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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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:

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char-grilled vegetable and quinoa salad

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Yesterday morning, Aaron and I woke early to have breakfast with my beautiful mother at Perth City Farm. The day was cool and fresh, slightly overcast; a welcome change from the blistering temperatures of summer.

We chatted and laughed, feasting on free-range eggs, organic sourdough, grilled tomatoes and lemony smashed avocado in the dappled shade. Between sips of coffee, we sampled spinach from the farm’s own garden before discussing family foibles, travel plans and (mostly) the 2014 Western Australian Senate (re)election.

Before leaving the farm, Aaron and my mother perused the Farm’s art exhibition while I chatted to some friendly Armenian growers at the Organic Market. I left with an armload of fresh produce including Armenian cucumbers, fresh zucchini, homegrown kale and tri-colour capsicums from their bio-dynamic garden.

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That afternoon, I snacked on torn bread and babaghanouj (made with their organic aubergines and home-pressed olive oil) whilst making the grilled vegetable salad below. My mother stayed for some quality mother-daughter time; we drank tea, laughed, took photographs and reminisced about old times.

That evening, the sky grew dark and cold. Aaron and I had a picnic in the park with our best friends, sharing stories over paper plates, grilled chicken and homemade empanadas. Whilst chewing a forkful of homegrown zucchini, I felt truly blessed and grateful; for farmers, fresh vegetables, weekends, warm jumpers and quality time with those I love the most.

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Thanks to all who travel through this life with me. In particular, my family, who embrace me despite weaknesses and always love unconditionally.

I’m grateful. I always will be.

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Char-grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad

Adapted from this recipe by the Australian Women’s Weekly

Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a light meal

  • 190g (1 cup) royal quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 3 small capsicums (bell peppers), preferably mixed colours
  • 200g sweet potatoes
  • 1 zucchini, thickly sliced
  • 1/2 Spanish (red onion) sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 cup washed, picked herbs (I used parsley and mint), coarsely chopped
  • 100g goats feta, crumbled
  • finely grated zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, roasted and crushed
  • olive oil, to cook

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • salt and pepper

Place the rinsed quinoa into a medium pot with 500ml (2 cups) of water. Bring to the boil, then replace the lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is translucent. Place into a large bowl, drizzle over a little olive oil and add in the lemon zest. Mix well, then set aside to cool.

Cut the sweet potatoes into a medium (2x2cm) dice. Steam or boil until just tender. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then set aside.

Preheat a char-grill pan over medium-high heat. Cut the capsicums in half and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Brush the skins with oil, then char-grill them skin side down until the skins blacken and blister. Turn and cook for an extra minute to allow the inside to steam.

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Place into a sealed bag, covered bowl or airtight container and leave at room temperature until cool (the steam will help the skins to loosen, making them easier to peel).

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Brush the zucchini and onion with a little olive oil, then add them to the grill pan with the sweet potatoes. Cook until soft and lightly grill-marked. Add the grilled vegetables to the same bowl as the quinoa.

Peel the capsicum halves and slice them into long, thin strips. Add them to the salad bowl with the chopped fresh herbs, walnuts and feta.

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To make the dressing, place the oil, mustard, sugar, garlic and vinegar into a small bowl. Whisk until well emulsified. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

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To serve, pour over the dressing and mix gently with a spoon or salad tongs. Place onto a platter and garnish with more herbs if desired.

This salad is wonderful as an accompaniment to grilled meats or fish. It’s also a nutritious light meal, embellished with some plump black olives and served with some fresh bread and butter.

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