My friend Adam is a serious health-foodie. He teaches sprouting workshops, is part of a vegetarian soup club, and appreciates a good sourdough as much as I do. He’s also quite fearless in the kitchen, combining tastes and textures I would never dream of, most often successfully. There was that one time however he put peppermint oil in a batch of his granola, and it tasted like breakfast and toothpaste all at the same time. I admire his gumption, but he will never live that one down.
One day while I was over at his place, I was really craving a cookie. He lives near a very high-vibe bakery so I was nearly out the door when he said, “wait! I have something you should try”. He proceeded to tell me that his experimental cookies were flour-free, grain-free in fact, and contained only six ingredients. I was scared – this sounded like a treat from wrong town. But when I took my first skeptical nibble, I was shocked. This cookie was everything I had ever wanted: rich, moist, not-too-sweet and deeply satisfying. Then he told me that it was just almond butter, eggs, maple syrup, chocolate, baking soda and sea salt. Um, what?! No flour? How was this even possible? Inexplicable, culinary wizardry at its best, that’s for darn sure, and an experiment gone absolutely right.
After googling almond butter cookies, I discovered that this kind of recipe had been floating around the interwebs unbeknownst to me. Anyway, I got Adam to make them for me again this past summer at his cottage, posted them on Instagram, and many of you asked for the recipe. I tinkered with them a lot to make sure they were just right, changing up the nut butters, using different sweeteners, various add-ins etc. (it’s a tough job, I tell ya). Then it dawned on me: what if I put the dough into a pan and made blondies?! For the win.
Now I don’t know about you, but I take my indulgences seriously. When I crave something sweet, I definitely don’t mess around with mousses, flaky pastries or light-n’-airy items. Heck no. I want to sink my teeth into something substantial, for it to announce its presence to my stomach with a fulfilling thud, and feel like I actually ate something. These blondies are just that. Aside from their incredibly rich, satisfying flavour, the texture of them is ultra chewy and have that dense brownie quality I love so much. It still baffles me that there isn’t any flour in the recipe, since it just feels like there is, from a “this-must-be-really-bad-for-me perspective. Like I said, there is some serious alchemical conjuring taking place, proving that the universe loves us, so don’t ask any questions.
Being choosey about your Chocolate
Yes, yes, we’re talking about blondies here, but don’t all blondies have chocolate in them? I’m no expert, but I do believe this is a necessary addition. How do we go about choosing our chocolate though? Is there really a difference between cocoa mass percentages? Does organic really matter? Does milk chocolate count? Here are my top four tips for making sure your chocolate isn’t total junk food.
4 Tips for Choosing the Healthiest Chocolate
Choose dark chocolate varieties. The darker the bar, the higher the cocoa mass percentage will be. When a bar says it is 70% cocoa that means it has a relatively high concentration of health-promoting compounds, like polyphenols and antioxidants. It also means that there is less room for schwaggy stuff like refined sugar, processed oils, and flavourings. Always choose a bar with a minimum of 70% cocoa solids for maximum benefits. If the chocolate bar does not list a cocoa percentage, consider skipping it.
Read the ingredients. High quality chocolate should only contain three to four ingredients: chocolate, cocoa butter/ cocoa mass, and/or cocoa liquor, plus sugar. If the bar contains any oil, milk or milk products, soya lecithin, emulsifiers, ‘natural flavour’, or preservatives, you may want to pass.
Buy Organic whenever possible. Cacao plants are some of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world. As pesticide residues can end up in the final product, choose chocolate that has been made from organically grown beans.
Learn about the process. Although it will require a little reconnaissance work, finding out how your chocolate was manufactured is important in determining how healthy it is. Drying cacao beans in the sun instead of roasting them preserves many of the chocolate’s delicate nutrients. Make sure that their processing temperature is not over 110°F. Avoid chocolate whose processing includes “Dutching”, an alkalization method that actually removes the polyphenols, as they lend characteristic bitter flavour to the finished product.
I also encourage you to purchase Fair Trade Certified chocolate whenever possible, as it makes a huge difference to the lives of cacao farmers and their families. Fair Trade is an international certification that ensures that farmers are guaranteed a minimum price for their product, decent working conditions, and that the processes they use protect the natural environment.
The blondies are not overly sweet, which I appreciate. If you like your desserts on the more saccharine side, I believe that swapping out ¼ cup of coconut sugar and replacing it with maple syrup would work very well. This would also help keep the blondies moist on the second and third day (although they won’t last that long. Trust.). You could also choose a chocolate with a lower cocoa mass, such as 70%, but don’t go lower than that, as the sugar in it will outweigh the health benefits of the chocolate itself. I chose a bar at 85%, which tends to be a little bitter, but I find it pairs well in this dessert.
As far as nut butter goes, anything goes. I used a homemade almond and hazelnut butter blend in these, which was unreasonably delicious (for a blended nut butter recipe, check out my post here). Because my nut butter was a deep caramel brown, my blondies turned out more like brunettes (tee hee), so the colour of your finished product depends on the nut butter you use. I tried a homemade sunflower butter in my experiments and it worked really well. I would also like to try tahini and pumpkin seed butter, although I know the colour in that case may be a little weird! I have a feeling cashew butter would taste out of this world, and pecan or walnut as well. And I definitely recommend roasted nut butter over raw for depth of flavour, and because you’ll be baking these anyway.
I will say that I really tried making these darn things vegan, but guys, it just didn’t work! Eggs in this case are crucial because they not only bind the ingredients, but they give the blondies air and volume. Using chia and flax works to bind, but you’ll end up with a tasty puddle. If that’s okay with you, go for it! I obviously ate all of my experiments, and quite happily indulged in many yummy, almond butter “pancakes”. I did not try vegan egg replacers though, and that may work better. If you have success in this arena, let me know.
And can we take a minute to talk about my favourite part of all? The corner pieces. If you actually own one of those funky all-corners brownie pans, you get where I’m coming from friend, and this is the time to use it. The edges are extra dense and chewy, slightly crisp and oooohhhhh my goodness I can’t even write about this anymore. On to the recipe.
Grain-free Chocolate Chunk Nut Butter Blondies
Makes 20 blondies
2 large, organic eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted nut butter (I used almond-hazelnut)
¾ cup / 100g coconut sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. fine grain sea salt
3.5oz / 100g dark chocolate (70% or higher), roughly chopped
a pinch flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), optional
1. Preheat oven to 325°F / 160°C.
2. In a small bowl whisk eggs and vanilla extract together. Set aside. In a measuring cup, combine coconut sugar, ¼ tsp. fine grain sea salt, and baking soda.
3. Measure out the nut butter and place in a large bowl. Add the egg mixture, stir thoroughly to combine. Add the coconut sugar mixture and fold together. The dough will be very thick. Add about half of the chopped chocolate, using your hands if necessary to incorporate.
4. Press the dough into a parchment-lined 8×8″ (20x20cm) brownie pan. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate over the top and press each piece slightly into the dough. Sprinkle with a pinch of flaky sea salt and place in the oven.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the blondies are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan completely before cutting.
Seeing as it’s February and we’ve been so very behaved since the first of January (right…?) I thought it was time to pull out the big guns and celebrate with these ladies. I hope you drop everything you are doing right now and go make them. It’s true, blondies have more fun!
xo, Sarah B
Show me your Blondies on Instagram: #MNRblondies