Adventures In Coconut Flour

There are many things that I love about writing this blog. The sense of excitement that came from starting a new adventure after saying goodbye to my former longtime career, the satisfaction that came from finally doing something I had long dreamed about and recently, a new one that I had never even thought about before.

I began to realize just how much writing a food blog opens your mind to trying new ingredients. I think in general I do have a fairly good sense of adventure when it comes to trying new things, but there are many ingredients that have truly never crossed my mind before. When one of your main focuses becomes your blog and the topic is food, it happens organically quite often. Sometimes it happens because I seek out new things to try and on occasion, thanks to my wife Lori, a new ingredient just falls into my lap!

Ever since Karen and I started this blog, Lori has enjoyed shopping for random ingredients to stock in the house. She has told me that she likes seeing what they will magically turn into. It started last winter and continued this one with various vegetables that I found myself roasting and turning into soups to share on our lunch breaks – perfect for the cold winter days.

She doesn’t always just present me with veggies though, sometimes an ingredient I have never even thought about will appear. Last weekend after our grocery order was delivered and we finished unpacking and putting everything away, I sat back down to finish my morning coffee. As I grabbed my cup to take a sip, she placed a bag of coconut flour on the counter in front of me and smiled and walked away. I think she enjoys sitting back and watching me in the moments that follow because she knows more often than not the item she placed before me will get stuck in my head, much like a song can get stuck in there!

I took a few more sips of my coffee as I stared at that bag and I didn’t disappoint her as the show began! Two minutes later my phone was in my hand and I was reading about it. I learned about suggested amounts to use in place of regular flour, about how it absorbs a great deal of moisture so you need to add enough liquid to prevent what you’re making from getting dry and how depending on what you are making, some coconut flavor can come through in what you make.

With that bit of information in my head, I began to think about what I should make for my first time using coconut flour. It would need to be something that I didn’t think would end up being dry when done, while at the same time tasting okay if some coconut flavor did come through. Almost immediately I thought “brownies!”

Not too long ago in our most recent round of Angie’s Kitchen, we made brownies. I joked at the end of round 2 that I liked my changes to the original recipe, but there were other things I would also like to try and that perhaps it was time for brownies 3.0. I didn’t expect that I would be working on a 3.0 recipe idea so soon after that, nor did I even remotely think that using coconut flour would be one of the changes I made, but nevertheless, here we are!

I decided to work with my 2.0 recipe and tweak it just a bit. I lowered the amount of butter back to 4 tablespoons as it was in my grandmother’s original recipe, but I kept the extra egg for moisture. In our Angie’s kitchen post we also spoke about baking powder and how some brownie recipes use it and some don’t. Grandma’s recipe didn’t use it and I kept it that way in my 2.0 update. For this recipe, not knowing how coconut flour would act with no leavening agent, I opted to add a small amount. Finally, of course, the regular flour was swapped with coconut flour.

After I mixed up the batter, I found it to be a bit dense. That didn’t totally concern me as that is not unusual with brownie batter, but to err on the side of caution I went ahead and added a touch of extra moisture with a bit of oil. I decided at that point that it was time to bake them up and see what happened and off they went into the oven, less than 90 minutes after Lori put the bag of flour in front of me!

Brownies 3.0 – aka Coconut Flour Brownies

After cooling and cutting them, it was time to dive in and have a taste. You never know what you will end up with when you try something new, but this one was a pleasant surprise. Everyone in the family loved them – they were moist and chewy and the brownie flavor came through perfectly.

My wife and son both said they tasted just like a regular brownie and they didn’t really taste the coconut. I agreed that the taste was very much like a brownie, but for me, there was a bit of coconut flavor that came through. I like coconut, so I didn’t mind it and chocolate pairs well with coconut which was in part what influenced my decision to try brownies first.

Later that night, I still had coconut flour on my mind and I started to think about how that flavor also pairs nicely with almond. I remembered a delicious coconut almond macaroon that we used to get a long time ago in college when we used to go to Atlantic City. I wondered if I could create a cookie that was similar in flavor to those macaroons by using the coconut flour, pulverized almonds and some almond extract. The next morning I was back in the kitchen writing out a recipe to test and mixing up the dough. It smelled very much like it would have the flavor I was hoping for, but you never really know until the taste test. I rolled up the cookies and into the oven they went.

