This Genius, Ridiculously Fudgy Brownie Cake Has No Butter or Oil—but How?

September 19, 2018

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

This cake didn’t start out as a diet cake (nor does it, in practice, taste like one). Yet there it is, acting like the world’s fudgiest molten chocolate cake, its moussey middle caving under your fork—without a single teaspoon of butter or oil.

This feels like some shifty business, an invitation for more nefarious ingredients to fill in the gaps (like when we—oops—let high-fructose corn syrup sneak into all our favorite packaged snacks during the fat-free craze of the '90s). But the truth is much more wholesome and surprising than that.

It all started in the mind of Ian Knauer, former Gourmet editor and founder of The Farm Cooking School in New Jersey, when his wife Malaika showed up with 80 pounds of eggplant from their farm. Knauer had to start coming up with ways to make good use of it, quick. Instead of baba ghanoush or eggplant parm or other standard destinations for eggplant, he wondered if, steamed and blended, it could work its way into a chocolate cake.

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Applesauce cake was what got me thinking that it could work,” Ian told me.

Knauer’s cookbook with his co-teacher and partner in crime Shelley Wiseman, The Farm Cooking School, is full of not just the simple, seasonal cooking lessons they teach in their classes, but also these sorts of unexpected, necessity-driven discoveries (a glut of radicchio was the catalyst for an excellent homemade vermouth, in another case).

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Top Comment:
“Nowhere does the title say 'lowfat', and since the word 'fudgy' IS in the title it can be assumed that chocolate is part of the recipe, so maybe not the low calorie recipe you thought it would be. Not sure how you took that as misleading.”
— Alyena

Not only does eggplant...sauce? cake work just like applesauce cake—it does so with astonishing ease. After blending the steamy eggplant with chopped chocolate (which makes for a pretty tasty chocolate pudding, by the way), all that’s left is to whisk in a few more cake-like ingredients and bake them into existence.

Somehow the moisture from eggplant also makes the cakes incredibly forgiving. Not feeling honey? (Or going vegan?) Use the same amount of regular sugar, maple, or golden syrup (and the classic ground flax egg substitute trick, if eggs are also a no-go). Feeding someone gluten-free? Skip the tablespoon of flour—the batter will look a little wonkier along the way, but it will work.

“It has become a go-to summer cake for the cooking school and for my family,” Knauer says. After we tried it half a dozen different ways in the Food52 test kitchen, it’s easy to see why—never did it fail to comfort and charm tasters, then make their eyes get all big when I told them what made the cake so good. Don't make me decide which part I liked better.

Photos by Ty Mecham

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Icecreamchoca
  • Mariam
  • Tomoose
  • Michelle de Lima
    Michelle de Lima
  • Cecilia
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Icecreamchoca April 10, 2020
Quick question where's the cream recipe?
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 14, 2020
Hi there, to make the whipped cream, you simply whip very cold heavy cream (either with a whisk by hand or in an electric mixer with the whisk attachment) until you see soft peaks form. Ian flavors his with a bit of maple syrup and salt, but you can also leave it plain, sweeten it in other ways, or mix in sour cream or yogurt for some tang.
Mariam September 26, 2019
Can I use oat flour instead of almond flour?
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 14, 2020
I'm sorry I'm just seeing this Mariam—I do think oat flour would be a good substitute here.
Tomoose October 8, 2018
Hope no one makes this for me & tries to 'hide' the surprise ingredient. I have a deadly allergy to eggplant & this would actually kill me.
Michelle D. October 1, 2018
I realize this is an odd question, but what do you think would be a good substitute for the eggplant? Butternut? Applesauce?
Cecilia September 27, 2018
The title of this article is more than a little misleading--the cake has no added butter or oil, but it has 10 ounces of chocolate (much more than a typical brownie recipe), which adds quite a bit of fat to the mix (as does the almond flour). The eggplant is definitely an interesting approach to texture, but it's not really replacing fat, but rather adding moisture using vegetable cellulose in a way that allows the finished product to retain that moisture more than simply adding water would. In other words--neat trick, interesting recipe, but very misleading title.
Alyena October 15, 2018
Nowhere does the title say 'lowfat', and since the word 'fudgy' IS in the title it can be assumed that chocolate is part of the recipe, so maybe not the low calorie recipe you thought it would be. Not sure how you took that as misleading.
Cecilia October 20, 2018
You're absolutely right--I tend to have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to "click-baity" article titles, which are an unfortunate necessity of the internet these days, even on an otherwise great site like this one. Still, my reaction was overly negative and, as you point out, unmerited. My apologies, and thank you for making me aware of my grumpiness in a kind, helpful way (and in case it's not clear, there is no sarcasm at all intended in my response-I mean it sincerely! ;) )
Fortnite September 24, 2018
This is like the pump shotgun of Brownies
Beth September 20, 2018
Do you refrigerate those not eaten on day one, or store on the counter? Also, I substituted coconut flour for the almond because my grandson has a nut allergy. It worked fine, but was more ‘coconutty’ than I would prefer. Can you recommend another gluten free substitute? Thanks!
PG T. September 20, 2018
Intriguing! I'm thinking super decadent Larabar - am I on the right taste profile track?
Elizabeth C. September 19, 2018
Can I sub all purpose flour for the almond flour??tia
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 19, 2018
Hi Elizabeth, I haven't tried that variation, but I think it should be fine. All-purpose flour will be more fine and absorbent than almond flour, but there is so much moisture going on in this cake, it's at little risk of going dry. Let us know if you try it!
Ellerie September 19, 2018
Can almond flour be substituted here?
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 19, 2018
Hi Ellerie, I'm not sure I understand your question, but if you'd like to substitute almond flour for the 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour, you can (or just leave the all-purpose flour out). If you'd like to substitute another flour for the almond flour—I haven't tried it, but I'm pretty sure it would work out fine in these amounts.
Franca September 19, 2018
I have been adding eggplant in my chocolate cake for years. Can't detect the flavour and my son is none the wiser as I slip in extra veg. :)
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 19, 2018
That's amazing, Franca—how smart! Do you steam and blend it as Ian does in his recipe?
Sandy C. September 19, 2018
what does the almond flour do?
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 19, 2018
It gives structure to the batter (otherwise, it might not firm up enough to remove from the pan, as it's *very* moist!).
Deborah September 19, 2018
The recipe is missing many steps. Please correct and repost.
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 19, 2018
Deborah, it was missing 1 step—I'm sorry about that. I was having trouble with the upload last night. It should be all fixed now.