black bean avocado brownies

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I have developed an extensive spreadsheet of calculations in an effort to address to issue of brownies that aren’t bad for you, and what I have discovered is that brownies are bad for you. The problem is the chocolate. Chocolate on its own doesn’t taste good, as you’re probably aware. It needs sugar to taste good. Fat is nice too. Sugar and fat aren’t good for you.

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Sure, the internet is rife with recipes for black bean brownies, in which beans replace the flour, cocoa powder is the only source of chocolate, and, in Cara’s recipe, avocado adds some fat, but the healthy kind. I made Cara’s recipe, exchanging 2 tablespoons of cocoa for 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate to add oomph to the chocolateliness in a compromise between health and flavor that I thought was worthwhile. The brownies were very, very edible. They didn’t taste like beans or like avocado. They also didn’t taste much like chocolate.

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This is when I started calculating calories, trying to see how much chocolate I could add to black bean brownies before it defeats the purpose of making a healthier brownie. I started by looking at Cook’s Illustrated’s Lighter Brownies recipe, replacing the flour with beans and the butter with avocado. I also added some ground almonds, because the original brownies needed something dry to absorb some of the moisture and bulk up the batter.

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Once you add more chocolate and fatty nuts to the recipe, it has just as much fat as Cook’s Illustrated butter-containing light brownie recipe. It has twice the fat of Cara’s recipe – but half the fat of my favorite regular brownie recipe (for the same size square). It has about the same amount of fiber and protein as Cara’s recipe, and two or three times the protein of a regular brownie recipe. (Regular brownies don’t contain any fiber to speak of.)

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What these brownies have going for them is that they’re chock full of fiber, high in protein, gluten-free, and full of good fats. What they have working against them is that they still have a significant amount of refined sugar, and they have more fat and therefore more calories than other black bean brownie recipes. They also have more flavor, more chocolate flavor, that is; in fact, so much chocolate flavor that this won’t just satisfy a chocolate craving, but it’ll cause a craving – for black bean brownies.

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first batch (all other photos are of second batch)

One year ago: Great Grains Muffins
Two years ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Three years ago: Tofu Croutons
Four years ago: Potstickers

Printer Friendly Recipe
Black Bean Avocado Brownies (adapted from Cara’s Cravings and Cook’s Illustrated’s Lighter Brownies)

12 medium squares

¼ cup almonds
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 (15-ounce black) beans, rinsed and drained
2 ounces avocado flesh (about ½ an avocado)
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil spray.

2. Process the almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground, about 2 minutes. Add the beans and avocado; process until the beans are smoothly pureed, 4-5 minutes (some flecks of bean skins may remain).

3. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate; stir frequently until the chocolate is smooth, then remove from the heat. In a separate small bowl, whisk the cocoa, water, vanilla, and espresso powder together. Add the chocolate, cocoa mixture, and baking powder to the bean mixture in the food processor; pulse to combine. Add the eggs; process for 30 seconds, stopping twice to scrape the sides of the bowl.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, at least 1 hour. Store leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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kid’s thumbprints

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I have now cooked all* of the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours. Every week, for the last four years, I have baked whatever recipe someone else picked. I was late a few times but never missed a week. I also managed to make up all of the recipes that the group made before I joined a few months after it started.

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It’s been challenging, I will tell you that. That’s a lot of baking, and it’s a lot of baking that has to be done by a deadline. It often included recipes that were complex, recipes that I knew I wouldn’t love, and in worse case scenarios, complex recipes that I knew I wouldn’t love.

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But, there were far more recipes that I thought I knew I wouldn’t love only to be pleasantly surprised. There were lessons learned, friendships made, and so much confidence gained. Now I have a generous handful of favorite new recipes in my arsenal.

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And what a huge goal to be reached – checking an entire* cookbook off the list. I don’t know what I’ll do now, as I’m not joining the spinoff group.  I might relearn how to choose my own dessert recipes.  I might get into those healthified desserts.  Maybe I won’t bake at all, although I suspect my coworkers, spoiled after months of weekly Dorie treats, would protest.  These cookies, rushed to work on my day off because I was enjoying them a little too much myself for breakfast, were the last in a long line of sweets that quickly disappeared from the office kitchen.  Tuesdays with Dorie is over, but I suspect the baking will continue.

