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Vegan brownies that don't suck (really) 

Brownie Bites

Deciding to be a vegan is like signing up for the armed forces. You've enlisted for service mysterious and unknown to many, your life will be regimented (and at times arduous) and dessert is either nonexistent or absolutely wretched.

Ever try one of those well-meaning dairy and egg-free cookies or cakes made with date paste, pumpkin puree or flax seed? You could use them as bricks for a mud hut. There's got to be a better way to a happy ending.

Of course, the answer to all these problems is fruit, and fruit is always lovely -- a fiber-filled treat, nature's candy, what the Doc ordered. Yeah, yeah. I bet you 50 bucks that no vegan friends of mine would be happy about having a peeled banana to blow out their birthday candles.

As already mentioned, eating the vegan way is a choice. But being allergic or unable to digest wheat is not. Dessert time must be a serious drag.

Always on the lookout for tweaks to sweets that accommodate all kinds of diets, I recently came across a double-whammy do-gooder. Not only is it vegan, but the recipe for the mini-brownies below are gluten free, which makes them celiac-friendly.

Featured in the current issue of Food & Wine magazine, this recipe comes from the kitchen of BabyCakes NYC, a vegan bakery in New York. Despite the pretty magazine spread, I must confess to low expectations. I had to shell out extra cash and energy for gluten-free all-purpose flour and a natural binder called xanthan gum, for crying out loud. Was it really going to be worth the work and learning?

Damn straight it was. A huge score, a vegan victory and better still, an opportunity for gluten-less gluttony. Run and hide these babies from your carnivorous, doughnut-eating friends. They're that good.

Brownie Bites

From the Sept. 2006 issue of Food & Wine

Vegetable oil spray

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Bob's Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose baking flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 cup applesauce

1/4 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup dairy-free chocolate chips (I used Sunspire brand organic semi-sweet chocolate chips, which are dairy free)

· Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray mini-muffin pan with vegetable oil spray. (If you can find them, mini-muffin paper liners are ideal; they make a better presentation and seem to hold up better than their unlined counterparts.)

· In a medium bowl, combine baking flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum.

· In another bowl, whisk applesauce, oil and vanilla, then stir into dry ingredients.

· Stir in chocolate chips.

· Spoon batter into muffin pan, filling each cup three-quarters full. Bake for 15 minutes, or until set.

· Allow brownies to cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

· Makes 24 servings.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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