sweet potato and cacao brownies

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Now, let me just start this post by saying that I am a huge skeptic when it comes to ‘healthy’  versions of sweet treats such as mashed bean brownies, applesauce muffins and the like. I won’t touch them with a bargepole. Mostly as they taste quite horrible and, more importantly, because I love, consume and see the benefits of quality cultured butter consumption (I’ve even started making my own using this tutorial from the gorgeous Heidi Sze via Tucker. OBSESSED).

Case in point: last Sunday morning, I decided to make a batch of chewy, crackly brownies to bring as a contribution to our nephew’s birthday dinner that evening. Whilst I was rustling around in the refrigerator for my batch-churned Pepe Saya, Aaron chimed in: “…can you make healthy ones?”.

I immediately screwed up my nose. Healthy ones? For a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD? Uh, no. That’s not gonna go down well. But then my eye caught a bag of golden sweet potatoes, peacefully languishing in the vegetable drawer. An idea came to mind; a nutrient-filled, coconut drenched, cacao dusted idea.

Sweet potato brownies.

taters

After a little bit of internet research, I soon discovered that this idea wasn’t exactly new; in fact, a few hundred thousand million (or more) people have been baking these beauties since at least 2013. Most versions attest to be paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free and the like, and indeed they are – however, as someone who is fortunate enough to have no dietary restrictions, I just thought that they sounded delicious.

After inventing my own recipe, I did a little taste test prior to packing a plate for the nephew’s birthday party (I was still filled with flourishing seeds of doubt). A sliver revealed a moist, fudgy, supremely chocolatey brownie with a very faint shadow of sweet potato (mostly masked by smooth aftertastes of mild coconut, cacao and vanilla). I fell immediately in love and, after sharing a sliver with a very enthusiastic Aaron, my waning hope was sweetly restored.

We skipped off to the birthday party (cue glowing smiles of happiness).

cacao

plated

Now, in fear of habitually exceeding my blogger word allowance, I’ll cut out the niceties and head straight to the ‘kid verdict’ from our nephew’s birthday dinner. After the first few chews, these did not pass (I’m imagining Gandalf and the bridge of Khazad-dûm).

Possibly due to the vague aftertaste of coconut and sweet potato. Probably due to a childish unfamiliarity with healthy versions of sweet indulgences. Positively due to my enthusiastic cries of “They’re healthy!!” during the first few bites. Man, I’ve got a lot to learn about parenting.

I later returned to our vehicle with a superficial smile and an almost-full plate of sweet potato brownies. Despite Aaron’s reassurance (ah, bless that man) I was crushed, kicking myself for not using my tried and tested brownie recipe (one of my very first novice posts on WordPress, still a fail-safe favourite in our house and others). You live and you learn.

closeup

Anyway, it’s now been four days since I tasted the lingering bitterness of healthy baking defeat. I guess it was to be expected, but the buoyancy of imbued hope lingered high over my sea of doubts.

I’m probably not going to attempt healthy baking for children again unless they’re my own (whom, in my idealized, not-yet-a-parent mind are going to be raised on wholefoods and rice malt syrup). Or unless I coat each said item in melted dairy milk chocolate. Hm.

pour

After my story of failure, you’re possibly wondering why this recipe still made it to blog-post stage. Well, Aaron and I adore these little beauties. We’ve been devouring delicious slivers over the past few days with hot coffee or as an after-dinner treat, with reassurance that they’re choc-full of goodness.

I used milk chocolate chips for the version that I took to our nephew’s house (predominantly due to the kid factor – silly me) however future batches will be made with the substitution of either crunchy cacao nibs or 70% cocoa dark chocolate – the bitterness will do wonders in off-setting the mild taste of sweet potato.

Nope, they’re no crackle-topped, butter-filled brownies. They don’t ooze with melted chocolate. But they’re a marvelous staple to have in the fridge when you just want a fudgy chocolate fix without the regret. Just don’t tell the children that they’re healthy.

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Sweet Potato and Cacao Brownies

Makes 16 – 20 squares

  • 500g peeled, cubed sweet potato (I used gold, however the milder white sweet potato would work well)
  • 2 free-range eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup rice malt syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract*
  • 3 tbsp coconut flour*
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped bar chocolate or chocolate chips* (optional, I’d recommend 70% dark chocolate)
  • pinch of sea salt flakes

Line a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) brownie pan with baking paper, then set aside.

