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Can dessert be guilt-free? + paleo brownies recipe

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I love to bake. And I also happen to be engaged to an Irishman (yay!) with a massive sweet tooth.

Most weekends there will be ‘domestic goddess’ smells wafting from my kitchen at some stage.

For years I’ve been happy to follow Michael Pollan’s ‘food rule‘ when it comes to sweets…
“Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.”

But I’m always on the lookout for ideas to make my baking as healthy as possible, without sacrificing deliciousness. So when I first came across Kelley Herrings fab eBook ‘Guilt-Free Desserts‘, I was intrigued but more than a little skeptical.

Could dessert really be healthier AND still live up to my taste expectations?

The good news from my recent baking adventures is that it can!

So today I wanted to share some tips for guilt-free baking and introduce you to my latest favourite source of healthy baking recipes. Enjoy!

3 tips for guilt-free baking

1. Use real butter
One of my first jobs as a young food scientist was working in the chemistry lab of a large margarine factory. Still the worst smelling work place I have ever encountered. Needless to say I haven’t voluntarily eaten fake butter since.

Real butter comes from real cows fed on the food they are naturally designed to eat, real grass. Not only does it taste better, it’s better for us with higher levels of omega-3 fats and vitamin E than butter from grain-fed cows.

2. Explore healthy wheat flour alternatives.
Even if you don’t have a problem with gluten, wheat flours are best avoided. They tend to have a high glycemic index (GI), meaning they cause spikes in blood sugar and promote weight gain.

Be careful with ‘gluten-free’ flour mixes as they are often based on a blend of other high GI flours like rice. So even though the gluten is gone, they still cause the same problems with your blood sugar.

Almond meal or almond flour has been my go-to option for healthier baking for a while now. It’s gluten free and low GI. It tastes delicious and keeps baked goods moist. The only downside is that compared to regular flour, it’s on the expensive side.

Coconut flour is another gluten-free, low GI alternative that is also high in fiber. It’s more of a new comer to my baking arsenal but I’ve been really happy with my experiments so far. The thing to remember with coconut flour is that a little goes a long way. So even though it is way more expensive than regular flour, you’ll find you’re using far less. So the actual cost in use isn’t as bad as you’d initially think.

3. Choose a good quality natural sweetener.
I probably don’t need to tell you how sugar impacts our blood sugar levels and the resulting health problems.

The good news is there are now sweetening alternatives that are low GI and natural. The best I’ve found so far is a combination of Erythritol and Stevia. The brand I’ve been using is called Natvia and for Australian readers it’s available in Woolies. I’m sure there are many good alternatives out there, just look on the ingredients list for a sweetener containing Erythritol and Stevia.

Erythritol is a ‘sugar alcohol’ which acts like sugar in baking without the calories or impact on our blood sugar. It’s a naturally occurring compound found in fruit. And has about 70% of the sweetness of regular sugar. It’s available to buy on its own or pre-blended with Stevia.

Stevia produced from a herb from Paraguay is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. It can be purchased on its own, usually in liquid form. A little goes a long way for adding sweetness. On its own it won’t perform in the same way as sugar in baked goods. It’s also available blended with Erythritol

Be wary of agave syrup or nectar. Although it’s a natural product made from cactus, it actually contains high levels of fructose. This means it is like a more natural form of high fructose corn syrup – not the healthy alternative sweetener it initially appears to be.

looking for more guilt-free baking tips and recipes?

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I’ve been having heaps of fun baking my way through the ‘Guilt-Free Desserts‘ ebook by Kelley Herring.

So far, I’ve made the brownies below, some amazing vanilla cupcakes that actually contain cannellini beans and the blueberry muffins. All of which have far exceeded my expectations on the deliciousness scale.

I’m planning on trying her chocolate chip cookies, the flourless chocolate cake (using black beans!) and her coconut cake. As well as adapting my favourite Stonesoup baking recipes to using these better for you ingredients.