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This final recipe of Tuesdays with Dorie is posted on Dorie’s blog, along with her own reflections on the group. I was too lazy to deal with the egg white and chopped peanut coating but kept to the recipe otherwise.

*Okay, I haven’t made really all of the recipes. I skipped the two fresh fig recipes, and there’s a handful of garnishes and toppings in the last chapter that never came up as part of other recipes.

Final note: My favorite recipes from this book are marked with an asterisk in my blog page that lists posts associated with baking groups.

One year ago: Quintuple Chocolate Brownies
Two years ago: Pecan Pie
Three years ago: Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

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earl grey madeleines

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Coffee makes me feel like bees are buzzing in my head, so I save it for the weekends. At work, I stick to tea, and I’ve developed a little ritual with my electric kettle, collection of looseleaf teas, and steeper that drips from below when I set it onto my mug. I’m picky about my teas too; I don’t like any teas with weird fruity flavors, and I prefer my black tea with some bitter bite to it.

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I like Earl Gray tea, but it can’t be too orangey. I once bought one that tasted like a creamsicle, and I threw the whole tin away. Rishi makes my favorite black tea, but their Earl Grey is too strong for me. For months, I’ve been mixing Rishi Earl Grey tea leaves with another black tea I have that isn’t as bitter as I like. My morning mug of tea is an art.

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Overly strong tea leaves are perfect for putting into dessert though, where they have to battle to be noticed past the sugar and butter. The batter for these madeleines smelled and tasted noticeably of Earl Grey, but the flavor was muted once baked. They smelled more tea-y than they tasted. Clearly, the perfect way to really taste your Earl Grey with your Earl Grey madeleines is to have a mug of tea alongside your tea cake.

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Nicole chose these madeleines for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted. Watch them carefully if you make them! I baked mine for 9 minutes, and it was definitely too long.

One year ago: Maple Tuiles
Two years ago: All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
Three years ago: Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

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bittersweet brownies

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There have been a lot of brownies around here lately, and there hasn’t been a one that I haven’t enjoyed. But I think I’m starting to feel like Dave – without having them side by side, it’s hard to pick favorites. When it comes to something that’s defined by being a square of buttery floury chocolate, it’s the nuances that set recipes apart.

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This recipe, like Dorie’s classic brownies and her ginger brownies, show her preference for a squat, dense bar cookie. These brownies don’t have a bit of cake fluffiness to them, but they aren’t greasy like some so-called fudgy brownies. They’re tender, almost as if a sablé could be a brownie.

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In short, I like them. Really, I like any brownie with good chocolate flavor, which these certainly have. I won’t complain about making three different brownie recipes that, to me, all seemed similar, because they were similarly good.

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Leslie chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I followed the mixing instructions exactly, but then decided to change things up and bake these in a mini muffin pan. I baked them at 325 degrees (the temperature called for in the original recipe) for about 12 minutes.

One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Cran-Apple Crisps
Three years ago: Rice Pudding

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brown sugar honey madeleines

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My poor madeleine pan doesn’t get a lot of use. I love it; I got it for Christmas years ago, and seeing it in the cabinet has always made me happy. But I seldom bake with it.

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There’s no good reason for this, because I love madeleines. They’re miniature handheld cakes. The batter is easy to mix up. They look fancy with no extra effort on my part. There are endless variations to experiment with. I think I just convinced myself to like madeleines more than cupcakes.

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It’s possible that it’s just this recipe I love so much, with its brown sugar caramel notes. I wouldn’t know, since my only experience with traditional madeleines was years ago and a very qualified success at best. Clearly I need to try that recipe for madeleines again – and many more.

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Di chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. It’s originally designed for a mini madeleine pan, but considering how rarely I use my regular madeleine pan, I think a mini version is the last thing I need. I just added a couple minutes to the baking time recommended for minis. I had a difficult time prying the cakes out of the pan, even though it’s nonstick and I sprayed it with cooking spray. Next time I’ll give it a more thorough spritz of floury baking spray.

One year ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake
Three years ago: Kugelhopf

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ginger-jazzed brownies

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I wasn’t confident in the ginger / chocolate combo, so rather than make a full batch of potentially less-than-perfect brownies to share at work, I made a just a small portion of the recipe and kept them for myself. Granted, my coworkers will eventually eat nearly anything sugary that finds its way into our kitchen (the same day that I brought in dulce de leche cupcakes, someone put a basket of Twinkies out; the cupcakes went faster, but the Twinkies went), but I have my standards, you know.

