it added a lot to the texture. The container is full of dates, and I saw several recipes with dates or prunes in them. I didn't end up using a recipe with xantham gum in it, but now that I have it, I need to find a recipe with it in it to try.

Vegan Brownie Experiment #1
Vegan Brownie #1

This was the most straight-forward recipe, using applesauce in place of fat, and a flax powder and water combination to replace the eggs. It had a nice fudgy texture, but ended up being the least favorite of the group (I brought the three batches in for tasting by the library). I blame the lack of nuts and the very present taste of the applesauce.

I Can't Believe They're Not Sinful Brownies
from Sinfully Vegan by Lois Dieterly

1 1/3 cups granulated sweetener
3/4 cup applesauce (preferably organic)
2 tbsp water
2 tsp flax powder
1/2 cup water
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat an 8x8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Stir together granulated sweetener, applesauce, and 2 tbsp water in a medium size bowl. In a small cup, mix flax powder with 1/2 cup water. Add to applesauce mixture and stir to combine. Add vanilla to this mixture.
3. In another small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Add applesauce mixture to flour mixture. Stir just to combine and pour into prepared pan.
4. Bake for 40 minutes for chewy brownies.
5. Allow to cool before serving.

Vegan Brownie Experiment #2
Vegan Brownie #2

This is the brownie I was honestly the most skeptical about. It is completely raw, meaning it is never baked or cooked on the stove. The brownie part is made from ground nuts, dates, and cocoa powder, and the icing has avocados, coconut oil, agave, and cocoa powder. After I'd mixed everything together in the food processor, I wasn't sure I wanted to taste it either! I did warn people when tasting that this one would be the hardest to wrap their heads around, and wasn't surprised to see faces like this:
Unsure taster

I love my co-workers for being willing to try all of my crazy experiments. But a funny thing happened. While my husband declared the icing to be the "worst thing he had ever tasted," there were five people in the library who declared Vegan Brownie Experiment #2 to be their favorite. Of particular interest was the icing, and really between the avocado and coconut oil, it was smooth and shiny and nice on the tongue. The taster shown above wanted to have the raw icing on Brownie #3, which he felt would be the winning combination. One of the librarians wondered what would happen if I tried figs instead of dates, and idea I am intrigued by and hope to try soon. The picture looks a little frosty because you throw the pan in the freezer to set it up and make it easier for slicing, but that step isn't necessary.

One of the benefits to vegan baking is that the nutritional content is more positive than a regular brownie recipe. Ironically the raw recipe had the highest fat content, but all the fat came from whole foods (avocado, coconut, walnuts), so it is arguable as to whether that is a bad thing.

Raw Vegan Brownies
Recipe found on

1 cup walnuts
1 cup dates (I assumed dried)
1/4 cup cocoa powder

2 avocados
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
dash salt
dash cinnamon

1. Food process the brownie ingredients until blended and dry chunky.
2. Press into a small pan.
3. Put all icing ingredients into blender and blend on high until smooth.
4. Spread icing over brownies and pop in freezer to set for 1 hour, then cut and put in snack-sized baggies (I popped them into cupcake liners).

Vegan Brownie Experiment #3
Brownie #3

This brownie was the favorite of my co-workers among the three experiments, because of the texture, flavor, and crunchy walnut pieces. It was what I would call "almost" fudgy - more spongy than fudgy really.

Ultra-Fudgy Fudge Brownies
from Vegan Vittles by Joanne Stepaniak

3/4 cup (1/2 of a 10.5 oz package) lite silken tofu
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder or roasted carob powder
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I used AP flour)
1 cup unbleached cane sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2-1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mist an 8x8x2 glass baking pan with non-stick cooking spray and set it aside.
2. Place the tofu, water, maple syrup, carob or cocoa powder, oil and vanilla extract in a blender, and process until completely smooth.
3. Place the remaining ingredients, except the walnuts, in a medium-sized mixing bowl, and stir them together until they are well combined.
4. Pour the blended mixture into the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, and stir them until they are well combined. Fold in the walnuts.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool, cut, and serve.

This is not the end of the vegan brownie experiments. There is a baked version with prunes that I want to try from The Millennium Cookbook, and I want to try just using egg replacer in a more standard brownie recipe to see if that makes a difference. I do feel like I learned a lot, and hope you did too!

Categories: Brownies, Chocolate, Vegan


Michele said...

I love this post and thank you for trying out all these recipes and sharing your results. I make many vegan meals, but want to start making more vegan desserts.

Lori said...

You are brave. I hope you find the recipe you are looking for.

Hilary said...

What a great post! I'm not vegan but I would love to try these just for the heck of it. second one best? No offense to the bBut seriously, some people liked theaker and all offense to the recipe - it actually looks a little scary! 1 and 3 would be my choices - based on looks alone :)

Unknown said...

i have a good friend who eats only salads when we go out because she is allergic to almost everything. i'm pretty sure she can have these -- can't wait to try.

Kristen - 2ndgenlibrarian said...

I think I'm going to make the Millenium Cookbook brownies this weekend for a party and not tell people. They won't be quite vegan cause I'm not buying soy milk just for this.

Unknown said...

Ha, I feel that way about the maple syrup. I bought the dried prunes for it but not the syrup, so I still haven't made them.