Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Guilt-free less brownies

For the past few weeks I've been fixated on brownies.

It all started because of my church assignment to teach food preservation and emergency preparedness classes. A couple months ago my mother-in-law and I taught an evening cooking seminar called "Wheat 101" about the nutritional value of whole wheat, how to grind flour at home, baking bread, and a few other cooking-with-wheat tips and tricks. It was so popular, I decided to do a "Wheat 102", which I taught two weeks ago. The whole idea was to present fun ways to use wheat in every-day cooking, so as to keep food storage rotating regularly. We had one presenter who did a wheatgrass display, one who showed how to steam wheat and use cracked or puffed wheat, and I demonstrated making whole wheat brownies and pizza crust.

I do homemade wheat pizza crust all the time, but I had never baked whole wheat brownies. I figured it couldn't be too difficult, so I found a couple of recipes online to try and... whoah! Maybe the rest of the whole wheat-eating world just has apallingly low standards, because the first two recipes I tried were nasty: dry, crumbly, flavorless, and completely lacking the fudgy goodness so essential to an acceptable brownie. With only a couple days to go before my class, I started panicking. I needed a really tasty recipe, or I would have a hard time selling people on the concept of making every-day recipes with food storage items.

Thank goodness for Google; I found some great suggestions for changing the consistency of the brownies which helped me to understand the chemistry behind the undesirable results I had produced so far. With a bit more tweaking, I finally arrived at the recipe below on my third try. In all humility, I think it's actually better than brownies from a box, even the Hershey's Triple Chocolate Chunk mix you can buy in bulk at Costco. These whole wheat brownies have passed both the picky husband and picky teenager tests. You'll never notice the extra fiber hiding inside all that moist, rich fudginess! Oh, and if you want a non-stop one-way ticket to a diabetic coma, you can also frost them.

Fudgy Whole Wheat Brownies

1 cup vegetable oil
2¼ cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, plus two egg yolks
2/3 cup unsweetened dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl add the sugar to the oil and stir to combine. Stir in the vanilla and eggs until mixed thoroughly.
3. In another mixing bowl, sift together the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and flour. Stir into the bowl with the wet ingredients until smooth, then add the nuts and chips, again stirring until smooth. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
4. Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The brownies should feel set on the edges and in the center. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack before cutting and serving.
5. Frost if desired (see recipe below). Makes two dozen 2-inch brownies.

Chocolate Frosting

1 stick (½ cup) butter
2/3 cup unsweetened dutch process cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Melt butter in a small sauce pan (or in a glass mixing bowl in the microwave—on high for 30 seconds).
2. Stir in cocoa.
3. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency.
4. Add more milk, if needed.
5. Stir in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups of frosting.

So... it was all well and good until my friend Debbie, who was attending the seminar, and who also happens to be diabetic, piped up and asked, "Do you have a recipe for sugar-free brownies?"

In the two weeks since, I've attempted four different batches of sugar-free brownies, which gradually evolved from a recipe I found on Splenda's website. The trickiest thing about cooking with Splenda is it has completely different chemical properties than sugar, and in baked goods especially, it tends to dry things out. The original recipe was for Butterscotch Brownies, but with my first batch I tweaked it by omitting the butterscotch chips and pecans, substituting whole wheat flour, and adding unsweetened cocoa. Success? Nope: dry, grainy and crumbly.

For the next incarnation, I added extra egg yolks (the secret ingredient which helped my whole wheat brownies to be so fudgy), as well as some sugar-free chocolate pudding, to try and combat the crumbly, dry texture. Unfortunately, between the pudding and extra yolks, I wound up with something similar to chocolate soufflé. On my third attempt, I omitted the eggs altogether. Better, but still too oily and gooey (without being fudgy).

Today I finally got it right. I cut back the pudding and the oil by half, and the result was a moist brownie with a rich chocolate flavor. Not as fudgy as I tend to like them but still pretty darn good for sugar-free.

Sugar-free Brownies

1 cup cold milk
half of a 1.4-oz package of sugar-free instant chocolate pudding mix (about 1/6 cup)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup Splenda
¼ cup dutch process baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine flour, Splenda, cocoa, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; set aside.
3. Combine pudding mix, milk, oil and vanilla in a large mixing bowl with a wire whisk. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
4. Bake in greased 9" x 9”pan for 25 to 30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Now I have the brownie bug out of my system, I'm free to move on and obsess about something really important—like whether I should color my hair for my 20-year class reunion this summer...

1 comment:

aubrey said...

yum, katie. yum. wow. i am really craving some of these now. thanks for doing all the hard work! ;)