Food — Experiments With Very Bad Brownies
Experiments With Very Bad Brownies

By Michelle Saturley

How to keep the minions full


It might be better to pass on low-carb sweets


Low-carb diets suck for desserts.

You can fake a good entrée, salad, soup and even the occasional bread-like meal accompaniment for a carb-watcher. But try and make that person a dessert? How would they feel about bacon-wrapped cheese?

Helpfully, not only has an entire industry of low-carb chocolate and cookies blanketed supermarkets with its wares, but baking aisles are now full of mixes for cakes, cookies and brownies designed with carb-counters in mind. Check out your favorite bookstore and you’ll find plenty of shelves that feature recipe books on how to turn the carb-heaven into carb-watching-friendly.

Generally speaking and with, I’m sure, plenty of exceptions, it’s all crap.

I use that word in its fullest sense, describing both the very notion that a few substitutions will produce an equal-caliber baked good and, frequently, the taste of the resulting dessert. Key to the problem of the low-carb dessert is the removal of sugar and, generally, its replacement with sucralose or aspartame. Both allegedly add the sweetness lost with the sugar and both taste, on their best day, like gun metal dipped in corn syrup.

Every now and then a new baking additive will rear its misformed head, promising sugar taste without the calories or carbs. The latest is Splenda, a sucralose product, which tastes like the barrel of a syrup-dipped .45. There is also a half-sugar, half-sucralose version which tastes like the corn syrup-dipped .45 sprinkled with sugar. Either way, the result is a squinched face and the desire to gag.

But still, I have hope. I believe in baked goods, much in the way some people believe in god or country. I believe that while things like “communication” and “discussing our feelings” will not always bring two people together (in fact, frequently, they will do the opposite) baked goods can and will. Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, pecan pie, devil’s food cake — this is the glue that cements our society.

Now, sure, a belief in baked goods has, on occasion, given me a waistline suggesting a woman in her eighth month with twins. So I understand the desire to believe in something else, something that lets you have your cake and your size-4 cutoffs too. So I was willing to try these carb-altered baking plans in hopes that my loved ones and I could stay svelte and keep our relationships from ever involving actual talking.

Determinedly, I headed to the supermarket.

What I came away with was a handful of baking mixes or carb-friendly baking substitutes. Using the brownie as my control baked good, I gamely, slightly desperately, tested each.

(I strictly followed the directions, in hopes of getting the purest results.)

Atkins Quick Quisine Fudge Brownie Mix

I add: 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup oil, 1 egg

The batter: Has a horrible diet-Coke aftertaste.

The brownie: A slick, oily brownie tastes like pure Splenda (its sweetner) with a bitter chocolate. An unsuspecting kid tried one only to give me a look of disgust mixed with betrayal. He spit it out and made whimpery noises until he could get some milk to kill the taste. Quisine indeed.

Krusteaz CarbSimple Fudge Brownie Deluxe Mix

I add: 1/3 cup hot water, 1 egg

The batter: Tasted oddly foamy. A second taste produced an “ew” but was less unpleasant than, say, the Atkins’ mix.

The brownie: A paler brown and a bit spongier than the others, this brownie was by far the best, as evidenced by the fact that it was the only one any of my testers could eat all of. No spitting out Krusteaz! No seconds, however, either.

Dixie Carb Counters Rich and Moist Brownie Mix

I add: 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, 1 stick of butter, 2 eggs, 1/3 cup cream

The batter: I had hopes that the increase of natural ingredients would boost the taste. Nonetheless, the result was a taste something like chocolate-flavored paste.

The brownie: Dry looking but surprisingly oily. An initial taste of baking soda dissolves into a flavor of saccharine-dusted dirt.

Baker’s Chocolate One Bowl Brownie Recipe

I add: All ingredients, substituting the 2 cups of sugar with 2 cups of Splenda and the cup of flour with a cup of low-carb baking mix, both as per instructions of knowledgeable sources.

The batter: Brownie batter is some of the best stuff on earth. Consider that fact when I tell you that I spit out the batter and then ate a jalapeño-stuffed olive, several pickles, a shot of rum and peanut butter to attempt to kill the taste. After that, I felt ill.

The brownie: This was the least edible of the bunch. Dry and chalky, the brownie taste matures into something I can only describe as yeeeek. Then, more pickles.

Arrowhead Mills Wheat Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

I add: 1 egg, 2 teaspoons butter

The batter: No brownie mix was available from this line, which is technically not a low-carb line but it had the same percentage, piece to piece, of most of the brownies, though it did have twice the sugar. Also, lower in fat than the others. Batter wasn’t great but was fairly cookie batter like and totally edible.

The cookie: It’s an unfair comparison on many levels but the cookies were, though grainy and not terribly sweet, better than any of the brownies. Ultimately, all the cookies were eaten whereas all of the brownies sat untouched for days.

After the utter failure of the mixes, I checked out a variety of books, magazines and Internet websites devoted to low—carb eating. All used a substitution method (sugar for artificial sweetner) rather than a hoped-for natural method. My search continues but in the meantime, my brush with the South Beach Diet has left me with a few ideas as how to make sweets for that low-carb sweetie.

• Make sure that sugars are met with fats and protein — for example, balance out sugar and honey with nuts.

• Fruits have sugar but that kind of sugar doesn't break as many rules in some low carb diets as cane sugar. A dessert of sweet strawberries or other berries dipped in melted bittersweet chocolate has a nice decadence without any of the fake flavor of sucralose

• You can reclaim some carb ground by using soy or other low-carbohydrate flours. Play around with the amounts as they can be more drying than ordinary all-purpose flour.

! The first- and second-phases of South Beach, Atkins and other low carb diets are incredibly strict. Searching for a dessert in these phases is more frustrating than fulfilling. Better to abstain for a while and then indulge with a small dessert after a month or so.

In using some of these rules, I came up with a brownie that, while not necessarily low carb, is perhaps more carb-counter-friendly than the standard recipe. I swapped a cup of sugar for 2 pints of berries and used soy rather than all-purpose flour. Also, I bombarded the brownies with nuts. The result is a sweet that, while a bit crumbly, is at the very least genuine-tasting and unlikely to be chased with pickles and a strong mouthwash.

—Amy Diaz

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