Place the cubed sweet potato into a medium saucepan with just enough water to cover. Boil until tender, then leave to cool in the cooking liquid.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).

Pulse the cooked sweet potato in a blender with 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid for 30 seconds or until just smooth (don’t over-process your sweet potatoes, you don’t want a gluggy mess).

mash

Transfer into a large bowl and add the coconut oil, rice malt syrup and vanilla extract.

Once thoroughly combined, add in the whisked egg and your dry ingredients – the coconut flour, cacao, baking powder, a pinch of sea salt and the chocolate chips.

bowl

Mix well, then spoon into the prepared brownie pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool, dust with some reserved cacao and slice into however many squares you like. Eat straight from the fridge, at room temperature or slightly heated with some cold dairy or coconut cream.

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*Exchange the vanilla extract for hazelnut liqueur, sweet orange extract or a few drops of peppermint oil if you like. Substitute chocolate chips for a handful of cacao nibs to add crunch and extra nutrients. Substitute coconut flour for oat flour or buckwheat flour if you like; I’d probably just cut down a bit of the sweet potato cooking liquid due to the reduced absorbency of alternative flours.

P.S. I had a little collaborator attempting to eat the goods helping me with this brownie shoot. You might be able to spot him here:

lokifeet

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73 responses

  1. As I sit here with my somewhat virtuous afternoon snack of canteloupe and almond/coconut milk, (true!) I’m chuckling away on the inside to your nephews reaction of a healthy chocolate brownie. I on the other hand love the look of these and as a lady with a lot of recent chocolate cravings, I’ll definitley pull this out for a friend who is Paleo (so she and I) can share. I once tried to put mushrooms on a pizza for my niece and nephew, 3 hours of pizza making with a 8 & 3 yr old, only to be told I put poison on the pizza. Lol! ;)

    • Hahaaaa, poison! I hated mushrooms as a child as well. Funnily enough my mum’s sneaky bolognaise (with chopped up mushrooms) must’ve worked because I love them now! Hopefully you and your paleo friend will love them as much as we did Alice! xxx

  2. Aww, what a shame your nephew didn’t like them! 13 year old boys are a very tricky group to please aren’t they! These look delicious to me though, i’d happily scoff down a couple telling myself proudly I was making a healthy choice! Jennie x

    • Haha, me too Jennie – thanks so much for the comment. Hm, I have a lot to learn about baking stuff for children, particularly those hooked on sweets already (I do hope that my kids won’t end up in that boat when we have them!). At least we adults get to benefit from the leftovers ;) x

  3. This was such a fun read. So sorry your nephew didn’t like them, I probably would have simply refused to taste them at his age, and my dad would probably have screwed up his nose at the word healthy, even though he is NOT 13 any more ;) But these look so delicious, and now that I have grown up and become adventurous, I have no doubts I’d love them!

    • Thanks so much Darya, haha… I enjoyed writing it too! And I know exactly what you mean, I know plenty of adults who wouldn’t be quite adventurous enough to like these. But luckily I’m married to a pretty open minded one ;) xx

  4. I liked you honest feedback with ‘Pros & Cons”. I am fully with you about the ‘healthy’ versions of sweet treat, in my practice, they never worked (saying so, some times ago, I made Courgette brownies a few times, which were nice, but I just couldn’t call them brownies, you know what I mean).
    So, if I ever need to make a healthy brownies, I think I’d definitely try this recipe, but what I’m really tempted by, it’s your other recipe of ‘proper’ brownies! :)

    • Thanks so much Yana, yes I know exactly what you mean. I’ve read recipes for zucchini brownies as well but I am yet to try them. These worked brilliantly but they’re still not ‘proper’ brownies I guess. A very nice alternative when you want something a little healthier! x

  5. I think these sound awesome! Stephie made black bean brownies and I really enjoyed them. Since we’re on #projectwedding with Stephie (read:trying to lose a few pounds), these just might be the ticket for us. I hope your week went well. xx

    • Thanks so much Julie! I’m yet to try black bean brownies but I have read quite a bit about them (Stephie doesn’t really like chocolate though, does she?). I’m curious now that I’ve tried these sweet potato ones. Not long to go til the wedding now, yay!! xx

  6. Haha, ahh yes, I’ve learned that a helpful aid in attaining approval on healthy sweets is to conceal the fact that they’re healthy until AFTER you get the thumbs up. I may or may not do that to Rob… ;) That way there are no fearful images of beans and potatoes floating around your taster’s mind, tarnishing any happy thought about sugar and butter.

