Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wheat-free, vegan Pumpkin-Cream Cheese Brownies

I don't care how much my West Coast friends make their little cutting remarks to me in the deep, dark heart of January, stories about going to the beach and working up a sweat on their bike rides, I love where I live for many reasons, the dramatically changing seasons chief among them. If you poll your friends who live in the Chicago area, you'll probably find that a sizable percentage are like me and love autumn most. With the bright, bold leaves, the crisp air, the crunch under our shoes, that tantalizing, thrilling feeling that Halloween brings to our hearts, it is a sensuous, free-spirited time of year, a last hootenanny before the deep freeze of winter settles in. Also, after a hot summer, it's time for us to start those ovens again, filling our homes with the great, comforting smells we associate with the season: pumpkin, nutmeg, vanilla. The idea for these brownies seized my imagination for a day before I gave in and my test kitchen was open for business. Pumpkin, cream cheese, chocolate chips: a symphony of both mild and rich flavors, it was even better than I imagined. The morning after? They are insane.

These brownies are wheat-free and, unless you have Celiac disease, gluten-free. Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are cross-handled with gluten containing grains like wheat, barley and rye in mills and processing plants. For those who are like me, people who do not have not had a diagnosed allergy but have difficulty digesting gluten, oats are usually fine. (For those who need a more strict avoidance of gluten, there are oats, such as a variety sold by Bob's Red Mill, that are handled separately and are therefore gluten-free.) The flour I used here is made from oats, and it can be used from grinding quick rolled oats in the blender or buying already ground oat flour. This flour is substantial enough to give your brownies the structure they need without adding too much weight. (Feel free to substitute the kind of flour you prefer.) The pumpkin purée adds a rich texture and subtle flavor without any fat; the cream cheese-pumpkin topping adds a cheesecake-like finish to something that was already kind of amazing. As always with vegan baking, these babies are cholesterol-free. To heighten the seasonal flavor, you might want to try a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice blend (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice) in the cream cheese topping.

Pumpkin-Cream Cheese Brownies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8 X 8-inch baking pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the following ingredients:

1/3 cup + 2 Tb. pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie purée)
1/3 cup + 1 T. maple syrup
1/4 cup oil (olive or safflower is ideal)
1 tablespoon vanilla

In a larger bowl, stir together the following:

1 cup oat flour
2/3 cup natural, unbleached sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chips (add 1/4 cup for the topping!)

Then, sift in the following:

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir together, and add the wet pumpkin mixture from above. Stir until everything is well combined and then add it to the prepared pan. 

Pumpkin-Cream Cheese Topping

1 8-ounce container room temperature vegan cream cheese (I like the Follow Your Heart brand)
1/3 cup natural, unbleached sugar
3 tablespoons pumpkin purée
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon oat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice blend

In a mixer or using electric beaters, mix together the cream cheese, sugar and pumpkin purée until it is smooth. Then add the rest of the ingredients, processing until smooth.

Smooth this over the brownie batter, and sprinkle 1/4 cup of chocolate chips over the top. Bake for twenty minutes at 350 degrees, rotate a half turn, and lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for twelve more minutes, until the cream cheese is a little tan around the edges. Let it cool, preferably on a wire rack.

Now go take a walk. Seriously, this is part of the recipe. Enjoy the beautiful maple trees, peeking with color. Throw a stick for your dog or borrow your neighbor's dog for this purpose. Don't come back for at least 30 minutes. You have to let your brownies cool for at least that long before cutting and enjoying, otherwise they'll fall apart. These are best cool, stored in the fridge.

Happy autumn, everyone!


  1. this is one of the best healthy recipe i've ever had. thanks!

  2. Thank you! Chocolate, pumpkin and cream cheese together: yum yum yum!


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