After a busy day full of classes and a couple of hours of studying, my roommate and I decided to have a relaxing Thursday evening to ourselves. After all, it had been a long week; we deserved it. Danielle and I decided we were going to lay in bed and watch some of our favorite childhood movies… and make brownies??? As soon as Dan verbalized this awesome idea, we knew there was no going back. Shrek and a fudgy dessert? Thursday suddenly became my favorite day of the week.
Now, as some of you know, Danielle is a vegan. Obviously, the brownies couldn’t just be a product of your typical Betty Crocker boxed brownie mix; (although you can never go wrong with a Betty recipe) the brownies had to lack in animal products and not in taste. We googled vegan brownie recipes and clicked on the first one we saw. All Recipes was a trusted website of mine because I had used many successful recipes from this exact site while going through an extreme baking phase. The vegan recipe seemed simple enough: all-purpose flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, water, vegetable oil and vanilla. In fact, I was shocked at how uncomplicated the ingredient list was. No flax egg, chia seeds or apple-cider vinegar? I realized I was mistaking the ingredients in a brownie for the components necessary for a light, airy vegan cake. While cakes are meant to be fluffy, brownies are a much heavier baked good that don’t require as much attention to detail as a cake because there is not as much of a concern associated with the product’s rising.
Still, the recipe’s simplicity was interesting to me and I saw room to modify its healthfulness. I told Danielle that we should try substituting whole-wheat flour for all-purpose flour and coconut sugar for the white sugar. I didn’t know much about either ingredient besides the fact that whole-wheat flour was denser and less processed than AP flour and coconut sugar was lower on the glycemic index than white sugar. Since both ingredients were healthier options, I took the little knowledge I had of them and ran with it. We also decided to get chocolate chips in order to take the indulgence level up a notch. (Here’s a quick tip: When modifying ingredients in a recipe, especially baked goods, it is important to research the effect the new ingredient will have on the finished product. Baking is a very exact science because it is all about the chemical reactions of the ingredients. Changing the measurements of the ingredients or the ingredients themselves can result in an epic fail. Trust me.)
We drove to HEB and bought a 9 x 13 inch baking pan and the ingredients to make the brownies. After a surprisingly quick trip to the grocery store, we returned home and got to work. We grabbed a bowl and began measuring out the dry ingredients. We decided to do a one for one ratio with the flour and measured out two cups of the whole-wheat version. The recipe then called for two full cups of sugar. After measuring out one cup of the coconut sugar and seeing the amount that it was, Danielle refused to put anymore. “We definitely are not putting another cup of sugar!” she said. I couldn’t help but agree with her; that was a lot of sugar, even for a sweet treat like brownies. After trusting that half the amount of sugar that the recipe called for was all the dessert needed in order to be sweet, we finished adding the cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. We then grabbed a measuring cup and whisked the water, oil and vanilla extract together.
We combined the wet and dry ingredients until the batter looked exactly like thick pudding and added a hefty amount of Lily’s Dark Chocolate Premium Baking Chips. We then dispersed the brown ooey-gooeyness in a greased 9×13 inch pan. Of course, to top it off, we sprinkled more of the vegan chocolate-chips over the distributed batter.
The recipe said to bake the brownies for 25 minutes but I was skeptical. Everyone knows that brownies are better underdone! To be safe, we put the oven timer at fifteen minutes. I checked the brownies at twelve minutes and to my surprise, the brownies appeared done. With a closer examination I saw that the brownies had lost their wet, sheen and were now a dull brown color. This was a good sign since the recipe said they are done when “the top is no longer shiny.” I removed them from the oven after they passed the final examination: the clean-toothpick test.
While the brownies cooled, I got inspired by the leftover chocolate chips. It was time to make a spontaneous ganache! I took half a cup of the chocolate chips and added about a fourth cup of almond milk. I then put the chocolate in the microwave for thirty second intervals, stirring after each time until the chocolate was completely melted and smooth. Lastly, I added some vanilla and a couple of teaspoons of cocoa powder. Because these particular chips are lightly sweetened and cocoa powder is extremely bitter, I also added some agave.
After covering the brownies in the decadent ganache, it was time to give them a try.
The brownies were lightly sweetened with intense chocolate flavor. The ganache also added a delicious, creamy richness to the baked good. The flavor was there (it didn’t even need more sugar!) but something was off about the texture. Even though the brownies only baked for half the time, they were still more crumbly and dry than your typical, ideal brownie. Why was this?
I immediately questioned the biggest modification to the dessert: the whole-wheat flour. After researching the differences between all-purpose and whole-wheat flour, I came across some surprising information. Because whole-wheat flour is less processed than AP, it has both a much denser and coarser texture. According to this Chowhound article, not more than 25 percent of the total flour should be substituted with whole-wheat flour. Yikes. This new information also explained the extreme difference in the recommended cooking time stated in the recipe and the actual amount of time it took for the brownies to cook. In summary, the whole-wheat flour changed the recipe a lot. Were the brownies good? Yes, in fact Danielle was obsessed with them. Could they have been better if more research had been done prior to baking? Yes. Nonetheless, was our sweet-tooth satisfied? Absolutely.
While these brownies were neither a success or failure in my eyes, they did teach me some valuable lessons about the difference in flours and the importance of researching ingredient substitutions. I will be trying this recipe again soon and fortunately for this time, I’ll be more informed.