To be completely honest there are couple of things I don’t love about Guilt-Free Desserts. The photography could be much better, so if you’re looking for page-licking images, you won’t find them here.

The other thing I don’t love is that the measurements are in cups and spoons. Which is slow and inaccurate. But apart from that it’s a wonderful resource for guilt-free baking.

BUT! If you’re keen for some great healthy recipes for sweet treats, then you’re in luck.

If you do decide to buy Kelly’s ebook, these are affiliate links so you’ll be supporting Stonesoup. To say thanks, I have an extra gift for you…

GF baking 3D Cover

2 easy steps to claim your bonus gift:
1. Buy a copy of Guilt-Free Desserts. Just go to:
www.guiltfreedesserts.net

2. Come back and enter your details and receipt number on the page over here:
www.thestonesoup.com/blog/gfbonus/

paleo brownies

paleo / primal brownies
makes 9-16

Adapted from Guilt-Free Desserts by Kelley Herring.

If you’re wondering what the whole paleo / primal eating thing is about, you might enjoy this post I wrote about my introduction to paleo eating.

With all those eggs it can be easy to over bake these brownies so make sure you set your timer! It’s better to err on the side of slightly under baked.

While they’re lovely freshly baked, this is one of those brownie recipes that improves with age. I like to (try to) leave them for 24 hours for that heavenly squidgy brownie texture. I think they’re much better when they’ve had a bit of time so the moisture from the less cooked middle redistributes out to the edges.

70g (2 1/2oz) coconut oil or butter
150g (5oz) dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), chopped
90g (3 1/4oz) stevia / erythritol blend
6 eggs
50g (1 3/4oz) coconut flour

1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Line a 20cm (8in) square tin with baking paper.

2. Melt butter or coconut oil. Remove form the heat. Add chocolate and stand for a few minutes.

3. Stir and when the chocolate has melted add the stevia and eggs, stirring well. Then add the coconut flour and stir until well mixed.

4. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 15-20 minutes or until just cooked around the edges but still a little moist in the middle.

5. Remove from the tin and cool on a cake rack.

VARIATIONS
egg-free / vegan – I’m afraid the eggs are really critical here. Best to find another recipe I’m afraid.

no stevia? – If you’d prefer to use regular sugar that’s fine. Just increase it to 150g (5 1/4oz).

regular flour – I haven’t fully experimented replacing coconut flour with regular plan or all-purpose flour. But I’d guess if you replace the coconut flour with double the amount of regular flour you’d be in the right ball park.

almond meal – again, I haven’t tried this but if I didn’t have coconut flour I’d use about 200g (7oz) almond meal.

vanilla – not essential but 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract added with the eggs can be lovely.

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video version of the recipe


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Happy Baking!

With love,
Jules x

ps. The links to ‘Guilt-Free Desserts‘ are affiliate links so if you do decide to purchase, I get a commission so you’ll be supporting Stonesoup too!

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Fast and Easy Paleo Recipes

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{ 64 comments… add one }

  • Sarah 29 May, 2012, 10:10 pm

    Dear Jules,

    What a great post. I have a sweet tooth and so I am always really grateful for more healthy options. So many thanks for this inspiration and for the measurement conversion!

    I had a question regarding the stevia/erythritol blend. I cannot find this here in the UK but seen that they sell the two seperatly online. What would be the ratio to mix them together?

    Best,
    Sarah

    • jules 31 May, 2012, 9:57 am

      Great question Sarah!

      In Guilt-Free desserts the recipes are written with the erythritol added separately from the stevia. Generally you only need a small amount of stevia to boost the sweetness. Although I’d first try just using erythritol on its own and then adding a few drops of stevia (if liquid) to increase the sweetness to suit your taste.

      Would love to hear how you get on with it
      Jx

  • Di 30 May, 2012, 2:42 am

    Hi Jules,

    Can’t wait to test out your brownies! Never heard of your sugar substitute but want to give this a go as i’m not a huge fan of the artificial sweetner style sugars and you know how much of a sweet tooth I have!

