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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Secret Healthful Ingredient Brownies

I was telling my housemate that I was planning on making brownies which had a secret ingredient and she laughed - apparently her Mom had used the "Secret Healthful Ingredient" method with her youngest sister in an effort to sneak something more nutritious than Mac'n'Cheese in her diet by making cookies with white beans. Now, I have no intention to do any such thing to my friends and housemates, for the most part they are all sufficiently nourished, but this recipe was so interesting and unusual that I wanted to try it. What is the secret ingredient? Black beans. So here are the Black Bean Brownies from Baking with Agave Nectar via 101 Cookbooks. Drum-roll, please....

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 C unsalted butter
2 C soft-cooked black beans, drained well
1 C walnuts, chopped
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1/8 C + some more instant coffee
1/4 tsp sea salt
4 large eggs
1 to 1 1/4 C light agave nectar

Notes on ingredients: I cooked the beans but I guess canned (probably 2 cans, drained and rinsed) beans would also work; I also used instant coffee (Nescafe), if you like a strong coffee flavor add more; if the batter seems unsweet, add more agave nectar.

How to make them: melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave or in impromptu double boiler stirring until no solid clumps are left. In a food processor add the beans, salt, vanilla, half the walnuts and part of the butter-chocolate melt and pulse until well pureed. In a bowl beat the eggs and the agave nectar, add the rest of the chocolate-butter mix, add the bean mixture and the rest of the walnuts. Mix everything well
(with a spoon, the batter it pretty thick). Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper and oil it lightly or spray it lightly with canola oil cooking spray. Spoon the mixture in and spread well. If you are feeling creative, save 1/2 cup of the eggs-nectar mix and pour it on top of the panned mix and swirl it lightly - that will create white swirls. Bake for 30-40-50 minutes, until the brownies are set and your house is filled with the fragrance of chocolate. Cool, refrigerate, cut. The brownies were really soft and moist out of the oven (I thought I had underbaked them) but they will definitely set after being in the fridge overnight.

I am personally not a big brownie fan but these were actually quite tasty. They are moist and not overwhelmingly sweet (which turned me off brownies to begin with) so you can distinguish the chocolate and coffee flavors and explore the texture as you let them slowly melt in your mouth. Now, I would not say they are healthy considering the large amounts of butter, eggs and chocolate which went in them, but they definitely have a couple healthy ingredients.

Black beans are rich in fiber and protein all for only 227 Kcal per cup as I just found (pass me another brownie). They also contain iron, manganese and antioxidants. Yey! Feeling healthier already.

Now what is this agave nectar stuff? Agave nectar or syrup is the processed sap of the agave plant. It is used as a honey substitute by vegans and and has the same sweetness as honey but lower viscosity. I used light agave syrup which had very mild flavor. There is also dark or amber syrup which I guess has a stronger flavor. Raw varieties (processed at temperatures below 118F) are popular among raw foodies. Agave nectar is high in fructose so drink/use responsibly or you might get a sugar high. If you can't hunt down any agave syrup (I found it at Whole Foods) feel free to substitute it 1:1 with honey. Do not substitute with sugar because that will offset the liquids to solids ratio of the recipe.

These brownies breached a whole new field of desserts for me - flourless cakes - which is apparently quite well populated. There seem to be several different branches to flourless cakes also referred to as tortes. To maintain cake-like consistency some contain ground nuts, some contain breadcrumbs (now, that's just cheating) and some (actually all) ask for ludicrous amounts of eggs. Seriously, this Flourless Chocolate Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts and Brandied Cherries is a heart attach just waiting to happen (but I will bookmark it anyways). So in retrospect, these brownies are actually quite healthy.

So, anyone want some brownies? I am serious though unwilling to ship.

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