Bean in there brownies

bean brownies

How fine fat is! The same ingredient that makes dessert delicious goes straight to my wannabe six-pack. I want to make my cake and eat it too, so I experiment with ways to make dessert healthier.

The oldest trick in low-fat baking is to replace half of the fat with applesauce. Besides being moist, applesauce contains sugar, which tenderizes dough. It works beautifully in quick breads and spice cakes but not so well in pound cakes and pie crusts, where butter is crucial for the flavor and flakiness. Applesauce also doesn’t fare as well in cookies. It contains too much moisture, so cookies get cakey and lose their crisp edges.

There are a couple ways to get around the applesauce conundrum. For cookies, you can omit up to half the butter because they’re so rich already. I usually leave out 1/3 or 1/4 just to be safe. Or, you can use a different fat substitute.

Other cultures have long valued puréed beans for their smooth texture. Good Israeli hummus, for example, is as rich as butter. (I’d take The Hummus Place‘s signature dish over foie gras any day.)  The Chinese and Japanese add sugar to puréed beans and put it inside pastries.

As seen in black-eyed susan cake, puréed beans are actually a good fat substitute. If you don’t believe me, scientific experiments have shown that puréed white beans can replace up to half the fat (by weight) in cookies and brownies. To take advantage of the beans’ smooth texture, I used them in a fudgy brownie recipe.

I generally prefer chewy brownies, especially Alice Medrich’s divine, low-fat ones in Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts and Cookies and Brownies.  While chewy brownies have great flavor, they lack that melt-in-your-mouth texture. For the richest brownies, you need lots of chocolate, butter, and just enough flour to hold it together. Don’t even think about adding baking powder or soda.

My favorite fudgy recipe has a whopping 12 ounces of chocolate, three sticks of butter, three cups of sugar, six eggs and just over a cup of flour. If there was ever a poster child to use bean purée, this was it. The tinkered brownies were moist, smooth and delicate. They were so delicate, in fact, that you could probably get away with using all-purpose flour. They didn’t taste beany or like they were reduced fat. I noticed less butteriness, but only because I had eaten the regular brownies before. Anyone else won’t detect the secret ingredient.

The Richest Fudgy Brownies, Lightened

Inspired by The Farm of Beverly Hills recipe, as printed in Gourmet

Makes 36 small but very intense brownies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
12 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
3/4 cup (six ounces) white bean purée
6 large eggs
1 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350° F with a rack in the middle. Grease and flour a 13- by 9- by 2-inch metal baking pan.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (aka a double boiler). When smooth, take the chocolate mixture off the heat. Whisk in the white bean purée and the eggs.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in a separate bowl and stir thoroughly. Combine with the chocolate mixture.

Pour batter into pan and bake until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted into center comes out with crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours, before cutting.

How to Make White Bean Purée:

If starting from scratch, soak dry cannellini, great northern, or white kidney beans with water by at least two inches. Cover and let stand for up to 24 hours; refrigerate if the kitchen is very warm. Soaking is optional, but it can save anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour of cooking time. To cook the beans, drain them and cover with water to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off the foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until they are very soft. Unsoaked cannellinis take about 30 minutes; great northerns and white kidney beans take one to 1 1/2 hours. The beans will swell to about three times their original size.

Measure out six ounces, or about 1 1/3 cup of cooked beans. If using canned beans, rinse them thoroughly to get rid of excess salt. Purée in a blender or food processor until smooth. You should have 3/4 cup of purée.


  • The salt is very important to give off that buttery flavor.
  • Whisk the eggs in just to combine. Don’t beat them, as the extra air will make the brownies cakey (which is fine if you like cakey brownies, but there are lower calorie recipes for that!).
  • To make one cup of cake flour, subtract 2 Tbsp from one cup of all-purpose flour. Then add 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. Some say that cornstarch makes baked goods taste chalky, but I can’t detect it in small quanities. If you despise cornstarch, just subtract the 2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour and don’t add anything else. In this recipe, you can get away with not doing any substitutions, if you like.
  • These brownies will only be as good as the chocolate you use. Save your chocolate chips for cookies, and do not under any circumstances use Hershey’s. You don’t have to go all out with Valrhona, but I used a mid-range chocolate from Jacques Torres.
  • Silicone pans are stick resistant but not non-stick. You’ll need to grease them.

Comments (12)      Email Email      Print Print


  1. Tyler said,

    That’s so cool. I love brownies (I too grew up on the box kind, and I still think they’re pretty damn good). I’ve eaten a lot of red bean mochis before, but I never considered beans as a substitute for butter. Woo hoo!! I’m hungry now.

    September 18, 2006 at 12:19 am

  2. Kelli said,

    That’s a brilliant idea! I must try that. I might try it with red beans. I had a red bean brownie once in Japan that was delicious. Thanks for the tip.

    October 12, 2006 at 4:26 pm

  3. julie said,

    Thanks for this fantastic idea! I baked the most delicious brownies adapted from Nigella using only 2 tbsp oil and bean purée! Delicious!

    November 26, 2006 at 10:24 am

  4. Jessica said,

    Hi Julie, glad it worked out for you!

    November 26, 2006 at 1:54 pm

  5. pumpkinpie said,

    Thanks for the inspiration! These were fantastic– I can’t believe it’s not butter! What other recipes have you tried with bean puree?

    March 7, 2007 at 10:42 pm

  6. Jessica said,

    Pumpkinpie, this black-eyed pea cake is delicious. I’ve been meaning to make it again with different beans and fruit.

    March 11, 2007 at 7:18 pm

  7. pumpkinpie said,

    Hi Jessica, have you tried these cookies? They were pretty popular with my husband and his colleagues.

    October 30, 2007 at 4:35 am

  8. Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said,

    Rachael, thanks for the recipe! I haven’t tried putting bean puree in cookies, but it’s on my list.

    November 2, 2007 at 4:20 pm

  9. Nick said,

    Wow, these do sound really good. Get some good old nutrition in there, I like it! I’ve always liked the idea of using bean puree as a fat substitute but never really got around to experimenting with it.

    The Peanut Butter Boy

    March 9, 2008 at 3:47 am

  10. Suzana said,

    Actually, I’ve been trying to figure out good recipe for cookies containing adzuki or mung bean. My project is based on a TCM. Do you have any idea? Thanks in advance.

    Sane Scientist

    June 16, 2008 at 8:37 am

  11. Anna said,

    Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for the bean brownie comment. I think your friend would like Heidie’s (no wheat) version. This one looks good too. I’m going to add it to the collection.

    January 9, 2009 at 8:39 am

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