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I needn’t have worried. The ginger flavor was so subtle as to be essentially invisible. I might have been disappointed by that, but I was so pleased to have a mini-batch of deep chocolately and meltingly tender brownies all to myself that I had no reason to complain.

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Clivia, who chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted. Except for making only a third of it, I followed it exactly. It resulted in a very good regular brownie. However, if you want your brownies to have any ginger kick, you’ll want to increase the ginger; I would double both the ground and fresh ginger.

One year ago: Caramel Pumpkin Pie
Two years ago: Allspice Crumb Muffins
Three years ago: Pumpkin Muffins

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chewy brownies

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I’m going to put this right out there: I didn’t absolutely love these brownies. The whole goal of this recipe is to mimic the chewiness of boxed brownies, and…eh. I don’t need that texture. I don’t mind it; I just won’t sacrifice flavor for it. Plus I think that the fudgy-cakey balance of my favorite brownie recipe is perfect.

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The problem, and it’s one that just keeps getting more frustrating, is the availability of ingredients in my small town. My favorite brownie recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, and the only brand available within a hundred miles of where I live is Baker’s. I’ve noticed that the flavor of brownies baked with Baker’s chocolate is muted.

So, I needed a recipe that wasn’t based entirely on unsweetened chocolate. (I did have a few ounces leftover from my last trip to a big city.) This one uses a combination of unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, and bittersweet chocolate.

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The trick to getting that boxed brownie chew is substituting oil for some of the butter called for in most brownie recipes. These brownies, though, were intensely gooey. Not bad, by any means; my coworkers raved. But my coworkers have never had my favorite brownie recipe, which has a more intense chocolate flavor and isn’t so weighed down by oil. I guess I need to stock up on unsweetened chocolate next time I visit the big city.

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One year ago: Palmiers
Two years ago: Bran Muffins
Three years ago: Pain Ordinaire

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chewy Brownies (from Cooks Illustrated)

Makes 24 brownies

⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1½ teaspoons instant espresso (optional)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2½ cups (17.5 ounces) sugar
1¾ cups (8.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into ½-inch pieces

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving about a one-inch overhang on all sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the cocoa, espresso powder, and boiling water together in large bowl until smooth. Add the unsweetened chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the melted butter and oil. (The mixture may look curdled.) Add the eggs, yolks, and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and homogeneous. Whisk in the sugar until fully incorporated. Add the flour and salt and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. Fold in the bittersweet chocolate pieces.

3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted halfway between the edge and the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool 1½ hours.

4. Using the foil overhang, lift the brownies from the pan. Return the brownies to a wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve. The brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

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chocolate allspice cookies

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September is an ambiguous time. School and football, two signs of fall, have started. Labor Day is over. It might not be meltingly hot out every single day. On the other hand, that all important sign of autumn, fire-colored leaves, hasn’t started except in the most extreme of climates. And besides, tomatoes are still in season. Everyone knows that tomatoes belong to summer.

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When I lived in upstate New York, where summer was disappointingly short, I refused to acknowledge fall until October 1st. I wouldn’t make anything with pumpkin or apples, and I wouldn’t buy candy corn for Dave. (I’m mean.)

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But come October 1st, I was all about fall. I love it for all the reasons everyone loves fall – the colors, the chill, the apple cider. We don’t get any of those things in southern New Mexico, so I welcome what little there is here that feels like fall, no matter when it happens.

Dave thinks anything with ginger or allspice or cloves tastes like Christmas. I say it tastes like fall. And even in early September, I’m not complaining.

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Jessica, who chose these cookies for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted. I doubled the spice, plus I freshly ground my allspice berries in a coffee grinder just before mixing the dough. I also increased the salt.  I had ground almonds to use up, so I made the dough in the mixer instead of the food processor.

One year ago: Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
Two years ago: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
Three years ago: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

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chocolate friands

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These are hard to describe. They resemble brownies, but are so far on the fudgy end of the brownie spectrum that they’re almost candy. They’re served in candy cups if you can find them, but the alternative option is mini muffin cups, which makes the friands resemble cake. These don’t fall neatly into any category.

