Monday, February 08, 2010
Best Vegan Brownies
Nearly a decade ago, I briefly considered going vegan. And it pretty much began and ended with a pan of brownies. I don't remember the ideological tipping point, but I do remember buying a round of vegan groceries to prepare for this new phase. I found a recipe for vegan brownies, blitzed some silken tofu in the food processor, and set out to prove that vegan desserts could be delicious. The resulting brownies were terrible. So terrible that when my housemate ate some, she didn't ask what was wrong with the brownies. She just asked what were those? The tofu created a gelatinous texture, so that they weren't even identifiable as members of the brownies species. Just some bouncy, chocolate-soy concoction. Terrible. On my next shopping trip, I bought some butter.
To be fair, I'm something of a snob when it comes to brownies. I like them dense and fudgey, and full of deep chocolate flavor. No soy aftertaste, no dry cakiness. Just brownies. With a dairy-free boyfriend and a handful of vegan friends, I've certainly experimented with my share of butter-free baking. I've found delicious vegan chocolate cookies, and a sophisticated dairy-free olive oil rosemary cake. But brownies have remained off the menu. At their fudgey best, brownies are essentially just butter, eggs and chocolate, with a bit of flour to bind and sugar to sweeten. How do you veganize that?
Amazingly, there's a way. The secret to great vegan brownies? Vegan ice cream! Some pioneering vegan had the brilliant idea to melt some vegan ice cream to use as the liquid portion, taking advantage of its thickeners and binders to add luscious fudgey body to the finished brownies (because unless you're gluten-free to boot, you probably don't have xantham gum and other such items lying around your kitchen). There's no troublesome margarine either (which has a tendency to add an off flavor and oily finish when subbed for butter), just a splash of oil. I tinkered with the recipe a bit, refining the technique, increasing the salt, and reducing the amount of leavening and the cooking time to increase the fudginess. The resulting brownies? They actually taste like brownies. Like great brownies.
Best Vegan Brownies
adapted from this recipe
yields an 8" square pan
Chocolate soy ice cream gives these an extra chocolatey oomph, but vanilla also works. I used a mint chocolate marble we had in the fridge, which nicely complemented the flavors.
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup melted soy ice cream (the volume will reduce as it melts, so start with a little more than half a cup)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (optional)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 8" square brownie pan.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Whisk together the melted soy ice cream, vegetable oil, sugar and vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts, if using. Pour into your prepared pan -- the mixture will be somewhat thick, so use a spatula or your fingers to make sure the mixture is distributed evenly to the edges of the pan. Bake about 15-20 minutes -- the top should be set, but a tester should still have a bit of fudgey goo instead of set crumbs. Remove from the oven, let cool, and devour. Like most brownies, these are best when they've set for at least an hour.