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A few years back, a friend revealed to me a secret for making brownies that I haven’t quite been able to kick. It was mid January in New York and we were snowed in. We drew shapes on frosted windows with our warm fingers between TV episodes and foraged my apartment, and our brains, for activities. Going outside was beyond possibility, and when you’re trapped inside for hours—sometimes days—on end, resourcefulness becomes a necessary companion.
Food, too, becomes a site of experimentation. When you use that last egg or find the crisper drawer suddenly empty, creativity is key. We turned to the pantry, dry goods our final recourse, when our eyes fell upon that can of Goya black beans. An uncontroversial pantry staple, there’s never not a can of black beans tucked behind a box of pasta somewhere in my kitchen.
“Do you know?” she asked me, eyes alight. What exactly I was supposed to know, I did not know, but her excitement definitely made me curious. She reached again into my pantry and pulled out a box of brownie mix that I had bought once “in case of emergency.” With beans in one hand and a Betty Crocker box in the other, she explained to me the benefits of their union. Apparently, a can of black beans is all you need to bring brownie mix to life. She’d learned this from her aunt and promised I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Plus, she added, it’s vegan. I watched, curious, even incredulous, as she blended the beans and folded in the powdered mixture. The two gradually combined into a tarry batter, a dark chocolatey brown the color of…well, brownies. We greased our pan and heated our oven and popped in the tray of batter. We added nothing else: just brownie mix and blended black beans. As for cook time, we went with the directions on the box. After the suggested 25 to 30 minutes, we checked in every minute or so, testing the batter for completion with the tines of a fork. The brownies emerged rich and fudgy. The texture was denser than normal, not as much airy sponginess as I’m used to, but that’s kind of how I prefer my brownies anyway. As for the taste, the chocolate completely concealed any hint of bean.
As it turns out, she was onto something. The fiber, oil, and liquid in the black beans replace any need for the oil, egg, or water that the mix calls for. Blending the beans creates a puree that stands in for the necessary moisture those ingredients would have otherwise provided. I’ve called upon this method a few times since, when I find myself craving something sweet and comforting but don’t have the energy to pull together anything craftier, more homemade.
I usually don’t rely on boxed mixes, preferring something more hands-on, but this method is easy, simple, and has proven a crowd-pleaser. Plus my vegan friends are fans, so it feels like a coup when I get to feed them a sweet after dinner. It’s been a few years since that particularly heavy storm, but each time I crack open a can of black beans I’m reminded of those snowy days and the fudgy, chocolatey squares we polished off without ever leaving my apartment.
Have you ever heard of this trick? If so, let us know in the comments!