    Keep up the blog.. I love it!

    Di xx

    • jules 31 May, 2012, 9:55 am

      Hi Di!
      Lovely to hear from you :)
      The stevia / etrythritol blend bakes pretty much exactly like real sugar in terms of browning etc (not sure how it would impact ‘spread’ on cookies though :) And the flavour is pretty similar.. no bitterness or weird aftertastes.
      Let me know what you think if you do try it
      Jx

  • Gill 30 May, 2012, 8:02 am

    But like so many recipes or products that cut down on sugar, it’s high in fat!

    • jules 31 May, 2012, 9:43 am

      Hi Gill

      It’s actually not any higher in fat than regular brownies.. and it’s super high in protein from all of the eggs.

      My philosophy that high fat isn’t a bad thing anyway.. but each to their own ;)

  • sally 30 May, 2012, 10:12 am

    Hi Jules
    Congratulations on the engagement! Also I wanted to let you know that I love your website – I have been a member of the cookery school for over 12 months and find it great. Trying to be more conscious of what I eat so am going to buy the Guilt Free Desserts. thanks.

    • jules 31 May, 2012, 9:41 am

      Sally!
      Thanks so much for the congrats AND for supporting Stonesoup.. I really appreciate it.
      Am sure you’ll love the guilt-free desserts ebook!
      Jx

  • Olivia 30 May, 2012, 5:19 pm

    Dear Jules,

    Congratulations!! So excited for you.

    And it’s a perfect excuse to bake some brownies in your honor on the weekend.

    xxx

    • jules 31 May, 2012, 9:39 am

      Thanks Olivia
      Was wondering if many people would notice the news dropped in casually.
      Enjoy the brownies!
      Jx

  • Erin 30 May, 2012, 8:21 pm

    I made this recipe tonight. It was delishious! I used almond meal and added a splash of vanilla essence. A taste sensation and a winner with my sweet tooth man too :)

    • jules 31 May, 2012, 9:39 am

      Wonderful Erin!
      And really glad to know the almond meal worked.. thanks for reporting back :)

    • Vanessa 27 March, 2013, 9:48 am

      Hi Erin, did you use 250g almond meal as Jules’ note suggests or just 50g instead of the coconut flour?

      • Vanessa 27 March, 2013, 9:50 am

        Sorry, that should be 200g or 50g almond meal? Thanks!

  • emily 31 May, 2012, 2:34 pm

    Congratulations on the engagement!

  • barb 31 May, 2012, 3:30 pm

    Hi Jules
    Congrats on the engagement :)
    This may be a very silly question, but I’m not that exprerienced in the kitchen as most! I’m interested in getting the Guilt Free Desserts, but wondered if I’d have to convert quantities from US measurements to Aus for each recipe?

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:59 pm

      Thanks Barb!
      Not for each recipe.. I just give a table so you can easily convert as you go.

  • lisa 1 June, 2012, 12:58 am

    I do enjoy your recipes, but as a fellow food scientist I’m surprised you described agave the way you did. I suppose saying HFCS works because agave is liquid and through an enzyme process like HFCS. In a way though it is worse since it is all fructose. Really, all caloric sweeteners are the same in they are bad for your body with honey as a small exception. Perhaps it is my American ism since HFCS has a bad rep in the US.

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:58 pm

      Hi Lisa
      Lovely to hear from a fellow food scientist.. I was just trying to keep it simple.. Thanks for the fuller explanation… interested to see what you think of maple syrup?

  • what katie's baking 1 June, 2012, 10:14 am

    thank you so much for all of those tips. i learned a lot.
    these look deeeelicous.

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:57 pm

      pleasure Katie
      Thanks for stopping by :)

  • Jennifer 1 June, 2012, 1:57 pm

    Watched your cooking videos recently and couldn’t help but notice the substantial rock on your engagement finger! It felt rude to comment without an announcement on your part, so much happiness to you and your Irishman.
    In my house dinner is definitely not complete without dessert, so many thanks for your delicious (and easy) dessert recipes.