Coconut Almond Cookies

For my brownies, I think a combination of wise ingredient choices contributed to their success along with perhaps a touch of beginners luck. For my second attempt, the coconut almond cookies, it appeared as if that beginners luck had run out! I wouldn’t necessarily say that my ingredient choices were bad, but rather that the amount of each ingredient used did not add up to a great success.

I was hoping they would flatten out more during baking, but they retained the ball shape. That certainly is not the worst thing though, many cookies remain that way after they are done baking. While I would still like to change that, the bigger issues with the cookie were with texture and flavor.

The almond flavor was there, but it felt a bit like it was hiding just under the surface waiting to fully come out. When I create a new recipe idea, I am generally of the mind that less is more. Why dump in a half a cup of sugar, when a third will do? Sometimes that gamble pays off, and other times it doesn’t. In this case, using less sugar resulted in a cookie that just plain wasn’t sweet enough, and I think that lack of sweetness is what also caused the full almond flavor to not come through.

The other big issue I had with the cookie was the lack of moisture. From my research I knew that this can be an issue when using coconut flour and while I successfully hit the nail on the head in that area with the brownies, I fell short with the cookies. They weren’t completely dry, but they were dry enough to make the eating experience somewhat unpleasant. I’ve mentioned in past entries that when I create a new recipe, I generally rate it in one of three ways:

  1. An instant keeper!
  2. Try, try again – it didn’t hit the mark, but there is good potential there.
  3. Throw away this recipe idea and never speak of it again!

I rate these cookies a 2 – there is definitely potential there. One day they will hopefully make a triumphant return to blog. In the meantime, I am happy to share the brownie recipe with you today. While a rating of 1 is often a little more elusive than a rating of 2, I am happy to say that I would rate them a 1.

Brownies 3.0 – Coconut Flour Brownies

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ounces 72% dark chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Slowly melt together the butter and chocolate in the microwave until smooth and just melted. I like to use the defrost setting in 30 to 60 second increments for melting butter and chocolate. I feel like it gives you more control in getting there slowly without making the mixture too hot for adding the eggs.

Stir the sugar, vanilla, eggs and oil into the melted butter and chocolate mixture until well combined, then add in the coconut flour and baking powder and stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened well.

While the mixture sits for a few minutes to allow the coconut flour to begin to absorb some of the moisture, grease a 7 inch square pan. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 25 to 27 minutes, allow to cool and then cut into 16 squares and serve.

If you have worked with coconut flour before, I would love to hear about some of your experiences or tips you have found helpful when using it. Also, if you try the brownie recipe, please let me know what you think. Until next time, I hope you have a great weekend!

From Angie’s Kitchen – Brownies Revisited

Welcome to round two of brownies from Angie’s kitchen. Last week we followed my grandma’s recipe to the letter as we do in round one – or as close to the letter as we possibly can given the occasional set of esoteric directions! For round two, we get to research ideas and we can alter the recipe in any way we choose.

You may recall that I ended round one by saying that the original recipe was pretty good and the flavor was nice, but they were a bit sweet and extremely chewy. I enjoy a good chewy brownie, but my hope for round two was that I could make them a little less taffy like and more like the chewy type of brownie I am used to eating. Also on my agenda was to lower the level of sweetness a bit.

I did a bit of research this time and found dozens of variations on recipes for brownies. Some used twice the butter of our original recipe, some had more flour, some had less, some used more eggs, some used cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate and some used just a touch of baking powder. At one point I even stumbled across a story about Katharine Hepburn and her brownie recipe! She is one of my wife Lori’s favorite actresses, so I had to pause a moment and share the story with her. It’s a pretty amusing tale and if you are interested in reading it, click here.

A funny coincidence happened right when I was going to share the Katharine Hepburn story with Lori – she was coming to tell me that she was watching Giada and she was making brownies. She told me how she made hers and suddenly I had one more piece of research in my brownie making arsenal. All of this information was great, but in the end it was up to me to decide how I wanted to change grandma’s recipe and what those changes would be.

My ultimate choice of changes were fairly simple. First, I decided that the sugar needed to be decreased since I wasn’t using an unsweetened chocolate which made my original attempt a bit too sweet. I thought that lowering the sugar would also help in reducing the extreme chewy quality, but I felt I needed to go a step further in trying to deal with that as well. So, I decided to add a bit more moisture to the mix in order to help better dissolve the sugar by adding an extra tablespoon of butter and an additional egg.

