Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ratio Rally! Gluten-Free, Vegan Marbled Banana Walnut Brownies

Gluten-Free, Vegan Marbled Banana Walnut Brownies

If you're new to the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, allow me to introduce you.  It all began with the book, Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman.  In it, he encourages readers to understand how culinary ratios and proportions, rather than recipes and measurements, form the true foundation of cooking and baking.  For example, cream puffs, pancakes, and muffins all call for the same basic ingredients: flour, liquid, fat, and eggs; but it is largely the variation in proportions that determine the outcome.  At the crux of these ratios is communicating them by weight rather than volume, thus keeping the proportions fixed and helping to ensure consistent results.  

Now mind you, all of his baking ratios assume the use of wheat-based flours.  So what happens when you take the wheat out?  [cue doorbell]  Enter Shauna James Ahern (of gluten-free girl glory).

In February of last year, she had the awesome idea to start a monthly blogging event that would seek to answer that very question: would the ratios hold using gluten-free ingredients?  So every month, bloggers from all over the world "rally" together to tackle a single food item and its culinary ratio and on the first Wednesday of every month, we reveal our results. 

Which brings us to today and this month's Ratio Rally Challenge: Brownies, hosted by the lovely Mary Fran of Franny Cakes. 

Now up to this point, the Rally has focused on culinary ratios included in Ruhlman's book.  But with brownies, we are officially stepping "off the beaten path" and venturing into the beyond.  Now, for something as basic and beloved as brownies, why isn't there a ratio for it?  Well, simply put, there's too much diversity (something I thought I would never say).  There are chewy brownies, cakey brownies, gooey brownies, crispy brownies, chocolate brownies, fruity brownies, nutty brownies... and the list goes on and on.  They all involve the same basic ingredients, but the ratio is different depending on how you like your brownie.

So what kind of brownie do I like?  Before I go into it, have a seat.  Are you sitting down?  Ok, now put down whatever you're drinking... [deep breath] ...

I don't like brownies.

There, I said it.  And now before you have time to recover from your shock, I can't eat chocolate.

[awkward silence]

[more awkward silence and the sound of eyes blinking]

Which is exactly what made this month's challenge so much fun.  Making something you've never made before or something you don't particularly enjoy can be perceived as daunting for some, but for me, it was an opportunity to discover something in a completely new way.  Maybe even convince myself that I actually do like brownies.  And not being able to eat chocolate pushed me to be creative  and step outside the box when it came to choosing ingredients.

Trial #1: Basic Blondie adapted from The Fearless Baker.

Trial #2: Crispy because of too much fat.  It felt awesomely wrong to eat these.

Trial #3: The result of switching to baking soda and carob chips.  Not so good.
To figure out a basic ratio, I researched mostly blondie recipes and some select brownie recipes from trusted blogs and cookbooks (including The Fearless Baker, Smitten Kitchen, Oh She Glows, and Diet, Dessert, and Dogs).  After making those recipes, I began to cross-reference between the ones that I liked and that adapted well to gluten-free, vegan modifications and began to find a lot of common threads.  For blondies, a basic ratio seemed to be

1 part egg : 2 parts fat : 2 1/2 parts flour : 4 parts sugar

The result was a butterscotchy, deliciously dense cakey sweet treat.  But rather than settle for something on the first try, I wanted to keep turning stones to see if I could make something that was a bit more fudgey, which was where the brownie research came in handy.  I found that in comparison to blondies, brownies generally called for more eggs (four or more), less fat, and much less flour.  So  over five trials, I tweaked the blondie ratio from there to create a lovechild between the two with the cakey solidity of a blondie and the soft, moist center of a brownie.

Because it can be tricky/messy to communicate gluten-free and vegan culinary ratios in terms of ingredients, I will attempt to do so generally in terms of function. 

2 parts egg : 1 part fat : 1 1/3 parts flour : 1 1/3 parts sugar

So know that you know how I found my path, let me tell you where it led me.  My inspiration for this recipe came from my absolute favorite ice cream flavor from years past:  Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, a combination of banana ice cream, chocolate chunks, and walnuts. [cue gong and Tarzan yodel]  

At a Ben & Jerry's Conference in Arizona in 2001.

While I'm not one for baked sweets, I''m definitely not shy when it comes to expressing how much I love frozen desserts.  In fact, my first job after graduating from college was as an assistant manager at a Ben & Jerry's scoop shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Not because it had anything to do with my major, but because it somehow justified eating pints of ice cream as meal replacements. 

