Vegan Black Bean Brownies, Redux.

Lately, I have no idea what kitchen adventures are in store for me as I begin my day. Today ended up being warm enough to venture around town and do some errands in a t-shirt, certainly not the weather that conjures up the making of brownies...

But in my supermarket stupor, which does happen when I don't go shopping very often, I found myself wandering around just looking for things to spend money on. And, I did it. I spent money on something I said I would never spend money on again: canned beans.

But really, I did it for the greater good. Last December I made these Vegan Black Bean Brownies and they were alright, even tasty, but not perfection. I've been meaning to make them again ever since. Last time, I overcooked my beans in the pressure cooker, and used an amount that I had weighed and mentally noted to be an equivalent to a 15 oz. can. So when I paid hard earned cash on a can of Goya beans today, I deconstructed their weights and contents thoroughly, in relationship to the original recipe posted at No Meat Athlete, so I can slip this recipe into my uses for beanery in the future.

My Findings:

1 15.5 oz. (439 g.) can of Goya black beans contains:
  • 7 3/4 oz. or 220 g. of actual beans (a scant 2 cups)
  • a can of liquid equals 14 oz. or a scant 1 3/4 cups by liquid volume
  • 1610 mg. of sodium!
Enter the soapbox, please, since I did not realize that there is so much salt in a simple whole food like beans. I'm sure the amount varies by brand, and I know there is a canned bean market for "low sodium" audiences. When I checked out the U.S. Dry Bean Council website (yes, there is such a thing), dry beans are virtually nil in the sodium department. When I read Michael Rulman's book The Elements of Cooking a couple months back, I recall reading a passage about the usage of salt in home cooking. In essence, he advocates using salt to flavor food to your taste, and now I can see that if I add a pinch of salt (probably less than 500 mg.), it is an unbelievable low amount if compared to a processed food of the same type. If you are a home cook and rarely eat processed foods, sodium consumption truly is of no issue to you - unless of course you have a medical condition requiring you to eat extremely low amounts of sodium. Just think, if a can of supermarket black beans is that salty, think of what is in other more "processed" foods, and how as a nation, we are training our tongues to look for this substitute for flavor in everything. OK, I'm done.

I'm by no means the most virtuous of eaters, mind you, I am obsessively deconstructing a brownie recipe after all. And with the subplot of trying to sneak in some non-cereal nutrition for the Boy-O, I cut the sugar back more than I did before. I think these articles that I've been reading about sugar being more addictive than cocaine (thanks, Mike G.) are absolutely true, and the more I read about the questionable refining processes of supposedly healthy sugar alternatives like agave syrup, the more I feel like just eating plain old sugar (or honey), and just eating less of it.

So, without further delay, here is the Vegan Black Bean Brownie, served with non-vegan (but perfectly worth it) Cayenne-Cinnamon Whipped Cream!

Vegan Black Bean Brownies with Cayenne-Cinnamon Whipped Cream (adapted from Christine at No Meat Athlete)

Makes a 9x13 pan (notations in parenthesis for a half recipe: 9x9 pan)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (3/4 c.)
  • 1 t. salt if using unsalted beans (1/2 t.)
  • 1 t. baking powder (1/2 t.)
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar, raw or granulated (3/4 c.)
  • 1 1/4 c. cocoa powder (1/2 c. + 2 Tablespoons)
  • 4 t. espresso powder (2 t.)
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (3/4 c.)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed well or substitution as listed above: scant 2 c. (scant 1 c. or half a can of beans)
  • 14 oz. or scant 1 3/4 c. water (7 oz. or scant 1/2 c. + 6 Tablespoons)
  • additional 1 c. water (1/2 c.)
  • 1 t. vanilla extract (1/2 t. )
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish (9x9 for the 1/2 amount). Mix dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Puree beans in water using a food pro or blender. Add to the dry ingredients along with the additional water and the vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Fold in walnuts, and spread into a pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges pull away slightly, and middle is set. Tester should come out mostly clean, but this is a judgment call on how well done you like your brownies.