I briefly debated the use of baking powder, but decided that I would keep true to the original recipe in that area and skipped it. I figured that if no baking powder was good enough for my grandma Angie and Katharine Hepburn, then it was good enough for me!

One other small note I didn’t discuss last week. The original recipe included chopped nuts. I generally don’t care for them in my brownies, so I left them out when I made them. The same holds true for my round two recipe. I didn’t use them, but have included them as an optional add in if you enjoy them.

Brownies 2.0

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ounces 72% dark chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice (if desired)

Cream together the sugar, butter and vanilla with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Beat in the eggs at a slow speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. Next, do the same with the melted chocolate – make sure the chocolate isn’t too hot, you don’t want the eggs to cook.

Mix in the flour by hand until just combined and then mix in the nuts if you are using them.

Spread the mixture evenly in a greased 7 inch square pan and bake at 325 degrees for 25 to 27 minutes. Cool thoroughly and then cut into 16 squares.

Brownies 2.0

In the end, I was really happy with the results and the taste test went over well with my family. They still had that delicious brownie flavor and the reduction in sugar made them more enjoyable and didn’t leave you feeling like you were trapped in a major sugar rush!

The only thing I am still debating is did I overstate the reduction in the chewy quality? They were no longer taffy like which was good and they were still pretty fudgy, but maybe I leaned a bit too much toward a cake like brownie in the end. Perhaps going back to one egg and sticking with the extra butter and reduced sugar would have brought me right where I wanted to be.

Time to try brownies 3.0? Possibly, but for now I’ll put that on the back burner. On that note, I’ll hand this off to Karen to share her round two experience.

It’s always fun to see how Ray and I approach the 2nd rounds of our From Angie’s Kitchen challenges. Often we come to the same conclusions, but we also diverge quite frequently in our solutions. I think this round we did a little of both.

First though, I’ll share a little of my research with you. The very first brownie is credited to Bertha Palmer and her pastry chef made as part of a boxed lunch for society ladies attending the 1893 World’s Columbian Expedition in Chicago. This brownie is still being made today and may be purchased at the Palmer House Hotel. So, if you happen to be in Chicago, and you love brownies, that’s where to sample the original.

The first known mention of a brownie in a cookbook is in the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer published in 1896, but this confection did not contain chocolate. It utilized molasses. I’m curious as to what this would taste like, but perhaps not curious enough to try baking it myself. However, by the time the 1906 edition was published, chocolate was included and the recipe is nearly identical to the one we made last week.

Before beginning my revisions for round 2, I had to break down what I thought of round 1 and what needed to change. The thing I liked most about the first brownie was the fact that it tasted like a Tootsie Roll. Was that worth pursuing? I decided that as amusing as it was, that would not be the direction I would go in. What was wrong with the first brownie? A lot. It was too sweet, too chewy and too flat. That was what I would work on.

To achieve these objectives, I did not reduce the sugar. Instead, I upped my chocolate game. This round I used a bittersweet chocolate, doubled the amount and added cocoa powder. I felt like this would bring balance to the brownies. I remembered what a minuscule amount of batter there was last week, so I increased the amount of flour and skipped the sifting. I added a second egg and bumped up the amount of butter just as Ray did, but unlike Ray, I did add a small amount of baking powder and salt. One of the observations Tom had made last week was that he felt the original brownies weren’t mixed well enough, so I incorporated the ingredients differently this time.

2nd Time Around Brownies

  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 TBSP butter
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate 70%
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×9 square baking pan.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or microwave and set aside to cool.

In a large separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add chocolate and butter mixture and beat until well mixed. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture to the batter and once well incorporated, add remaining flour and mix well.

Spread into prepared 9×9 pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

2nd Time Around Brownies

This brownie was much more successful than the first batch. It was certainly less chewy than the first, but I let this batch go for the full 25 minutes. I think had I taken them out a minute or two sooner, they would have had a slightly better texture. I would also consider folding the flour mixture in the next time around instead of continuing with the mixer. The taste was quite good as well. Tom pronounced it to be a good brownie, so I’ll take that considering it is one of the few sweets he likes.

Brownies 3.0 you say, Ray? Why yes, I have an idea already. I’m not sure when I’ll have it perfected, but another brownie will be coming…