So without further ado, here's my contribution to this month's Brownie Challenge.

Trial #4: Never baked your brownies in a pie tin?  Recommended.

Marbled Banana Walnut Brownies
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: at least 1 1/2 hours
Cooking Time: 25-30 minutes
Yield: (8) roughly 2x2" squares

1 heaping tablespoon ground flax
3 tablespoons hot water

4 oz or 1/4 c mashed banana
1/2 oz or 2 tablespoons arrowroot starch

3 1/2 oz or 3/4 c coconut sugar
1/2 oz or 1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 1/2 oz or 1/3 c + 2 teaspoons melted vegan butter
1/2 teaspoon GF vanilla extract 

1 oz or 1/3 c almond meal/flour
2 1/4 oz or a scant 1/2 c GF AP flour
1/2 teaspoon GF baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 oz or 2 tablespoons roasted carob or cocoa powder
1 oz or 2 tablespoons almond milk
1/4 teaspoon GF vanilla extract 

2 oz or 2/3 c toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

1.  Begin by making your "eggs." Combine flax with hot water and in a separate bowl, combine mashed bananas with arrowroot starch (tapioca or corn may also be substituted).  Set both aside for 3-5 minutes.
2.  Add maple syrup to coconut sugar to approximate the consistency of moist brown sugar.  Then add warm melted vegan butter to sugar and mix until the crystals begin to melt and the mixture begins to thicken to a caramel-like consistency.  Add vanilla extract.
3.  When "eggs" are done, start by mixing the flax egg in until just combined and then stir the banana/starch mixture in until just combined.
4.  Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk briefly.  Fold into wet mixture until just combined.  Add walnuts.
5.  In a separate bowl, add almond milk and vanilla extract to carob/cocoa powder.  Once fully incorporated, add two tablespoons of the finished batter.  (Note: This recipe was tested using carob  which has a natural malty sweetness.  If using unsweetened cocoa powder, you may need to adjust your sugar amount accordingly.)
6.  Grease a 9"x5" loaf pan and sprinkle with all-purpose flour or almond meal.  If you know your bakeware has separation issues, you may also want to create a sling by lining your pan lengthwise with a 14"x5" piece of parchment paper.
7.  Pour batter into pan and then add the carob/chocolate batter in thick parallel lines.  Draw the tip of a spatula through the top 1/2" of the batter, snaking your way up and down lengthwise to create your marble.
8.  Tap pan on counter a couple times to bring any air bubbles to the surface.
9.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.  This step is optional, but highly recommended, as it will reap huge anti-crumble rewards.  Be sure to budget at least 30 minutes for the batter to temper before baking.
10.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  When ready, bake for 25-30 minutes.  Some signs to look for: lack of movement in the center and/or a toothpick inserted into the center and coming out with a few crumbs on it.  On a few trials, I upped the temperature to 385 degrees for the last few minutes and it helped to create a sturdier side crust.
11.  Allow to cool sufficiently before releasing from pan.  Also optional, but highly recommended, is waiting a few hours and/or chilling the brownies before cutting them.

"Making" brown sugar.

A caramel like-consistency after combining with the hot butter.

From Rorschach to abstract splatter, how much you marble is up to you.

Serve me up! [whispers: 'a la mode...']

I am so glad we ventured off the beaten path for this month's challenge.  Just because a culinary ratio isn't discussed in Ruhlman's book doesn't mean we shouldn't explore it here.  In fact, it may be  even more reason to do so.  Speaking for myself, the most important part of the Rally isn't the recipes we come up with, the ratios we discuss, or our discoveries in the kitchen.  For me, the most important part is the opportunity to find community, to both give and receive inspiration, and dispelling the mystery surrounding gluten-free baking to reveal the joy within.

A huge 'Thank You' to Mary Fran of Franny Cakes for being an awesome den mom to us all for this month's challenge.  For more Ratio Rally recipes celebrating the rainbow of brownie love, please visit the links below.

Chewy, Chocolatey, Crispy,'s all there.