When they are cooling, make the whipped cream: Beat an amount of heavy cream, an amount suitable to your needs, for 1 minute. Add a Tablespoon or two of confectioner's sugar, and as much cayenne as you like. I like mine pretty spicy, so to about a 1/2 c. of cream, I added a 1/2 t. cayenne. Cinnamon to taste, as well, I used about 3/4 t. for my amount of cream. Continue beating on high until cream is whipped and fluffy.

Now, I'm betting you could add a whole host of chocolate complements to the whipping cream if spicy with chocolate isn't really your thing. And if it is, and you aren't trying to inundate your child with hidden beans, you could add the spice right into the batter. I'm going to get some chipotle powder during my next Spice House trip, and maybe try that in my next batch. If you find that you need even more chocolate, you can also add in a cup or so of bittersweet chips - I used mint chocolate chips in the one I made last year, and that wasn't a bad choice either.

This is exactly the kind of dessert I get excited about (even if I may be the only one around here...), since it is dessert, but it is healthy enough that I don't feel too guilty about eating it every day until it's gone. Fortunately, I'm going to see R1 tomorrow, and half of my 9x13 pan will make its way over to her hungry and non-picky brood. I wish I could give it to them straight out of the oven, which is how I would serve it at a party. The middle was like a fudgy, thick English Pudding, and the spicy whipped cream melted into the top. In fact, I thought I'd just take some pictures and save it for later, but that wasn't going to happen after I took a bite... I ate my dessert at 4 p.m. today.

If you prefer sweeter desserts, or more traditional tasting brownies, I'd urge you to use the full amount of sugar from the original recipe: 2 1/4 cups. With or without any of the variations, I hope that if you do try these, you will be as enamored as I am.

Soup Building and Vegan Black Bean Brownies: This is not a fully Vegan post.

I guess I should begin by saying that I am fascinated by the vegan diet. I have never been vegan, though I was vegetarian for a time, but have known several. I think it requires a particular discipline that I do not posses. Granted,I do not approve of the exploitation of animals purely for wares and consumption, but I do feel that if the animals are raised humanely, killed humanely, and nothing is wasted that they are here to co-exist with us and better our existence in the end.

After arriving back home from our short and warm vacation, we were welcomed by brisk 20 degree weather and no food in the home. It seemed like soup weather to me. Mere seconds
after entering the door, I had a stock started from the leftover Thanksgiving turkey. It was smoked, and lent its peculiar smokiness to the stock.

With ninja like reflex, I unpacked a couple pieces of luggage, sorted the laundry from the toiletries and decided to make some noodles
. I ate two things of particular remembrance while in Florida, and one was a cup of turkey noodle soup at a Cracker Barrel on Friday afternoon. It was thick and spicy with pepper, and full of fat egg noodles. I haven't made a soup with egg noodles for quite awhile, and I was already plotting to do this as soon as I got home.

Egg noodles are among the easiest things to make, since the more imperfect they are the more homemade they feel. Simply mix 2 eggs to a cup of flour by first making the flour into a little mountain with a crater in the top and breaking the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork, incorporating the flour gradually into a paste. When your fork no longer is useful, use one hand to form the ragged dough into a ball. Rest it in some plastic wrap for 30 minutes or so at room temperature, as I do, or in the fridge as some Italians do.

The dough will be rather sticky, but I like to add more flour as I hand roll through the settings on the machine. When I first started making egg pasta, I religiously followed Marcella Hazan's advice of hand kneading for 7 minutes, I think it was. Besides improving my forearm muscles, I failed to see how this improved my final product. Work smarter, not harder, I say and use a hand cranking machine to your advantage.

I'm fortunate to have the Atlas Pasta Queen that my Mom gave me since she never makes the pasta rolled out thin into fettuccine like I do. She prefers to make egg noodles by rolling pin, which is also fine. But since I have this fine piece of equipment, I like to roll the dough to setting 5 (of the 7 settings on my machine) and then cut by pizza cutter to varying noodle sizes.