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:56 pm

      Very observant Jennifer!
      Thanks :)

  • Rachel @ Bakerita 3 June, 2012, 3:55 am

    These are super delicious, but my family all agrees they aren’t too much like “real” brownies. No doubt – we love them though! They’re super delicious, but I may tweak the recipe a bit to try and get the texture a little more brownie like. I’ll let you know of the results!

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:53 pm

      Glad you liked them Rachel
      And do report back if you have any success

  • Sarah 3 June, 2012, 4:08 pm

    Hi Jules,
    I just made these, but could only use 4 eggs (because I’m a duffer) – glad to report they are still delicious, and have a nice texture, even while still warm! (couldn’t resist). I think they are quite brownie-like. Might add some chopped macadamias next time.

    Ta muchly,
    Sarah

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:52 pm

      Great to know they’re still good with less eggs Sarah!
      Thanks for reporting back :)

  • Emily 4 June, 2012, 11:24 am

    Congratulations!!! Very exciting :-) can’t wait to see what you serve at your wedding ;)

    Looking forward to trying these brownies out too, yum yum yum.

    xx

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:50 pm

      Thanks Emily!
      Safe to say it will be a wedding all about the food :)

  • Jane O'Brien 4 June, 2012, 2:03 pm

    Hi Clance …. I haven’t had time to check out what you are up to for ages and here I am popping in today and I see your great news! Very Happy for you … Lots of Love and Congratulations from me. Jane xxxxxx

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:50 pm

      Thanks Jane!
      Lovely to hear from you.
      Hope everything in your neck of the woods is going well
      XX

  • Kathleen 4 June, 2012, 2:20 pm

    Made these brownies to spec. When I took them out of the oven one corner was not cooked, had a big crease in the baking paper. I turn the oven off and let the brownies sit. The did firm up, but after a day they seemed a wee bit dry. They have an interesting texture that went well with a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream which kinda adds the guilt back in. On there own, I find they have an after taste from the stevia / erythritol blend. Kind of expensive, I figured it cost $10.09.
    Pros: love the smell of the coconut flour
    Cons: hate the smell of the stevia/erythritol, it’s so fine the dust get right into lungs.
    I might have a go with real sugar.
    Big congrats on your engagement! All the very best.

    • jules 6 June, 2012, 6:49 pm

      Thanks for the review Kathleen!
      And really appreciate your best wishes. Thanks!

  • Peggy Sherry 9 June, 2012, 10:19 pm

    Hi,
    An important sidebar, Mushrooms must be grown with natural sunlight to have all of their valuable properties. Why say this, because now a lot of mushrooms are grown in greenhouses. I read an article about this.

    • jules 11 June, 2012, 4:14 pm

      Interesting Peggy
      Thanks for sharing

  • Sal 16 June, 2012, 2:37 pm

    These are delicious. I’m paleo and sometimes you would just die for a cakey treat. I see myself baking these every weekend!

    • jules 3 July, 2012, 9:00 pm

      So glad you enjoyed them Sal!

  • Gina 30 June, 2012, 12:35 am

    Hi Jules,
    Please convey my congratulations to your Irishman on winning such a lovely bride-to-be! I wish you both a long and happy life together.
    In the fullness of time I trust you will be posting recipes for a wedding breakfast and wedding pictures.

  • Gina 30 June, 2012, 1:23 am

    Hi Jules
    Please convey my congratulations to your Irishman for winning such a lovely bride-to-be. I hope you have a long and happy life to gether.
    Looking forward to seen your posts of wedding breakfast recipes and wedding photos.

  • Gina 30 June, 2012, 1:27 am

    Oh my frustrating computer. I waited so long to see the first post go up. So I went to do something else for awhile. I didn’t check to see if it had finally gotten there before I rewrote it and posted it again. I’m sure you don’t mind a double dose of congratulations and best wishes.

