From the Kitchen

The Great “Healthy” Brownie Experiment

Or aka, “Why You Shouldn’t Trust Oprah.” Read on.

I recently did a call for recipes on my food blog, asking people to share their favorite recipes using beans. A lovely reader named Anne shared a very simple and intriguing recipe, Black Bean Brownies. It caught my attention. I emailed her, got a few details, and decided I would have to try the recipe out.

And then I remembered something. Way back in the day when I bought the book Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld, I tried several recipes in that book. And I was happy with all the recipes. But they were all savory dishes, and I never did try her famous “healthy” brownie recipe. You know, the brownies that Oprah tried on her show. The brownies about which Oprah said “MMMM, these are good!” Yeah, that healthy brownie recipe.

So, armed with two “healthy” brownie recipes that I really wanted to try, I set out on my great experiment: make healthy brownies, do a taste test, and then share the results with all of you!

First, I made the black bean brownies. Here’s what you do:

Get a dark chocolate brownie mix and a can of black beans. Drain and rinse the beans, put them back in the can, then fill the can with water. Puree the beans and water, add to the brownie mix and bake according to the package directions. That’s IT. No eggs, butter, water, nada. Just the beans, the mix and an oven. Oh, and a pan. The pan’s kinda important.

The black bean brownies are actually good! I made Nate try them and before telling him what was in the recipe. He couldn’t figure it out and just commented that they were super, duper chocolatey. Which is true. They are very dark and rich and make for a nice, thick brownie. You do get a hint of the black bean texture, but honestly, it’s really hard to tell that beans are in there. I think beans are wonder foods, so any chance I get to incorporate them into a recipe, I’m happy! The top of the brownie is very shiny and moist, however. One of my favorite parts of a brownie is the crusty top, so I definitely missed that.

Time to move on to Jessica Seinfeld’s recipe. Soooo…this recipe has spinach and carrot puree added to the batter. It also uses trans-fat free margarine spread and only egg whites. I have to admit, I’m a firm believer in butter, so I went with that instead of the spread, and I used whole eggs since my eggs were medium instead of large, and the recipe called for egg whites from large eggs.

So, are they good? Well…not really. Of course, after Oprah, I had high expectations. But there are a few strikes against this recipe.

Strike 1: You have to eat the brownies after they are completely cooled or they are not good at all. And the cookbook tells you that. Hmmm…I can’t eat the brownies warm? Isn’t that the only way to eat brownies?

Strike 2: We don’t like the texture. It’s funny. Kind of, I don’t know, spongey-ish or something. They look fudgy, but that is not how I would describe them after eating them. The brownies are very flat, and they have that shiny moist top like the black bean brownies.

Strike 3: They were kind of a pain in the you-know-what to make. Granted, Jessica’s whole concept is that you have a bunch of purees all prepared and ready to go in the freezer. I, of course, did not have that…so I had to steam and puree my carrots and spinach, which added a lot of prep time. (And, p.s., I steamed and pureed a GIANT bunch of spinach, which only yielded 1/2 cup!)

Before I call the recipe OUT…I do want to say that I really like the concept of adding pureed vegetables to recipes. And I’ve had great success with other recipes in that cookbook. I still feed my kids vegetables on the side, but I love the idea of adding a nutritional boost to foods, so I’m down with the idea.

But the brownies? Well, sorry to say, but three strikes and you’re out. And, yeah, you shouldn’t trust Oprah. I am not going to make the Deceptively Delicious brownie recipe again. I even had my two-year-old do a taste test. She picked the black bean brownies, and didn’t even finish the carrot/spinach brownie on her plate. I think that speaks volumes.

So, there you have it! Base hit for the black bean brownies, strike out for the carrot/spinach brownies. But no homeruns.

After all is said and done, here is my final conclusion. Eat extra salad with dinner and just go with an honest-to-goodness brownie for dessert!

Jane Maynard is a regular contributor to Make and Takes. She is the writer and founder of the food blog This Week for Dinner, and has a great husband and two beautiful daughters. Jane loves eating, which comes in handy for a food blogger. Chocolate, cannoli, and H&H Bagels are her top foods of choice.

25 comments

  1. I totally agree with you on the Deceptively Delicious brownies. I made them a while back when I first got the cookbook and they are not good. Mine did seem to come out more chewy, though. They smell like cooked veggies… yuck. But, I do like many of the other recipes in the book.

  2. I also made the Jessica Seinfeld brownies with HIGH hopes.
    I didn’t notice the part about NOT eating them while warm. I agree, warm brownies are the best. We did not like them at all. When we tasted them after they had cooled, they were MUCH better; by comparison they were good. But I think we were so jaded from the warm brownie taste, we couldn’t stomach them. I quickly took them over to my 3rd graders classroom to share. That classroom gobbled them up, loved them! I have never made them again.