When making soup noodles, toss liberally with flour and leave on a sheet tray until you are ready to cook them. I like to keep adding flour as they absorb it a little. The more flour added, the thicker the final broth of your soup will be. My soup was not as thick as I would have liked, but it was more than a gallon of stock I was starting with.

Finished stock.

Building the soup.

I was pretty bare bones on fresh ingredients, so the only veg wise ingredients in my soup were classic mirepoix ingredients: onion, celery and carrot. The final product included quite a bit of black pepper, aleppo pepper and salt - and just a bit of that sprouting lemon thyme growing in my dining room. I discovered that the sprouting thyme has a much cleaner and fresher taste than the woody, hardier growing thyme in the yard.

We both (of course the Boy-O wouldn't eat it) liked it, and I have 3 quarts leftover. I don't have to make supper tonight, or lunch for awhile I guess.

After dinner, I was earmarking recipes for Christmas Cookie baking which I will start tomorrow. I'm kind of thinking to make all Saveur recipes this year, since they send me such nice emails, and have many that look too good to pass up. The only problem I see is with food blogging at this time of year, any potential cookie recipients will already know what is in the tin.

At any rate, I came across a bookmark for Outpost's Black Bean Brownies. When I opened the link, however, there was no more recipe. I searched in vain for their lost recipe, and they must have taken it off the site. Fortunately, iPod googled me pages and pages of alternatives.

Most of my early clicks landed me on brownies that started with a pound of butter. Then, I decided to go with Vegan brownies. I found a winner at No Meat Athlete, in which Christine bases her whole wheat vegan version on a King Arthur Flour recipe.

Since I have really vowed never to buy canned beans (except for baked beans, which I really love out of the can) again, I couldn't use her recipe verbatim. She calls for one can of black beans, which I know to be 9 oz. of beans. My amazing kitchen math tells me that if if you have a 15 oz. can of beans, then 6 oz. are of water or bean stock. Since I used half the recipe so I could use a 9x9 pan, I utilized my quantum math skills to half the recipe. Since you simply mix the dry ingredients, then add the wet, I'll just list my amounts here (if you are going to make these, I urge you to visit the original post first!):

Vegan Black Bean Brownies:

  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 c. + 2 T. raw sugar
  • 1/2 c. + 2 T. cocoa powder
  • 2 t. espresso powder
  • 3/4 c. chopped pecans (or any nut)

for the wet ingredients, including the beans by weight, not volume:

  • 4.5 oz. black beans
  • 3 oz. water
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 t. vanilla

Really, just mix up everything (puree the beans in the water first), and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.

After I read the post, I could tell she was really cutting back on the sugar, so I opted to throw in a handful of mint chocolate chips along with the nuts. The resulting brownie was so chocolaty and nearly fudgelike, I dare to say it was almost too much chocolate for me. Almost.

I did have one mishap since I used my new favorite pressure cooking method to cook the beans, and I was chasing a 3 year old around the house at the same time. I used the last of my black beans on hand, probably about a 1/4 of a pound, and didn't add enough water to the pressure cooker. Had I not set the timer for an hour, I probably would have been OK, but unfortunately, I started to smell burning black beans signaling me to take them off the heat and quick release the pressure. I thought it would be a no-brownie night, but the beans not touching the bottom of the pan were salvageable. Lesson learned. Try not to pressure cook less than a half pound of beans at a time, make sure you add enough water, and try to be too distracted with household duties when pressure cooking!

I've yet to see if this recipe passes my Husband's test, and haven't decided if I'll tell him the secret ingredient before he tries them. I also think that next time, I'll use dark brown sugar instead of raw sugar. It seemed to me that there was just a little something missing. After I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I thought it was pretty near perfect. So much for my Vegan Brownie experience... but they are worth a try, and are as good as guilt-free as far as desserts go.