    • jules 3 July, 2012, 7:04 pm

      Thanks Gina!
      Always happy to take doses of best wishes in any measure :)

  • Lib 11 July, 2012, 4:41 pm

    Just a curiousity – have you tried Xylitol? It’s a great sugar alternative – it has a really low GI (7) and is actually good for your teeth – Dentists have recommended Xylitol gum to me for my children after they eat.

    Here’s a link anyway: http://www.naturallysweet.com.au/our-products/xylitol/

    (I have no association with this website or any affiliation with anything to do with Xylitol – I’m just a happy consumer!)

    All the best! =)

    • Lib 11 July, 2012, 4:54 pm

      Oh, I should mention – you can use Xylitol as a substitute for sugar in nearly every recipe, however it will not caramalise (sp?). Although it is recommended as a 1:1 substitution, I found I could get away with using less Xylitol.

      Apparently it is readily available overseas, however in Australia I have only been able to find it in health food stores, it is a touch expensive though.

      A few pointers though:
      *Start slow – when first starting on Xylitol, if you eat too much, it can cause flatulance and have a mild laxative effect.
      *DO NOT FEED TO DOGS! as it is toxic to dogs.

      For those that may be intersted, the information below is from a ninemsn article on sugar substitues. There are a number of other health benefits not mentioned in this article as well which you can find out about with minimal research on the web:
      Naturally Sweet: Xylitol

      Xylitol is a low kilojoule sugar substitute that is gaining a reputation for its health-boosting properties, namely the effect it has on preventing tooth decay. While its name may sound artificial, xylitol is found naturally in fibrous fruits and vegies such as plums and corn and is also produced in the body. With 40% less kilojoules than sugar, negligible carbohydrate content and a low GI of 7, xylitol is a good option for those with diabetes. As xylitol is metabolised slowly by the body, it doesn’t cause the ‘sugar spike’ that may be experienced with other sugar products, leading to a subsequent drop in blood sugar and a craving for more sweetness.

      Unlike artificial sweeteners, xylitol has no bitter aftertaste and may actually promote oral and aural health. While sugar promotes the growth of bacteria, xylitol prevents their growth. In particular, xylitol has been found to inhibit streptococcus mutans, the main bacteria responsible for causing dental cavities. So in addition to not causing tooth caries like sugar does, xylitol is able to actively repair minor dental damage. In a 2004 study, researchers also found that xylitol damages Streptococcus pneumoniae, one of the main causes of ear infections. By harming the bacteria, it is thought that xylitol may destabilise the bacteria and prevent it from multiplying.

      In large doses, xylitol can have a mild laxative effect. There is no known toxicity, with humans ingesting up to 400 grams a day for extended periods with no apparent problems. It does, however, cause hypoglycaemia in dogs, which can result in depression, seizures and reported death.

      Xylitol is not as widely available as its artificial counterparts, partly due to the fact it’s more expensive. It is more popular overseas, with virtually all chewing gum sold in Europe sweetened with xylitol, and China, Japan and North Korea following suit. In Australia, we can find it in some chewing gums sold in health food stores, and confectionery such as chocolate, baking mixes and as a simple crystallised form with a similar consistency to sugar. It is also added to some toothpastes and dental gels.

    • Lib 11 July, 2012, 4:56 pm

      Why can’t I update? I forgot to add one more thing and now have to look like a serial poster… LOL

      Anyway, I forgot to mention the best part about Xylitol when compared to other sugar subsitutes – NO BITTER AFTERTASTE!

      =)

  • Marie 27 August, 2012, 5:06 pm

    Oh wow! These are nice! I only used 100g of chocolate as I didn’t want it to be too rich and for some reason I needed to cook it for longer, so my brownies turned out more like cake/slice, but I’m very happy with the result. I get a slight aftertaste feeling from the Nativa I used, but it’s only a feeling and not a taste and it is only slight, so it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment. I can see these are going to be on my regulars list.

