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Article updated: 4/9/2013 4:30 PM

Avocado replaces butter in guiltless brownies

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Today everyone wants a piece of the baking pie, so to speak; with bloggers to celebrity chefs coming up with recipes for everything from decadent treats and those boasting a better-for-you spin. While I applaud the spotlight on healthier desserts, respect for the food science often gets lost in the ingredient shuffle.

We love our desserts and search for new ideas to keep the sweets on a healthy menu. Some recipes, such as cakes and quick breads, easily handle ingredient exchanges without significant damage to flavor or texture. Healthy oils step in for butter or shortening on a moment's notice.

Look to makeover cookies or brownies and the swaps get a little trickier. In both these dessert categories, butter and sugar play dual roles: they create signature textures and infuse flavors. Significant changes occur when substituting oil for butter or artificial sweeteners for sugar and the new dessert often turns out too sugary and texturally unappealing.

Dessert makeovers with the goal of reducing fat, sugar and calories need to focus on ingredient substitution. While this is vital, most bakers miss the other issue: resetting expectations, in a positive way, of what a revised dessert may taste like. If guests walk away from the table disappointed, how do you sell the next healthy dessert?

Recently I spotted an advertisement for healthy brownies that swapped all the butter out for avocado purée. Who doesn't love brownies, and who wouldn't love them more if they could be almost guilt free?! Yes I was suspicious about the facts, I wondered if someone played fast and loose with the baking science in this dessert makeover.

The instructions called for an even swap of avocado (ripe and pureed) for butter or oil in your brownie recipe, no adjustments to oven times or temperatures. So I pulled out a standard brownie recipe; the resulting batter felt stiff after mixing and baked into a rubbery bar.

Suspecting this avocado-for-butter idea may not apply to from-scratch recipes, I did something I haven't done in 20 years: purchase box brownie mixes. After two different bake-offs, the results from the mixes produced results similar to my homemade brownies. Time to consult the food science.

Baking a great brownie poses challenges even with heavy-hitter ingredients such as butter and chocolate on board. Over mixing and too much heat toughen texture after cooling. Too little oven time and brownies feel like under baked mush. So how do you hold the butter and fit avocado purée into that tight window of success?

While avocado does boast healthy fats, it falls short of being an equal substitute for butter in a brownie recipe. Avocado brings fiber that smooth butter lacks and this distinction makes a world of difference on your taste buds. For this makeover to succeed, other ingredients need to take a more prominent role in creating that signature brownie texture.

The secret to success lies in using a two-step mixing process for the sugar. Beating half of the sugar with the eggs creates a light mixture that blends seamlessly with the avocado purée. Less flour and mixing the remaining sugar with the dry ingredients prevents rubbery texture. Coffee liqueur loosens the batter and enhances the cocoa flavor.

These brownies pack great cocoa flavor with moist texture yet it doesn't give away the secret ingredient. I did disclose to everyone sampling that this recipe contained only avocado purée for the fat, no butter or oil. We agreed that for about 100 calories per serving, this brownie exceeded our expectations of a healthy dessert makeover.

Ÿ Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Villa Park. Write her at food@dailyherald.com.

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