Adina / Gluten Free Travelette / Chocolate Brownie Pie w/ Orange Zest
Angela / Angela's Kitchen / Dairy Free Cream Egg Brownies
Brooke / B & the boy! / Triple Chocolate Brownies
Caitlin / {Gluten Free} Nom Nom Nom / Peppermint Brownie Bars
Caleigh / Gluten Free[k] / White Chocolate & Marshmallow Brownies
Caneel / Mama Me Gluten Free / Triple Chocolate Brownies
Charissa / Zest Bakery / Slutty Brownies
Claire / My Gluten Free Home / PB&J Brownie Whoopee Pies
Claire / This Gluten-Free Life / St. Patty's Day Marshmallow Swirl Brownies
Erin/ The Sensitive Epicure / Mexican Cocoa Brownies w/ Almond & Pepitas Crust
gretchen / kumquat / salted caramel brownies
Heather / Discovering the Extraordinary / Nutmeg Blondies
Irvin / Eat the Love / Blueberry Citrus Marble Brownies
Jean / Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes / Blue Ribbon Brownies
Jenn / Jenn Cuisine / Grain-Free Brownies w/ No-Bake Ricotta Cheesecake Cream
Karen / Cooking Gluten Free! / Chewy Crackled Top Brownies w/ Raspberry Puree
Mary Fran / Franny Cakes / Hazelnut Brownies
Morri / Meals with Morri / Oaxacan Brownies & Mesquite Cacao Blondies
~Mrs. R / Honey From Flinty Rocks / Black Bean S'More Brownies
~Mrs. R / Honey From Flinty Rocks / Fudgy Coconut Flour Brownies
Pete & Kelli / No Gluten, No Problem / Caramel Mexican Chocolate Mesquite Brownies
Rachel / The Crispy Cook / Co-Co Nut-Nut Blondies
Shauna / gluten-free girl & the chef / Gluten-Free Brownies
Tara / A Baking Life / Mint Chocolate Flourless Brownies
TR  / No One Likes Crumbley Cookies / Berry Fudge Brownies


  1. I totally agree with you, the most important part of the ratio rally is the awesome community that has sprung up around sharing and discussing recipes. As always I admire your determination and persistence, and love the flavor combination of these blondies. yum!!

    1. It truly is an awesome community, and I feel blessed every month when this time rolls around that I have the privilege of being included amongst such a talented group. Thank you, Jenn!

  2. What a blondie/brownie journey! These look and sound amazing!

    1. Thanks, Erin! This challenge was particularly fun. :)

  3. Look at that marble technique... totally bangin', my friend.

    Oh, and if my vegan tendencies take over, I'm so blaming you and using your recipes. :)

    1. Aw, shucks, Morri. And if your tendencies do take over, I will be *more* than happy to take the blame. ;)

  4. These look very tasty and I also like the marbled look - great job! :D

    1. Thank You, Caneel! I'm a sucker for food that I can devour with my eyes first. :)

  5. Your offering for this month's ratio rally looks so good! Even if they do lack... chocolate! :-)
    Blessings, ~Mrs. R

    1. Yeah, I figured there would be enough chocolate in everyone else's posts. Happy to provide the yin for the yang. :) Blessings in kind!

  6. Terrific post! I love the Ben and Jerry's photo and your marbled tops on your brownies are just gorgeous. Great Ratio Rally post!

    1. Thank you so much, Rachel! Was really glad to have found that picture hidden away. The look on that little kid's face next to me is priceless. :)

  7. Gah! I love chunky monkey! How did I not think of this?!

    They look wonderful, and I am glad that you found a way to participate despite (horror of horrors) not liking brownies.

    1. I admit, it's pretty strange to not like brownies. Not eating chocolate probably has something to do with it. But I liked these brownies, so maybe there's hope? [being inspired by such an awesome ice cream flavor doesn't hurt]

  8. Mmmm . . . Chunky Monkey. I ate so much of that as a kid! (Also, I think I liked saying "Chunky Monkey.") Love the flavor combinations in your brownies, and your creativity. You are one determined baker!

    1. Thanks, Tara! I like to think of myself as an insatiably curious baker. There's so much to discover and so much to learn...

  9. To be honest, these look really really good! Really. This is a must-try!

    1. I would love for you to try them, Jen! If only we lived closer, I could bake them with you. Now _that_ would be a treat. :D

  10. Mmmm! I may re-do my blonde bean brownies with your ratio. Those are fabulous looking!

    1. Thank you, Brooke! I've never baked anything dessert-like with beans - it sounds amazing. :)


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