    I cannot wait to taste these! I tried some healthy brownies using alternatives like black beans or chickpeas back when that started to gain popularity, but it was a pretty short phase for me. Sweet potatoes though? Never tried that, and I’m all for it! I’ve never used rice malt syrup and am not sure where I can buy it around here… Think honey or agave might work instead?

    I’ll let you know if these pass with Rob or not. ;)
    Love and hugs! xxxx

    • Haha, yes I’m a pretty lucky one – Aaron actually ASKS me to make healthy things which is a huge plus! You’re entirely right though, images of beans and potatoes don’t really equate to happiness when eating dessert ;) As for rice malt syrup, yep you can pretty much exchange 1:1 for honey or agave, though the honey might add a more obvious taste to the mixture (again detracting from happy sugar and butter thoughts! Rice malt syrup is pretty neutral). Thanks so much lovely one! Hope that you’ve had a beautiful start to the new year!! Hugs and love right back to you! xxxx

    • Thanks so much Lilly Sue, aw… I appreciate it heaps! I love your writing too – just finished reading about your adventures with Florentine. Yay for friendships that stay strong despite distance and time xxx

    • Yeah you can definitely substitute the rice malt syrup for agave or honey, most likely 1:1 for the agave but I’d probably reduce the honey a little bit due to the stronger flavour. I haven’t tried stevia but if you’ve got liquid stevia you could probably add 2-3 drops? Or another substitution would be to soak, chop and puree 3-4 medjool dates with the sweet potato, then mix everything as normal. I’d love to know how the substitutions work if you try them. I’ll give a few of these techniques a go with the next few batches that I make. Thanks xx

  7. Ha, yeah, that was probably your biggest mistake: telling kids they were healthy! Like you, I am happy to have no food issues and am generally leery of “healthy desserts.” But those appear to be full of so many tasty things…

    • Aw thanks so much Ruby! Haha, yes I feel the same! I do think it takes a bit of time to get used to other ingredients in tried-and-true chocolate desserts. Maybe I’ll wear them down with time ;) xx

  8. Ooh lovely! Healthy baking for children can be a challenge, for sure. Sometimes totally futile! But I agree that while these aren’t your typical oozy, gooey brownies we all love, when the craving hits, it’s best to have something a little healthier on hand. I’d love to try these for my workmates, many of whom follow a GF diet.

    • I do think they’re an awesome option for people with food intolerances, they’re gooey and delicious without having that vague taste of alternate flour that some GF brownies have. I’m a huge fan already, despite personal skepticism when I was mixing everything together! Thanks lovely! xx
      P.S whenever I try to access your blog it says that it is ‘protected’? Is there something I’m doing wrong!)

  9. As someone who teaches kids to cook and enjoy ‘real’ food for a living, I find that it’s all about creating the right environment for kids; one of curiosity, excitement and ownership. Get that right, and you will have them eating just about anything. Truly!

    A birthday party with lots of other sweet treats on offer was probably bound to find your lovely brownies falling short. If, on the other hand, you had a special day together shopping for the perfect sweet potato and the best quality vanilla, making a happy mess baking in your kitchen and presenting them ever so beautifully, he would probably have a very different experience and loved them!

