Friday, August 26, 2011

Better Blondies

I love chocolate. But the truth is I have always been more of a vanilla (and butterscotch/caramel/spice) gal. Maybe I'm weird but please don't hate me.

Ever since I was a kid I have preferred: pralines and cream over chocolate ice cream; vanilla or maple fudge over chocolate fudge; oatmeal raisin or gingerbread cookies over chocolate chip; and, carrot cake or vanilla cake over chocolate.

So when I first discovered the concept of a blondie, a vanilla brownie, I was immediately smitten. Full of butter, vanilla, and brown sugar, it has all of the super sweet, vanilla/caramel qualities I love. But not so healthy.

In the 1990s I perfected a zillion fat-free recipes for baked goodies by replacing the butter or oil with fruit purees and eggs with egg whites and using only whole grain flours. I even had a spectacular blondie one, which was chewy, sweet and delicious...and full of sugar. Two cups of packed brown sugar, to be exact.

Because we know now that sugar is likely as harmful to our health as saturated fat, it's been a long time since I made blondies. It was the brown sugar, after all, that gave these treats it's caramely, chewy, gooey goodness.

I thought my blondie days were over. Boy was I wrong.

Today's kitchen success proves that a little perseverence goes a long way.

After much consideration, I decided to try using dates - nature's candy - as well as mashed banana, to emulate that brown sugar/butter yumminess, and folks, it worked! Not only are these sugar free, but they are also fat free!!

Please don't be turned off by how healthy these sound. They are so good that Big A, who helped me whip these babies up, couldn't wait for them to cool down before digging in. AND, as someone who usually can't eat any cake or brownie-type thingy unless it is smothered in a thick layer of sugary icing (yes, my extreme sweet tooth often betrays my healthful inclinations!), I think these are just dandy as is. Of course if you want to up the ante, you could frost them with peanut butter, or any nut butter and I think that would take them over the top.

Blondies are, by nature, super sweet, but if you want something less sweet, you probably don't need any sweetener, since the dates and bananas are sweet all on their own.

2 cups dates (get pitted ones unless you want to waste time pitting them yourself like I did!)
1/2 cup water, divided

1 large or 2 small ripe bananas, mashed
2 egg whites
1/2 cup stevia (or stevia equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar) or Splenda*
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Place 1/4 cup water and dates in saucepan over medium heat. Bring water to a boil and cook until all the water is absorbed. Set aside and let cool slightly. Transfer dates to food processor and add 1/4 cup cold water. Puree until there are no large chunks (doesn't have to be perfectly smooth).

In large bowl, whisk together banana, sweetener, egg whites, and vanilla. Add dates and whisk until combined. In small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Turn dry ingredients into the date mixture and stir just until combined. Batter will be quite thick and sticky. Spread batter evenly into square 9x9 pan that has been greased. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes. Let cool and then cut into squares. Makes 16 blondies. Freezes well.

*The whole sugar vs "artificial sweetener" debate involves a lot of misconceptions. Granulated sugar is hardly a "natural" or "unrefined" product. I consulted with Yoni Freedhoff, one of Canada's leading obesity experts, and his take is that ideally we shouldn't consume ANY sugar OR artificial sweeteners, however, given that there is tons of research on sugar and a great deal of it proves it is harmful, and relatively less research on Splenda (sucralose) but none of it provides any evidence it is harmful, he prefers sucralose over sugar.

Note that there is very little available research on stevia, but most people feel more comfortable using it because they consider it a "natural" substance. I use both stevia and sucralose, as well as xylitol (a naturally occurring sugar alcohol). Just keep in mind that the food industry often misuses the term "natural" and that arsenic and plutonium are natural substances but you wouldn't put those in your food!

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