Sunday, July 24, 2011

Paleo Brownies: Comparing 5 Recipes

paleo brownies from recipe 5
Paleo brownie using recipe #5
Did paleolithic humans eat brownies? Proooobably not. But I think they could have. Key ingredients? Probably nuts, cocoa, eggs, and honey/fruit for the closest approximation.

After hearing from a friend who is following a paleo lifestyle (consuming only foods that were available to our paleolithic ancestors) about the perils of searching for a tasty brownie recipe that only uses paleo ingredients, I decided to take on the challenge.

I began by selecting 5 paleo brownie recipes to make and then subjecting them to deep taste-testing scrutiny. Read on for how it all went down.

Paleo ingredients include foods that can be hunted/gathered (meats, fish, eggs, fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs) and exclude foods attributable to the agricultural revolution and animal domestication (grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugars and oils, and other "manufactured" foods).

So, making a "paleo brownie" means removing almost every standard brownie ingredient from the recipe: sugar, flour, butter/oil, milk/soymilk. Chocolate bars and chocolate chips are also out - they often contain sugar, dairy, fats, and soy. This reductive process pretty much leaves you mostly with cocoa powder, eggs, and creativity.

I searched for what people claimed to be the best paleo brownie recipes on the interwebs and tested them. For each recipe reviewed below, I provide a picture and a few notes about the flavor, texture, appearance, "cut-ability," and the recipe. I may have cut a few corners (see "special flavor-enhancing ingredients" below), but next week I'll be searching for my own answer to the question "How to make a delicious paleo brownie." I may also look for ways to cut back on honey and rely more on fruit as a sweetener.

(Update: Using what I learned through these recipes, I made my own, uber-delicious chewy paleo brownie recipe the following week: BakerGal's Delicious Chewy Paleo Brownie Recipe. Also, since this attempt, I've also tested six paleo chocolate chip cookie recipes and devised my own delicious paleo chocolate chip cookie.)
  • Coconut oil: Most paleo communities online are open to using coconut oil. I used some in the last two recipes, but it imparts coconut flavors to the brownie, which I hope to avoid when I design my own recipe. I'd like a taster to not know whether the brownie is paleo or normal.
  • Eggs: I used them, though some paleo followers watch their egg consumption. In the coming week, I'll be experimenting with egg-free paleo brownies and will share the results in next week's post. I've come up with a version that can be made with or without an egg.
  • Special flavor-enhancing ingredients: These might not be paleo, but are included in tiny quantities, have very little nutritional impact, and deepen the chocolate flavors (which is important, considering everything else I'm leaving out): vanilla extract, chocolate extract (not chocolate flavoring, but rather chocolate overtones that deepen chocolate flavor), espresso powder (1 tsp undetectably deepens chocolate flavor without adding a coffee flavor), salt, baking soda (doesn't add to chocolate flavor, but helps the brownies rise).
A note about finding ingredients: Whole Foods had all of the ingredients I was looking for, including coconut flour, almond flour, coconut oil, ground flaxseed, and chocolate extract. If you have trouble finding any of these specialty ingredients, I've provided Amazon links in the previous sentence.

Recipe 1: Damn-Near-Paleo Brownies from The Foodee
paleo chocolate brownies
Paleo Brownie Recipe 1 relies on honey and almond butter for sweetness, body, and fats.
Flavor: Chocolatey, and the almond butter imparts a slight fruity flavor.
Texture: True chewy brownie texture. Turned out a bit dry for me (though not everyone thought so).
Appearance: Almost reddish, does not rise much, top is shiny & dry
Cut-ability: A bit crumbly
Recipe for 9x13 pan (original here: The Foodeewith a few BakerGal changes:
16oz almond butter
2 eggs
1 cup honey
1 tbsp pure vanilla
1.5 tsp chocolate extract and 1.5 tsp espresso powder (BakerGal recipe additions)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda

Blend almond butter and honey until smooth (may need to heat gently).
Add eggs, vanilla extract, chocolate extract, and espresso powder.
Blend cocoa, salt, and baking soda.
Line a 9x13 pan with foil or parchment paper (or grease with your preferred oil), pour batter in and smooth out with back of spoon.
Bake at 325F for ~30-40 minutes.

