Lean, Mean Brownie Beans


Packed with heart healthy, cholesterol-lowering fiber, high in protein, and loaded with nutrients, beans promote satiety, have stellar health benefits, are low on the glycemic index, and best of all are tasty, too. Plus, their binding texture holds star promise for making baked goods gluten free.  Still, binding with beans isn't exactly my first instinct when lightening up recipes like cakes and cookies. So when I came across the following recipe from one of my absolute favorite food sites, 101 Cookbooks, I was totally intrigued. Scanning the ingredients, it also occurred to me that sweet beans aren't as surprising as one might think. I actually even grew up with them. My Mom's family, who immigrated from Hong Kong when she was 4, showered us with cherished Chinese treats whenever we saw them, including moon cakes and steamed buns plump with red bean paste. When I taught ESL in Taiwan for a year in between college and grad school, my favorite snack was a red bean popsicle. With these in mind, black bean-based brownies seemed a perfectly doable, irresistibly tempting challenge. I haven't made this richer version yet, but here's the original recipe, credited on Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks site to Baking With Agave Nectar author Ania Catalano:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate 1 cup unsalted butter 2 cups soft-cooked black beans, drained well (hs: canned is fine) 1 cup walnuts, chopped 1 tablespoon vanilla extract ¼ cup (granulated) natural coffee substitute (or instant coffee, for gluten-sensitive) ¼ teaspoon sea salt 4 large eggs 1½ cups light agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 11- by 18-inch (rimmed) baking pan (hs note: or jellyroll pan) with parchment paper and lightly oil with canola oil spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on high. Stir with a spoon to melt the chocolate completely. Place the beans, 1/2 cup of the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a couple of spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Blend about 2 minutes, or until smooth. The batter should be thick and the beans smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts, remaining melted chocolate mixture, coffee substitute, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

In a separate bowl, with an electric mixer beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the agave nectar and beat well. Set aside.

Add the bean/chocolate mixture to the coffee/chocolate mixture. Stir until blended well.

Add the egg mixture, reserving about 1/2 cup. Mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 cup egg mixture until light and fluffy. Drizzle over the brownie batter. Use a wooden toothpick to pull the egg mixture through the batter, creating a marbled effect. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the brownies are set. Let cool in the pan completely before cutting into squares. (They will be soft until refrigerated.)

Makes 45 (2-inch) brownies.

As you can see, this recipe looks delicious, but definitely on the heavier side for what I tend to cook and bake. And besides, testing out variations was way too beguiling a challenge to ignore. Here's the most popularly received test version:

Black Bean Brownies


  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 eggs and 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 heaped cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar, honey or agave nectar
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1/4 to 1/2  cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8x8 square baking dish.In a small pan, melt butter and one ounce chocolate.
  2. Combine the black beans, eggs, melted butter mixture, cocoa powder, baking powder, applesauce, vanilla extract, sugar/honey, water and instant coffee in a food processor; process until smooth; pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts, if using.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until the top is dry and the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.

Notes on the above:

1. After processing the beans and other ingredients, I discovered to my dismay that I was really low on both honey and agave, so for this trial I used 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup honey. Next time I'll go all honey or agave.

2. Having made a little extra batter, I did some extra in ramekins--highly recommend this! Especially if you serve them warm immediately after baking. They're rich and fudgy this way.

3. Baking powder is optional, and was an afterthought I added in the ramekins.  My husband found that those without  the leavening agent had a lingering after taste that detracted from the bars. It also provides a more cake-like texture, but not as different as one might expect. Some tasters did prefer the moister baking powder free bars, but not by much, so including the teaspoon seems a safe bet.

4. If you go without baking powder, try them chilled. The dense consistency tastes smooth and creamy. I found a slight aftertaste was distinctly coffee, not beany!

Taste Test Bottom Line

OK, so first of all, to really maximize your enjoyment of these (and they are really worth enjoying), you've got to get over the idea that they're "brownies".  Unless you're like me (and you may well be...there are plenty of us out there), someone who is so accustomed to lightening up fare that the decadent original is far enough removed from memory that anything vaguely similar gets a free pass to qualifying as dessert.  However, once you do decide to think of these for what they are, chocolatey treats that can be easily tweaked for different "looks" and styles and also sneak in nutritional bonuses, they're delectable. Depending on what your purpose is for these--after school snack for kids or sweet ending to a casual dinner, and how concerned you are about overall fat and calorie content, I would go with the inclusion of nuts and chocolate chips for wider appeal, but that's just a given, isn't it? In the ramekins, the melted chocolate and fudgy centers are filled with gooey yumminess that don't taste like black beans at all and really do look attractive, too. You could dust with powdered sugar or nut meal for added flair.