  3. ha ha! nate said that when we were eating them…”well, maybe kids would eat them without thinking.” and it sounds like he was right! go 3rd graders! :)

    and I’m so glad I’m not the only one who didn’t like these brownies. I was wondering who was the crazy one…me or oprah. glad it’s not me. okay, oprah was probably just being nice. she was on camera. and it was jerry seinfeld’s wife. ;)

  4. Similar to the black bean puree, I do brownie mix and a small can of pumpkin once in a while. I’d imagine it has a similar texture to the black bean brownies.

  5. barbara bakes – glad you appreciate my conclusion, a woman after my own heart! :)

    barbara – LOVE the pumpkin idea! I think I just might have to try that! :)

  6. I agree with you about the black bean brownies. My mom made them a few weeks ago and they were awesome!

    I’m glad that you mentioned not to try the ones from Seinfeld. We have that cookbook too. We now add pureed butternut squash, pumpkin, or sweet potato to almost everything. I don’t use butter or oil anymore, just puree. That helps to keep the food moist AND lowers the fat and calories a bit. Plus, you get a bit of extra veggies.

  7. laura, I think I’m going to have to make a bunch of squash, pumpkin or sweet potato puree. I have to say, those were my favorite purees when I tried recipes from that book – I loved putting sweet potato puree in chicken soup – it was still brothy and tasted great!

  8. I saw you stick with the Julia Child brownies on your blog. Eat a salad and then indulge with those babies!!

  9. I’ve made black bean brownies before, but I didn’t use a mix since we have a lot of food allergies. I thought mine were…ok. Weird texture. But my 2 year old loved them! I didn’t mind her having a few since they were high in protein. But I won’t make them for myself…no sir!

    Thanks!
    frugally-natural.blogspot.com

  10. ha ha! I think the key is SUPER DARK CHOCOLATE…I thought the taste was totally fine, but like I said, there was some bean texture a bit…like it was in your teeth or something. but, I am not going to try them from scratch, thanks for your comment so I know!! :)

  11. I have tried the black bean in the brownie mix with no complaints from experts (my son and husband), what they don’t know wont hurt them. Just don’t think I could slip the carrot puree and spinich in there, not sure I would want to. I love the pumpkin pureee idea.

  12. I think Deceptively Delicious is deceptive in that nothing I’ve made from that book is the least bit delicioius.
    I make a black bean brownie that does not use a mix or flour. It’s super yummy. My kids actually prefer them to “normal” brownies.
    1 can black beans
    3 lightly beaten eggs
    1/3 c melted coconut oil or melted butter
    1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
    dash salt
    2 tsp vanilla
    1/2 c honey
    1/2 c dark chocolate chips
    350 degrees. Mix everything in a blender or processor until super smooth. Pour into pan and bake 30 minutes or until toothpick comes clean in the middle.
    Seriously super fudgy and yummy.

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  14. I guess I missed it, what is important about the pan?

    I am about to give away my copy of Deceptively Delicious as well. To much work, for the limited amount of benefit. (Some things don’t even have a full serving of veggies per serving, so it’s a LOT of extra work for a bite or two of veggie.) And I agree, the taste on the desserts isn’t my fav. :)

  15. Great post. I’ve been curious to know whether deceptively delicious was worth it or not. And the the bean brownie mix sounds super easily. I’ll definitely try it! Thanks

  16. I have also come to same conclusion about the Deceptively Delicious cookbook: something’s “off” with most of the dessert recipes. But I still pull it out when I want to make purees or baby food everynow and then. I’ve heard good things about the Black Bean Brownies, but I’m sticking with my regular recipe. Thanks for the comparison!

  17. I agree. Plus who has that much time to prep? When I want to have brownies it is usually as soon as possible! I just found the perfect Gooey Chocolate Brownie Recipe!!
    1/4 cup melted butter
    1/4 cup applesauce (use butter instead if you’re feeling really indulgent)
    1 cup white sugar
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/3 cup cocoa powder
    1/2 cup all purpose flour
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a small pan.
    Add sugar, eggs and vanilla to melted butter. Beat in the remaining ingredients and spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 15 minutes. Do not overcook! Your cooking time may vary depending on your pan size. These taste so delicious- lick the batter spoon and sneak up late to get more when everyone has gone to bed delicious. )theu r from http://thischickcooks.blogspot.com/

  18. The first clue was “you can’t eat them warm”, not so much! Warm and brownies are not to be separated, ever!

  19. The trick is to puree the black beans…..I took a normal brownie mix and pureed the beans…you would never know…cause they are liquid and not whole. i never leave anything whole because as soon as a kid figures it out it is over with…puree everything that you want to hide.

  20. This looks like this is a pretty old post but I just wanted to say that I made Jessica’s brownies tonight but changed a couple of things. I used unsweetened baking chocolate, added another couple tablespoons of brown sugar, used two, whole, large eggs, used canola oil instead of the margarine, and had no cocoa so I used Giradelli mocha cocoa mix. They turned out super fluffy and cakey and actually taste quite good. They aren’t rich and chocolately as I normally like a brownie, but if I had used cocoa, that probably wouldn’t be a problem. But for a brownie with only 133 calories, mine turned out pretty well!

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