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They’re made similarly to brownies too, with a few interesting variations. One is that, instead of melting the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water like most brownie recipes, hot melted butter was poured over chopped chocolate, and the residual heat of the butter melted the chocolate. It provides the same effect as a double boiler, but it’s simpler.

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The other difference I noted is that the eggs are stirred in last. Usually flour is the last thing added to batters and doughs, because the more flour is worked (stirred or kneaded), the chewier and less tender the resultant baked good becomes. Plus, eggs are mostly water and they don’t easily mix into the fatty mixture of butter and chocolate, so seeing that worrisome “do not overmix” warning right after the eggs are added at the end was extra stressful.

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And lastly, and I believe most importantly, there is no leavener – no baking powder or soda, no whipped eggs. This is what makes the confections so rich that they’re almost more candy than brownie. And that is what makes them so hard to figure out.

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Apparently they’re hard to pronounce too, as I had multiple coworkers come by my office to thank me for the ‘chocolate friends’ that I brought in to share. It’s an appropriate name for a treat I chose to make for Josie’s virtual baby shower. Josie is in the no-dessert-is-too-rich club, like me, so I definitely consider her a chocolate friend. Congratulations Josie! I wish you and your family the best.

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One year ago: Banana Peanut Butter Muffins
Two years ago: Vegetable Curry
Three years ago: Country Egg Scramble

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Friands (from Tartine)

Batter:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
16 tablespoons (1 cup) unsalted butter
1½ cups + 1 tablespoon (11 ounces) sugar
¾ cups (3.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs

Ganache:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅔ cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line up 48 1½-by-½ inch candy cups on 2 baking sheets, or butter and flour 24 mini-muffin-tin wells, knocking out the excess flour.

2. To make the batter, place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until very hot. Pour the butter over the chocolate and whisk or stir until smooth. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt and mix well. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture in 3 batches, whisking well after each addition. Add 2 of the eggs and whisk until combined, and then add the remaining 2 eggs and whisk just until incorporated. Be careful not to overmix the batter.

3. Transfer the batter to a liquid measuring cup for pouring, and fill the cups three-fourths full. Bake until the cakes just start to crack on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, and then unmold them if you have baked them in the muffin tins and let cool completely. If you have baked them in the paper cups, just let them cool in the cups.

3. To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute or two. Stir gently with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

4. Make sure the friands are cool before dipping them into the ganache. Holding each friand by its sides, dip the top into the ganache and then shake gently to let the excess run off the side. Return the friand to the rack and let the ganache set up in a cool place for about 1 hour.

5. Don’t put the friands in the refrigerator to set up if your kitchen is hot because condensation will form on the tops when you take them out, ruining the smooth look of the ganache. The only way to avoid the condensation is to place them in an airtight container before putting them in the refrigerator adn then to leave them in the refrigerator and then leave them in the container when you remove them from the refrigerator until they come to room temperature, or to serve them right away.

6. Serve the friands within a day of making, or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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cocoa almond meringues

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Sometimes I ignore the rules of baking, and other times I over-follow them. For example, when I see DO NOT OVERMIX in big bold capital letters, I will overcompensate, undermix, and bake clumps of raw flour into my genoise cake. On the other hand, if it’s raining and I decide I want to make meringues, I will make meringues, despite knowing that you’re not supposed to make meringues when it’s humid.

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That first meringue cookies I made, years ago, while it was raining, were sticky and heavy and not good at all. Now I live in the desert in the middle of a drought. Humidity isn’t so much an issue.

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Because this was only my second attempt at meringue cookies and the first was a bust, I’m not sure how they’re supposed to be. The outside of the cookies is crisp and light and shatters into tiny pieces when you bite into it. The inside was chewy. Is this because I didn’t follow the rules and opened the oven halfway through baking? Or did I, heaven forbid, OVERMIX? Or is this how they’re supposed to be?

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Either way, it turns out that I like meringue cookies, especially meringue cookies that have cocoa and chocolate chips in them. And other than cracking open the oven door to sneak in the crème brulee I made with the egg yolk leftover after making meringues, I made the exact recipe – which can be found on Mike’s blog, as he chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie.

One year ago: Gingered Carrot Cookies
Two years ago: Banana Bundt Cake
Three years ago: Black and White Banana Loaf

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