  • Jenna Avery 8 September, 2012, 8:58 am

    I made these brownies today and they are fabulous. Thanks for sharing the recipe. They took much longer to cook, not sure why, but they’re great. Did you put salt in the video version? I thought I remembered seeing you do that in the vid but it wasn’t in the instructions; regardless they came out well.

    • jules 15 September, 2012, 1:06 am

      Hi Jenna

      Glad you liked them.

      If they took longer to cook it’s probably either your oven wasn’t as hot as mine (and they do vary a lot so this is the most likely cause). The other could be the size and shape of your pan.

      I can’t remember about salt – it does help mask bitterness in chocolate so sometimes I use it but sometimes I don’t bother

  • Becca 26 September, 2012, 9:45 pm

    Does coconut flour have a distinct coconut taste to it? Does that affect how the final product tastes?

    • jules 5 November, 2012, 3:54 pm

      Yes it does taste coconutty Becca
      With the chocolate, it’s quite subtle but definietly there

  • Jillian 8 December, 2012, 11:46 am

    Hi! Great recipe; thanks for sharing!

    I made these today but used 150ml of coconut palm sugar instead of stevia. They were delicious!

  • Shannon 10 December, 2012, 11:30 am

    Hi there,
    discovered you/this post via google, so glad! These are amazing thank you. Am seriously considering the book now [and will use your link :)] just wondering, do many recipes in the book call for coconut flour? I’ve had it for ages and would like mire recipes that use it. Thanks again
    From Shannon

  • Jessica S 4 January, 2013, 3:58 am

    THESE ARE FANTASTIC!!! I made them for New Years so I could indulge a little, and you are right they are better as the days go on. Thanks for this recipe, you have saved my relationship with brownies!
    Mine also cooked longer, maybe 35 minutes or more, but I just kept checking them. I used xylitol, maybe it has an effect.

    Mmmmmm

  • Patricia 8 March, 2013, 2:12 am

    I don’t have chocolate but I have amazing cocoa powder. How would you substitute that?

    Also, if I wanted to use brown sugar or honey, in what amount would you substitute it?

    • Patricia 8 March, 2013, 2:14 am

      Sorry, I saw you do have a sugar substitute. What about honey and cocoa powder though?

  • Patricia 8 March, 2013, 2:34 am

    Conversion for the US:

    70g (2 1/2oz) coconut oil or butter = .321 cup = ~1/3 cup
    150g (5oz) dark chocolate, chopped = .479 = ~½ cup
    90g (3 1/4oz) s/e blend = 150g (5 1/4oz) sugar = ¾ cup
    6 eggs
    50g (1 3/4oz) coconut flour = .45 cup = ~1/2 cup

  • Melissa Wollman 11 April, 2013, 5:07 am

    Do you think that honey would work in place of stevia? (Sorry if that question has already been asked and answered.)

  • tyler 17 April, 2013, 8:20 am

    Hi jules,

    Just wondering how many calories would be in a slice of this. and is this recipe a rich brownie recipe? Thank you
    Tyler

  • Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents 25 May, 2013, 6:18 am

    I’ve had a lot of coconut flour brownies, but these are the BEST EVER!

  • Susan Stone 7 June, 2013, 10:40 am

    Thank you for stating the truth about agave nectar. I can’t believe how many people include agave in their ‘healthy’ recipes. If I like the recipe otherwise, I’ll just substitute something I like for the agave. I’m not real familiar with the paleo diet, just know some of the basic principles, but somehow it seems to me that brownies don’t really belong in true paleo eating? I guess it’s just difficult for most people to live without baked stuff? The recipe looks good, though.

    • jules 7 June, 2013, 7:26 pm

      Thanks Susan!
      Yes it’s amazing how many people think that because something is ‘natural’ it’s good for them:
      And you’re right this probably isn’t strictly ‘paleo’… don’t think they had access to ‘erythritol’ back then… but it’s close.
      J

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