The tropical flavors of coconut, chile pepper, dates, and either peanut butter or sesame seeds make these fudge-like (and very moist) brownies a treat as well as healthy to chew on. They are absolutely gluten-free and vegetarian too (no wheat, eggs, or dairy products), so long as you use gluten-free flour (the recipe below calls for tapioca and rice flours), vegan carob chips (check the label) and the cultured yogurt substitute is dairy-free. (You can of course substitute ordinary vanilla-flavored yogurt made from milk for the latter, but then these treats won't be "vegan;" also in my opinion the dairy-free brownies keep a bit longer.)
Sweet and Healthy
These brownies are sweet but not too sweet. Cultured coconut cream and apple cider vinegar used in this recipe helps not only to make them moist, but also interacts with the cocoa in a way that gives the brownies a wonderful reddish brown color.
The addition of minced chile pepper spices these brownies nicely but hardly makes them too fiery to chew on. And of course the cocoa in them is a top antioxidant according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Data Laboratory study (2007) of "The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods," and regarded as good for the blood vessels. The flax seed adds a few omega 3s, while oat bran and pecans help to lower cholesterol.
Locating the Ingredients
The xanthum gum used to help hold these together is a common ingredient in gluten-free baking (it can also be used to make puddings). It's available at most health food stores and at some other stores. Cultured coconut cream (or vanilla soy yogurt if you prefer) and carob chips are also available at health food stores (but note that not all carob chips are vegetarian; some contain milk). Other ingredients such as ground flax seed, oat bran, and the various flours, are available at larger supermarkets and grocery stores as well as at health food stores.
Rice and tapioca flour are both fairly light and work well in most recipes. Tapioca flour holds together well in quick breads.Thus, these are worth keeping in stock. (For more on gluten-free flours, see "Gluten-free Baking or Just Baking Without Wheat on a Budget.")
The recipe below makes enough to serve a houseful. Preparation sounds complex, but it's relatively simple once you assemble the ingredients. Because the mixture is quite moist, baking takes almost an hour.
Now, cool the brownies at least ten minutes (the brownies will "firm up" as they get cooler), cut into squares, and serve.
The pan you use does make a difference; if you have one, a thick aluminum pan is best.
Soy yogurt or coconut coconut cream helps emulsify the honey/sugar and oil mix; I had problems when I replaced this with fruit juice.
A blend of "dutched" (processed with alkalis to remove some of the bitter taste) cocoa with natural cocoa (such as made by Hershey's) can make the brownies darker and "richer" than the natural cocoa typically sold in U.S. groceries; however the dutched cocoa may be slightly lower in flavenols.
You can replace the rice and tapioca flours with 5 ounces (5/8 cup) of a gluten-free blend of rice, tapioca, and perhaps a little potato flour. (This works really well.)
Use fresh pecans. For a real treat, chop them yourself as whole pecans keep their freshness longer. If you use raw pecans, you can spread them in a pan and roast them in the oven at about 300 degrees f before using them to bake this.
Reduce the flour by 1 tbsp and stir in about 1 tbsp of finely minced pecans (minced to a meal) just before folding in the chopped pecans, carob chips, and any coconut (below). This gives the brownies a bit of firmness and a really nice "pecan-like" taste.
Fold in several tablespoons of flaked unsweetened coconut and perhaps a bit of grated orange zest. Flaked coconut helps gluten-free baked goods hold together better, and makes them lighter and of course more delicious. You can also top the brownies with additional flaked coconut before baking.