    • What awesome tips Sam, thanks for this! I am definitely going to try shopping and cooking from scratch with the kids next time. Unfortunately my nephew is currently used to cooking from packet mixes as far as I know. I must make it my mission during their next sleepover at our house to do your exact recommendation above. Thanks heaps for this comment, it put a smile on my face! xx

  10. Oh Laura! I’m sorry they didn’t make the cut with the kids – I think if kids aren’t used to the ‘healthy’ taste, they just don’t quite compare. My cousin makes healthy treats like this for her kids all the time and they love them, maybe it’s just more exposure to them? Tastes change too! I have been meaning to try some sweet potato brownies for ages, since I did my chickpea ‘blondies’, which were a hit (with my older family, anyway). They still had a distinct chickpea-y aftertaste, but I thought they were great. Keep it up! Worst case scenario, the kids don’t like them and you get to keep them for yourselves ;) x

    • Yes I think you’re exactly right Caeli, it’s all to do with regular exposure and watching what your parents eat! I’m definitely making it my mission to keep trying the healthy treat thing! I do want to try chickpea blondies now that I’ve heard a few good personal reviews. Glad that yours worked brilliantly. And YES, it’s all good. Yay for more brownies for me and Aaron! xxx

  11. But they look wonderful Laura!!! Perhaps more perfectly suited to post-dinner party treat with friends… but I’m surprised to hear that the kids didn’t also go for them. Never mind – all the more for you and Aaron to indulge in!

  12. Those kids dont know a great thing when they see it. As a parent with 25 years experience, I would recommend telling them that they are not allowed to have any of the brownies.

    That will guarantee they dissapear.

  13. Laura, if I were a kid I’d have eaten those brownies, promise! They sound amazing!

    I think part of the problem with children and this sort of thing is the ‘health’ factor, as you mentioned. Whereas a large majority of adults (my dad excluded) would be really happy to make allowances in the flavour department if they knew the food was better for them, that just doesn’t wash with little ‘uns. They go by taste and taste alone … oh, and gross descriptions. Maybe if you’d said they were mashed bats with troll dandruff they might have gone down a little better?
    But, actually, it doesn’t sound to me like anyone over the age of 15 would have to “make allowances” – they look uber special to me.

    I’ve long meant to try beetroot chocolate cake but just get put off because my dad is the main eater of the thing and he hates beetroot (and, like the kids, anything too complex). I hear rave reviews from one corner of the internet and disappointed misery from another. I suppose if you stray from the expected norm it takes certain people more getting used to that others?

    Maybe I’ll try your walnut fudge brownies first, and then when I bring out the sweet potato ones I can say “Dad, look! These are from the same places as the walnut ones you loved so much!”. That’d get him eating them ;)

    • Haha you are so clever Trixie! And yes, what is it with Dads? Mine is the same. He’ll say it outright as well, if he doesn’t like anything I cook. Old school English (anything exciting with new strange ingredients does not go down well with him!). As for the descriptions, I love the idea of the mashed bats. Maybe I will rename these as ‘mashed bat brownies’. Then the kids would be disappointed that they missed out!
      Oh, and as for chocolate beetroot cake, I’ve loved most versions that I’ve eaten (though I haven’t made a batch myself so I have no good recipe recommendations, sorry!). They don’t really seem to have a strong beet flavour, though a few versions have a few visible pink specks which might give it away. Wish I could deliver a batch to you as an official taste tester / co-conspirator to convert British middle aged males to healthy eating ;)

  14. Jennee makes something pretty similar… Still hasn’t really won me over but that’s not going to stop her from trying :)
    I am happy to see even your future children will be raised on rice malt syrup ;). Very nice indeed

  15. This recipe is a god send for me Laura. The husband and I are slowly becoming very conscious of what we eat and we have been avoiding a lot of things. And I hardly experiment. Coincidentally I have 2 sweet potatoes sitting in my pantry and I think I am going to try this. Thank you for sharing.

    • Oh, I hope that they worked well for you lovely! I definitely loved them, despite initial reservations. Healthy baking is definitely different to the normal baked goods we are used to, but I loved these just the same! xx

    • Hahaa, that is TOTALLY okay David. I have days when I just want the crackled, buttery deliciousness too ;) As for my writing, it’s gone down the wayside since my computer crashed. I am borrowing Aaron’s PC as I type! We’re getting the laptop back from diagnostics tomorrow so fingers crossed. I have learned the hard way that I need to back things up! x

  16. Ah-mazing! I make sweet potato brownies too, and while my Mum is always a leeeetle suspicious of them (she’s my barometer for ‘healthy baking’ acceptability) she does love them. I can’t wait to give your recipe a try – and those photos are beautiful! These would make a great Valentine’s Day treat!

