Anyone that has ever met me can attest to the fact that, within an hour after our initial introduction, mention of my legendary brownies is inevitable and, usually, welcomed with open arms. I owe their popularity to the eggs that triple in volume when I whip them up in my stand mixer and all the butter that is melted with the chocolate to reach the decadent, creamy consistency within each square of chocolate-y perfection that walks the line directly between fudge and cake.
These brownies make an appearance at nearly every major function that I contribute to, ranging from my parent’s holiday parties to the occasional communal late-night study party, and they are devoured within minutes by all but one of my friends: the token vegan. While her conscious efforts towards saving the planet are admirable, she is often the subject of ridicule because her lifestyle motivates me to abandon some of my most beloved recipes in favor of options that accommodate everyone’s dietary restrictions.
I have a few go-to influencers that I follow online, like Sweet Simple Vegan and The Minimalist Baker, to find vegan recipes that parallel their animal-fat-filled counterparts but, while they usually result in desserts of equal aesthetic appeal, I have yet to try someone else’s recipe and come out with a dessert that can match the flavor and texture that one would get from using eggs and butter and milk.
Having done absolutely no research beforehand, my friend and I decided that the days of excluding her were over: we needed to make a vegan version of my irresistible brownies. Earth Balance was the obvious butter replacement so we put no thought into that part of the recipe and moved on to wander around the grossly overpriced health food store we had chosen as the facilitator for this baking expedition in search for dairy free chocolate chips and an egg substitute. We settled on a powdered substance that smelled like sulfur – as if they were really trying to pass this product off as real eggs. It made our heads ache and our eyes water, but we went through with it anyhow.
The result was a travesty; an incredible gash in my baking reputation. Our final product was as if we had made a chocolate cake and let it bathe in a pool of oil. It was repulsive at best.
For the second round, we discovered aquafaba (the water that canned beans and chickpeas sit in until the can is opened and drained) and decided that, no matter how weird it was, whipping it up into a meringue and using it as you would egg whites would have to produce a better result than whatever that gross rotten egg powder did. Had we not also decided to use coconut oil in place of earth balance, I think we would’ve nailed it. However, as you’ve probably assumed, it was another disaster. The second batch baked and bubbled and caramelized and, when we went to cut into it for a taste, it was like slicing through a solidified block of melted Tootsie rolls.
I am not opposed to vegan baking, and I have a lot of respect for those that do it successfully. I only wish using substitutes felt as intuitive to me as butter and eggs do. I am determined to find a way to put my reservations aside and keep moving forward, because no one should have to miss out on the unparalleled experience of consuming my brownies. However, those that are gluten-free are going to have to wait a little while longer, because that is a hurdle I am not ready to face yet.