Look, everyone’s gonna tell you their vegan chocolate brownie recipe is the best, the one, and you know what? That’s valid. The best need not be a zero-sum game, culinarily speaking, otherwise what’s the point of trying anything new. No, instead it’s a wide couch where we can all sit side by side, happily eating our brownies. So: these are the best vegan chocolate brownies. The one. One of many, that is. But what a one!
Brownies should be the easiest thing to bake – they’re usually one-bowl affairs, you don’t have to worry about them rising or being light-textured like a cake, there’s no faffing about shaping dough, like with cookies, and the presence of chocolate means they’re an instant crowd-pleaser. And yet, we’ve always had a wary relationship – I tend to overcook them into cakey dullness, or overshoot a scientifically crucial ingredient, sending the delicate chemical balance from “fudgy and rich” to “not unlike a peat bog”.
As it happens, I didn’t get this recipe quite right on the first go. They were somehow too moist and too dry, with a stressful, peanut-butter-esque throat-clogging quality. Sometimes my rejection-sensitive receptors can’t handle this kind of defeat and it’ll send me spiralling with guilt and self-doubt (related: my piece for Tenderly about the heartbreak of recipe failure during lockdown.) I also don’t have all the resources in the world to rigorously test recipes. But we had precisely 100g chocolate left in the house and the first batch was still pleasant enough to eat, so not a total reproachful waste. I cheered myself with the reminder that 99% of the recipes I make up work perfectly the first time, which is pretty extraordinary, slept on it, and woke up knowing exactly how to fix the brownies by adjusting the liquid/flour ratio. It would’ve been nice if these instincts had kicked in a little sooner, but I appreciate them showing up nonetheless.
Second time around: the brownies were perfect. Exactly what you want: a shiny, delicately crisp exterior, a fudgy interior that’s melting without being undercooked, and a staunch chocolate flavour. (Thank goodness.)
These brownies are particularly special because of the brown butter step – which is to say, I’m emulating the culinary technique of burning butter to develop its flavour by using an unlikely but potent combination of ingredients. Coconut oil for buttery fatness; soy milk for its proteins; and a tiny dash of vinegar and brown sugar to speed things along, cooked down into a foamy emulsion, at which point I added pecans to assist with the nutty flavour you get from traditional browned butter. I realise this may seem unlikely, but bear with me. The result is this caramelised, toasty liquid with a deep, rich, and genuinely buttery intensity. I love eating vegan food but you have to dance a little harder to give your baked goods the same easily-achieved tastes and textures of non-vegan baking. This vegan browned butter offers complexity and sumptuousness, taking the brownies from two dimensional sweetness to three dimensional deliciousness. I imagine the browned butter would be wonderful used elsewhere, including in savoury recipes, but for now it’s the perfect base for the perfect brownies.
Brownies worth persisting through failure for – brownies so good they require a glamour photo shoot.
Vegan Brown Butter Chocolate Brownies
These vegan chocolate brownies are fudgy and rich with a crisp edge and absolutely delicious. The “brown butter” step is a little extra work but so worth it. Recipe by myself.
- 1/4 cup refined coconut oil
- 1/2 cup soy milk
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon extra brown sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- a pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
- 1 cup of sugar
- 100g melted dark chocolate
- 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
- 150ml boiling water
- 1/2 cup good cocoa powder
- 125g flour (this is roughly one cup but try to weigh it if you can)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 100g extra dark chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)
1: First, make the browned butter. Place the coconut oil, soy milk, one tablespoon of brown sugar (save the 1/2 cup for later), the apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of salt into a small frying pan and melt together over a medium heat, stirring constantly. It’ll look dodgy, but trust me.
2: Once it starts looking frothy and bubbly, stir in your pecans and continue cooking and stirring till it’s thickened and pale caramel in colour. Remove from the heat and leave to sit for five minutes. While you’re waiting, set your oven to 180C/350F and line a square brownie pan with baking paper.
3: Now to make the brownie batter – spatula your pecan/brown butter into a mixing bowl and stir in the remaining half cup of brown sugar and the white sugar. Pause to have a little taste: oh my gosh. So delicious.
4: Melt the chocolate (I put it in a small bowl and nuked it in short bursts in the microwave, otherwise heat it in a metal/heatproof bowl resting on a pan of water without touching the water) and stir it into the butter-sugar mix. Stir the coffee powder into the boiling water and set aside. Also – 150ml is more or less 2/3 of a cup, or you can measure 150 grams of water on your scales.
5: Sieve the cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder into the bowl, and add half the coffee liquid. Fold it all together and then add the remaining coffee, the vanilla extract, and the extra chopped chocolate (if using) and fold together.
6: Spatula this mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes. At this point, turn off the oven and let the brownies sit there for ten minutes (if your oven tends to really hold its heat, open the door, otherwise leave it closed) and then take the brownies from the oven and let them get basically completely cool before you attempt to slice them. And for that, I recommend a sharp serrated knife and a confident but slow hand.
- Don’t leave out the coffee powder! You don’t taste the coffee specifically but it’s important to add depth of flavour. However, if you can’t have caffeine it’s absolutely fine to use decaf powder.
- I haven’t tried this with anything other than soy milk. Oat milk would probably work, but I have serious doubts about almond milk.
- The pecans are specifically used to add a nutty, toasty flavour to the browned butter. I wouldn’t use any other nut here, but if you don’t want the pecans in your brownies you could scoop them out of the browned butter with a slotted spoon and save them for another use. It’s important to use them in the butter step itself though. Hope that makes sense!
- When I say “good cocoa powder” I mean something with 20g or more fat per 100grams. Look in the nutritional information on the package, anything less than 20g per 100g is unfortunately not worth your time or money!
- The second time I made these I didn’t have enough chocolate to chop up and fold through and honestly? They were amazing without it. So if you only have 100g chocolate to hand you can totally still make these.
Also if you want a visual reference I made a little tiktok video to go with these brownies.
I Love How You Love Me by The Paris Sisters. There’s something about that Phil Spector production where it’s so present yet so distant, it’s like that exact feeling in The Wizard Of Oz where Glinda the Good Witch is smiling benevolently but also floating away unhelpfully; while I was listening to this the cat walked across my laptop and in the process changed the playback speed to 0.75 which gave it an instantly surreal, Julee Cruise quality and I think actually sent me into spontaneous sleep paralysis – but in a good way? So proceed with caution, I guess.
Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, a song which makes me want to cry and levitate? Which can only truly be appreciated while lying down in a darkened room or clinging to the wing of a 747 as it takes off? Once more I say proceed with caution!
Black and White by The dB’s. “Well, I guess I just don’t enjoy you anymore” – what a sentiment for the ages.
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