For some reason, brownies are one of those classic American desserts that are just a bit pesky and elusive for the vegan baker. Chocolate chip cookies are in the bag, and have been there for a long time. Apple pie? Please. My pie kicks an omni pie's ass any day of the week. I don't know how many times I have to say that you emphatically do not need lard or butter to make a delicious, flaky pastry. Really, you don't. I defy anyone who says differently. But brownies? A little tough. I don't know that I've had a vegan version that quite matches the ones I had as a kid, and I've had a lot of vegan brownies that sucked, some of which I made myself. Now that I've fiddled around with the brownie recipes in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, however, I feel that the problem with the other versions is how bent out of shape people get about egg replacements. For example, some vegan brownies rely heavily on pureed fruit of some sort or another, but I find that this gives the final product a fruitiness that is not at all desirable when I'm trying to get serious about chocolate. At the same time, and before I deliver my new recipe for the above named confection, I should pause to award an honorable mention to this recipe, courtesy of vegweb. In this version, which had held me off from further experimentation until just recently, the aforementioned no-egg-induced fussiness takes the shape of a sort of paste made from cooking flour and water together. Still, pretty damned good, but not quite right.
The impetus for these experiments was that I needed to come up with a dessert for a dinner party (or two, as it turned out!). I toyed with making a cheesecake. I contemplated paring chocolate mousse with strawberry shortcake. I even thought about cake. But in the end it was my sister's quip that brownies are always good that sealed the deal. Of course, I'm not content to make basic brownies, though. As I said, first I played around with the recipes in Isa's above-mentioned book. I thought the brownies these recipes produced were just not quite the right texture, so I decided to build. Having a food blog, it turns out, endows one with the hubris to monkey around with the most delicate of baking procedures. Luckily, after a few tries, I think I got it. These brownies are very chocolatey, spicey, and salty. That's how we like them. Brownie texture is one of those either/or issues that tend to be very polarizing: crunchy or creamy, boxers or briefs, vodka martinis or gin, etc. The recipe below is far denser than the original recipe, and while it falls quite short of muddy, I think it straddles the line between cakey and fudgy quite admirably.
I've noted that I used the brownie recipe from the illustrious Isa's book as a base, but I made so many changes that I feel comfortable posting it here as my own version. What is recipe-making if not so much boldfaced thievery in an apron?
Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies
3 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate
1/3 c vanilla non-dairy yogurt
1/3 c coconut milk (the full fat kind from the can, not the fancy Coconut Milk beverage)
1/3 c canola oil
3/4 c sugar (I always prefer raw, organic sugar. The refined stuff comes from hell.)
2 t vanilla
1 c flour (you can use ap, but I think ww pastry gives this a desirably heavier feel)
1/4 c dutch processed cocoa powder
1 T cornstarch (or arrowroot, if that's what you have)
1/2 t baking powder
1 t sea salt (I used a chunky, gray salt. Quality is fairly important here, so use your best stuff.)
1 t ground cinnamon (or a bit more, depending on how much of a cinnamon freak you are.)
1/2 t cayenne (I suggest adding this slowly, as cayenne varies a LOT in heat depending on what kind you have and how old it is. If you're nervous, use a bit less and add until it suits you. Up in our house, I spice up my brownies with wild abandon.)
Preheat your oven to 325. I used a wide silicone loaf pan, but you could probably use a standard 8 x 8 (or 9 x 9 for a thinner product) brownie pan. I come from a family that actually thinks there is a kind of pan that is specifically called a "brownie pan." Deal with it. Grease that pan liberally with a bit of vegan margarine or vegetable oil. I'd be cheating not to note that one of the virtues of silicone is that nothing sticks to it. It's magic. If you're using glass or metal, please just know that I can't guarantee your results. Probably it will be fine. Let me know.
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, microwave the chocolate in 15 second increments, mixing between, until fully melted. Alternatively, if you are microwave averse, and nobody blames you for that, you could melt your chocolate in a double boiler. When the chocolate has melted, dump it into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the yogurt and coconut milk until well-combined. Add oil, sugar, and vanilla and whisk again. Without stirring, add to the bowl the flour, cocoa, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, and spices. I even recommend adding the dry ingredients in that order. Just don't add the baking powder before the flour. Fold everything together until just combined. You can add a splash of non-dairy milk if the batter seems unreasonably dry to you. Taste the batter for saltiness and spiciness and adjust as needed. Be careful not to over-mix, though. This is the time for restraint. Don't futz with your brownie batter too long. When it meets your requirements, spread the batter evenly into your prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is almost firm to the touch. With brownies, slight under-baking is much preferable to the alternative.
I highly recommend eating these with a lovely vegan whipped cream. Of course, I have a recipe for the perfect thing. We had them with an orange-infused coconut whipped cream, but you can also use the much-maligned Soyatoo or Hip Whip or whatever. Ice cream would also be good.