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Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Best Almost-Healthy Brownies Ever

   As healthy as I like to think I am when it comes to eating, we all have our weaknesses. Fortunately this past week's 'staycation' has been quite tame when it's come down to food, but one thing Seeg and I could not do without was our brownies and ice cream.
   I've toned the recipe down the last few times I've made them - usually only actually 2-3 times a year - so I don't end up making loads and then eating them for days. As wonderful as that is for my taste buds, not so much for my waist.


   I've tried to make them a little healthier, too. They could never be truly healthy, because there is no substitute for chocolate (and having dropped 5 dress sizes in 2 years, I've not once cut chocolate out), but there are always replacements for other things that can make things a little better.
   Grass-fed butter. People will have you believe that butter is bad for you - and in large, frequent amounts, it is. But grass-fed, organic butter means that there's nothing fake in it - what goes into the cows is all natural, and what goes into the milk is all natural. It's also high in CLA as well as Vitamin K, D and A, all of which require fat to be absorbed into the body, and it has a better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio than grain-fed butter. "But what about coconut oil?!" I hear you cry, well you can certainly use that in its place - it won't compromise the texture at all - but it won't be cooked at a high enough temperature for stability to be a problem, and also, no matter what I do, everything I bake with coconut oil tastes like coconut. Savoury food seems to overpower the coconut oil, so it's fine for meals, but in desserts of pretty much every kind, coconut oil overpowers the taste. And I don't actually like coconut. You can read a little more about different fats, including coconut oil and grass-fed butter, here.
   Instead of all-purpose flour I used whole meal flour - it might sound a little strange but it didn't affect the taste or the texture of the brownies, but it did provide more nutrients than plain all-purpose flour, especially fibre. It's exceedingly better for you as it hasn't been bleached or messed around with anywhere near as much in most cases, and even if you purchase 'strong wholemeal flour', the brownies won't turn out tasting like bread. Texture is also unaffected.
   When it comes to sugar, I stick with the basics. I try to find as unrefined as I can, but sugar is sugar. It's important to remember, however, that sugar in itself does not cause diabetes or obesity, it's over-eating high amounts sugar that does that, and while there are other 'natural' sugar substitutes, they don't all hold up well in baking - some react badly to heat, such as honey, others can have funny effects on your body such as a laxative like xylitol, and others are just downright unhealthy. Sugar is sugar, and I always stick with the most basic because it does what I want it to do in a cake. The trick is to simply not gorge yourself on it. People seem to forget that sugar is actually a natural product and only has a negative effect on the body when abused. Moderation is always key, regardless of food type - fruit contains high levels of natural sugars, and while it's not as easy, you can gain weight by over-eating apples. Having said that, try to go as unrefined as possible. Billington's is available in most UK supermarkets and is an unrefined sugar - you can generally tell, because it isn't white. It tastes no different and won't compromise on texture.

   The changes to the flour and fat can make a massive difference - perhaps not necessarily in terms of calories, but it does make the brownies more nutritious and that means that the calories aren't quite as 'empty' as they would otherwise have been. 'Empty calories' is a phrase you would use when comparing a 250 calorie piece of cake and a 250 calorie chicken sandwich. The chicken sandwich has more nutrients such as complex carbs, protein and probably some greens in there, too. The cake is more or less just fat and sugar, meaning you're not getting much out of the 250 calorie cake when compared to a 250 calorie chicken sandwich. Far less, in fact. No, these brownies are not on par with this chicken sandwich, but they're also superior to the piece of cake.
   Another thing I do that helps is, rather than cooking them in a tray, I spread the mixture into cake cases. This means the servings are more even and you can see more immediately how many you can make, and you can either chill the mixture if you made too much and bake them as you want them, or freeze the brownies themselves for up to a month. But I will admit that this is not the reason I started baking them this way, though it is an important one to me now. It was actually because I have never, ever managed to bake a brownie in a pan successfully. The edges always burn and the middle never cooks, no matter what recipe I use, no matter what heat I set the oven on, how long they're left in there, on what shelf or anything. I can't get them to work. I gave up one day and used cake cases, hoping that smaller areas would cook in the centre without burning the edges, they worked an absolute charm and I've never looked back.


Ingredients:
Makes 10 brownies
1/2 cup grass-fed butter, unsalted
1 cup unrefined castor sugar like Billington's
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
2 medium eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup whole meal flour
Optional Chocolate chips or cut-up pieces; pieces of Green & Black's are great because it's delicious but clean chocolate with such a very, very short list of ingredients, including raw cane sugar.

Method:
1. Line and grease a tin or spread cupcake liners in a cupcake tray, and pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180 C/350 F.
2. Over a double boiler (heat-proof bowl placed on top of a saucepan filled with boiled water), slowly melt the butter or coconut oil. Once it's fully melted, add the sugar and mix it in together for about a minute or two.
3. Take the bowl away from the heat and mix in the cocoa powder and baking powder, then add the eggs.
4. Sift the flour in gradually and mix it all together.
5. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases.
Optional: add some chocolate chips on top of each brownie, or cut a piece of chocolate into 3 and press them into the top.
6. Put the pan in the middle of the oven and leave for 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Serve them warm from the oven with ice cream or cream, serve cold with greek yoghurt and honey, or scoff them straight.



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