Recipe 2: Flourless Apricot Paleo Brownies from Civilized Caveman Cooking
easy paleo brownies that taste like paleo chocolate cake
Paleo Brownie Recipe 2 incorporates honey, diced apricots and almond butter.
Flavor: Not too chocolate-y or sweet. The occasional bite of apricot seemed comparatively tart. 
Texture: Like a cake, not a brownie. Light/fluffy and moist.
Appearance: Looks like chocolate cake. Can see chunks of fruit in brownies.
Cut-ability: Cuts easily
Recipe for 8x8in pan (original here: Civilized Caveman Cooking) with a few BakerGal Changes:
1 cup almond butter (BakerGal substitution, instead of coconut milk)
1/2 cup  honey (BakerGal substitution, instead of agave syrup)
1/4 cup cocoa powder 
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp chocolate extract and 1 tsp espresso powder (BakerGal additions)
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 eggs
1/2 cup fresh apricots diced (~1 large apricot, though I had to cut into 4 to find a super ripe one)

Hand mix all ingredients with exception of apricots (may need to gently heat almond butter and honey and combine separately first). Fold in apricots evenly.
Pour your batter into an 8in x 8in baking dish lined with foil or parchment paper (or greased with your preferred oil).
Bake at 325F for ~30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. (Took 40 minutes for me).

Recipe 3: Flourless Date Paleo Brownies from Civilized Caveman Cooking
paleo brownies with dates
Paleo Brownie Recipe 3 incorporates honey, diced dates and almond butter.
Recipe 3 is the same as above in terms of all the metrics - the only difference is to replace fresh apricots with 1/2 cup dates. Pour 3 Tbsp hot water over dates and let them soak for a bit before incorporating into the batter.

The occasional bite of date was very sweet and imparted a raisiny flavor.

These took 30 minutes for me to bake (recipe above).

Recipe 4: The Infamous Paleo Brownie Recipe from Key Ingredient
paleo brownies with coconut flour
Paleo Brownie Recipe 4 includes coconut flour, applesauce, and almond meal.
Flavor: Strong chocolate flavor, very slight coconut flavor.
Texture: Very heavy, wet, fudge-y texture with cake-like structure.
Appearance: Very dark brownies, some visible lumps of almond flour.
Cut-ability: Awful...knife pulls half of brownie off as you cut through it.
Recipe for 8x8-in pan (original here: Key Ingredient) with a few BakerGal changes:
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
2 eggs
1 1/3 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract and 1 tsp espresso powder (BakerGal addition)
1 cup cocoa powder (BakerGal upped cocoa & honey amount b/c chocolate bar omitted from original recipe)
2 1/2 Tbs and coconut oil (BakerGal addition as sub for omitted chocolate bar... used 2Tbs coconut oil and 2 tsp applesauce. Nut butter or apple sauce would likely also work well.)  
½ cup almond meal
¼ cup coconut flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda

Whisk eggs until they lighten in color. Combine with other ingredients and mix. Pour into 8x8-in pan lined with foil or parchment paper (or greased with your preferred oil). Bake at 350F for ~30-40 min. Remove from oven when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.

Recipe 5: Paleo Dark Chocolate Fudge Brownies from Paleo Project
paleo brownies with coconut flour
Paleo Brownie Recipe 5 relies on applesauce, honey, coconut flour and coconut oil.
Flavor: Strong chocolate flavor and noticeable coconut flavor.
Texture: Denser texture than recipe 4, still wet but less moist and less of a cake-y structure.
Appearance: Very dark chocolate color, very solid-looking.
Cut-ability: Very easy to cut. Knife slides right through without destroying brownies.
Recipe for 8x8-in pan (original here: Paleo Projectwith a few BakerGal changes:
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 cup cocoa powder (BakerGal upped cocoa & honey amount b/c chocolate bar omitted from original recipe)
1 1/3 cup honey (BakerGal substitute for agave syrup)
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs
1 tsp chocolate extract, 2tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp espresso powder, and 1/2 tsp salt (BakerGal flavor-enhancing additions)

Melt coconut oil (if solidified), mix with unsweetened cocoa and coconut flour. Add honey, applesauce, extracts, espresso powder, salt, and eggs, and mix. Line 8x8 pan with foil or parchment paper (or grease with your preferred oil) and pour batter in. Cook at 350F for 30-40min, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Paleo Brownie Recipe 6: BakerGal Chewy Paleo Brownie Recipe
I didn't make 5 batches of brownies for nothin'! I set out to learn what makes a great paleo brownie through these recipes. Using what I learned I made my own, uber-delicious chewy paleo brownie recipe the following week. You can find the recipe in the link above or here.

It is more like a traditional brownie than the above recipes (sweeter, chocolatier, without coconut or honey aftertastes), and can be made with or without an egg.