    • Haha, Aaron is my barometer for healthy baking too, he is very good (to his credit) but he’s a huge sweet tooth so I know that if things don’t pass his ‘taste test’ they won’t suit children either ;) I can’t wait to try your recipe now – is it much different to this one? xx

  17. The first rule of parenting Re:Feeding children is NEVER mention a change in recipe or a substitution or, God forbid, that a loved treat has now been made healthy. So, now that you have learned that one the hard way, let’s talk about those chewy, chocolately brownies! I think they look and sound divine!

    • You are entirely right Stacy, I learned the hard way!!! Ah dear. They were definitely delicious nonetheless! It’s probably a good thing that I am learning now, before becoming a parent ;) Hope that you have been well? I have become so behind on my reading since the laptop died. I am struggling with the iPad. Fingers crossed I will hear good news on Tuesday! xx

  18. Oh Laura this slice is right up my alley, fructose friendly with added vegetables and well the best of all…chocolate. I am very much a chocolate addict. I understand about being careful how you pitch a home made dessert. My niece and nephew immediately dont like my cooking (without trying it) because their parents have obviously taught them that all GF is gross. Suffice to say their diets are hardly the pinnacle of health.. Now I just dont tell them and hope they dont notice me eating it!

    • Oh no, I totally get your concerns about diets in the rest of the family. I do feel the same about my own nieces and nephew, their diets are a total contrast to what Aaron and I eat at home. But I do try and practice graciousness as I’m not a parent as yet. Sigh. I LOVE the kind of food that you produce as a gf cook! I’ve sent a few friends your way for recipes! Haha… a ‘blind’ taste test is definitely the way to go… good on you Martine! *high five*

  19. Laura! I love this post! Well, God bless you for bringing healthy sweet potato brownies to a 13 year old’s birthday dinner party .. well, live and learn right? I, too, have learned the hard way .. and I have kids! when it comes to dessert or appetizers of any kind, don’t spend too much time making anything fancy. . I always do this with apps . . the kids go for the quick and easy simple stuff, like a 7 layer dip or something like that . . and in this case, regular ole brownies. . but if it means anything, I’d totally devour like 3 of these! I’ve seen so many sweet potato baking recipes lately (cakes, cookies. .) I love it! and these are gorgeous!

    • Hello there lovely! Thanks so much, haha… yep you are ENTIRELY right. You live and you learn. I’ve learned a lot in the past few weeks! Good thing that we really enjoyed them anyway (me and Aaron). Thanks for the tips. Hugs and love, hoping that this year has started wonderfully for you and your lovely family xxx

  20. Yeah. “Healthy” is the antithesis of the magic word. Where kids are concerned that’s muggle talk. Never mind that you’ve conjured brownies out of sweet potato. Grown up, practical magic is lost on the young.

    • Mr Peckish!!!! You’re ALIVE!! What have you been doing? Sam (le pirate) and I met up in London and we were just chatting about how you’ve disappeared off the face of the earth… you have some serious explaining to do young man… but thanks. So good to hear from you. And you’re entirely right, healthy was just the wrong thing to mention ;)

  21. Pingback: Sweet Potato Brownies | PeanutButter and Onion

  22. Pingback: Salted Tahini Date Caramel Slice « Laura's Mess

  23. I woke up with an itching for sweet potato and chocolate and remembered this interesting recipe of yours. I’ve tried three sweet potato brownie recipes in the past two were the popular date and almond meal variety (rather rancid) and another one similar to this. Yours is simply the best. I did a combo of maple and rice syrup which I highly recommend. You have quite an archive of recipes I’m discovering miss.

    • Oh thank you so much Lyf!! Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been working long hours over the last few weeks which has resulted in a very neglected blog! I really love this recipe so it’s a pleasure to read that you’ve had good results. I’ll have to try your combo of maple with rice syrup next time :)
      As for the archive, it’s been a work in progress for a long time. I’m coming up on four years blogging (!), still not sure what I’m doing with this space but I’m glad that people are benefiting from my kitchen experiments xx

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