Healthier Zucchini Brownies

July 27, 2019

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Zucchini brownies.  Ah, the summer staple the allows us to use up a big old zucchini that we missed in our garden. 


I know you have a zucchini sitting on your counter and you're just wondering if this is the recipe you should choose out of all of the others that came up, so here's the summary: I don't believe zucchini brownies are actually healthy, and I do believe that a little scrumptious dessert doesn't hurt now and then so I don't think zucchini brownies NEED to be healthy. 


But I also believe you can make any dessert a little bit healthier (and still scrumptious) by choosing your ingredients carefully.  So here's my version of delicious zucchini brownies that are a bit healthier than your typical brownie. 


You can scroll down to find the recipe if you're in a hurry (I won't be offended!), or you can read more if you want to know the story behind this recipe.


About this Zucchini Brownie Recipe


Here's the deal.  I know that some people say zucchini brownies are healthy.  And yeah, they do include a big hunk of green veggies which might be important to you if you're trying to get a kid to eat at least one a day without a fight.  But to say they are "healthy" is kind of a stretch.  Most recipes still use a ton of white flour, a big load of sugar, a guzzle of vegetable oil, and a half-inch of frosting.  


Don't get me wrong, those recipes are delicious!  The zucchini makes for a moist brownie and the icing on top is to die for.  Make those recipes, by all means, but just make them to enjoy as a delectable dessert that as the added bonus of getting that extra zucchini into your belly, not because they are healthy.  


But all this talk of healthy desserts did get me thinking.  Could I at least come up with a zucchini brownie that was a little bit "healthier" even if I was ready to admit that it still didn't fit my definition of "healthy?" 


If you're looking for a brownie recipe that actually is a little bit higher in beneficial grains, and a little bit lower in sugar and fat, WITHOUT RUINING THE YUM FACTOR, you've come to the right recipe.  You see, I've learned from my favorite whole wheat chocolate chip cookie recipe that desserts can still be delicious while using ingredients that are better for you.



So no, this zucchini brownie recipe is not entirely "healthy" but it is a little less bad for you than your typical (but still delicious) zucchini brownie recipe.  Here's why:


I substitute white whole wheat flour for half of the white all-purpose flour.  White whole wheat flour is a great option for baking, as it is mild in flavor and absorbs moisture well, but offers all of the benefits of whole wheat flour.  You could even go so far as to use it exclusively and I bet your brownies would still be delicious.  The trick is to let the brownie batter sit in the pan for 10-15 minutes before cooking to allow the grains to absorb more moisture.  This makes for a softer, less gritty, final product.


I substitute applesauce for most of the vegetable oil.  As the primary fat in your brownie recipe, oil makes the brownies smooth and tender.   In a normal brownie, substituting applesauce could lead to a drier final product (without the fat), but in zucchini brownies you are already working with a very moist final product (much like zucchini bread) so applesauce can easily be substitute without negatively impacting the consistency.  Use sugar-free applesauce for the full health benefits.  I still add one tablespoon of oil to take advantage of its ability to coat the protein strands and create a nice smooth batter.


I reduce the amount of sugar by one-third.  I frequently play with the sugar content of my baking recipes because white processed sugar is so present in our lives I don't want to add too much more.  Plus, the applesauce adds some fruity sweetness to the mix that makes up for this change.  I found that using less sugar in this recipe did not decrease the yumminess factor, especially because you still use a nice chocolate glaze on top.


I use a half-recipe of frosting.  These brownies are delicious on their own, but the chocolate glaze adds a bit of kick to the flavor.  That said, most recipes drench the brownies in a thick layer of chocolate glaze.  I prefer to cut the frosting recipe in half and just have a single thin layer on top of the brownies.  It provides the same sweet kick but just enough rather than too much.


Without further ado, my recipe!


Healthier Zucchini Brownies



1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (divided)

2 cups shredded zucchini (one medium - large zucchini should do it)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup white whole wheat flour (we prefer King Arthur)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 t salt

1/2 cup applesauce

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 Tablespoon water (optional)




The first step in this recipe is to shred and strain your zucchini in order to eliminate some of the water moisture in the vegetable.  Put your shredded zucchini in a colander over a bowl or in your sink.  Mix with the 2 tablespoons sugar and let sit for about 20-30 minutes, then wrap the shredded zucchini in paper towel and squeeze out more moisture.


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 baking pan.


While the zucchini is sitting, mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.  In another bowl, stir your applesauce, remaining sugar, vanilla, and oil until well-combined.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and briefly combine (the mix will be very dry).  Once the zucchini has been drained and squeezed, add it to this mixture and stir until everything is wet.


Zucchini brownie mix looks very dry as you are stirring it.  You'll think you need to add moisture, but I caution you to be patient.  As you continue to stir in the zucchini, its moisture will spread and the batter will become surprisingly moist.  If you feel that your mixture is just too dry all together, you can add one tablespoon of water to help soften it up.


Transfer the batter to your baking pan and spread it gently into the corners.  Let the batter sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the whole wheat flour to absorb more moisture.


Place in the oven on a rack in the middle and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Allow to cool at least a half hour before cutting into them.











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