How to Make the Healthiest Brownie Ever

Photos: Armelle Habib

Pana Barbounis’s treats are really, really pretty. Like, pink pineapple pretty. Or unicorn latte pretty. But the Australian pastry chef’s ice cream pops, brownies, and various tributes to chocolate-y goodness contain a surprising secret: they’re all sugar-free

With Pana Chocolate, his raw chocolate brand, Barbounis remakes classic desserts using good-for-you ingredients that are rich in antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Sounds pretty sweet, right? 

“We know refined sugar is really not good for us,” admits Barbounis, “so moving away from it was an easy choice.” Instead, he sticks to natural sweeteners such as agave nectar, coconut nectar, and maple syrup.

And sugar-free is just the beginning. When Barbounis says he's making chocolate for everyone, he means it. “People try it, and then they realize: ‘Wow, it's gluten-free! Wow, it's dairy-free! Wow, it's soy-free!'"  

Right now, the chocolates are only available at a handful of spots in the US. But Barbounis’s new cookbook. Pana Chocolate, The Recipes comes packed with 60 delicious ideas anyone can try. The range of tasty treats will have you covered, whether you only recently decided to swear off sugar or you won last year’s sweet-potato brownie bakeoff.

Although these three recipes call for some special equipment (a food processor, a high-speed blender, a dehydrator with a mesh tray, and a double boiler or bain marie—a kitchen setup that’s genius for melting chocolate), there are a few work-arounds if you're working in a cramped, apartment kitchen. If you don't have a dehydrator, you can sub in your oven—just turn it on at the lowest temperature setting, then place the brownie mixture in the oven on a lined tray for approximately one hour. You can fake the bain marie too: Set a stainless-steel or heatproof glass bowl on top of a pot of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't actually touch the water.

The results may feel fancy enough for a special occasion, but each dessert freezes well—meaning it’s easy to whip up a batch, then stash whatever you don’t eat. “They don't lose their quality—if you can resist the temptation to eat them all at once.” That's a big if.

Below, Barbounis shares three of his favorite, sugar-free dessert recipes.

Photos: Armelle Habib

Sticky Date Brownie

Yields 4 to 6 servings

1/2 cup desiccated coconut
6 1/2 medjool dates, pitted
1 3/4 fl oz. filtered water
1 Tbsp lacuma powder
Pinch of Himalayan pink salt
4 Tbsp almond flour
2 tsp cacao powder
1/4 cup activated walnuts, roughly chopped

1. Line 8 x 8 x 2 inch cake or brownie tin with baking paper. Blitz the desiccated coconut in a food processor until very fine, then set aside.

2. Pulse the dates, water, lacuma powder and salt in a food processor or high-speed blender, leaving the mixture slightly chunky. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the blitzed coconut, along with the almond flour and cacao powder.

3. Massage together with your hands until all ingredients have been incorporated, then fold through the chopped nuts. Press the mixture into the tin to mold it into shape. Pop the mixture out of the tin and place it on a mesh dehydrator tray. Dehydrate overnight at 104ºF.

4. Cut brownies into four to six portions and serve with coconut ice cream (see below, or use a store-bought dairy-free version) and butterscotch sauce.

Ice Cream Pops

Yields 20 to 25 servings

For the coconut ice cream
2 1/2 fl oz coconut cream
1 3/4 oz coconut meat
5 fl oz coconut water
2 1/2 fl oz rice malt syrup
1 1/4 fl oz coconut oil, melted over a bain marie

For the ice cream pops
Coconut ice cream (Pana’s homemade version or use a store-bought dairy-free version)
1 1/2 oz. bar of Pana Chocolate Raw Cacao, broken into pieces (or use an essential-oil chocolate for a hit of flavor: try orange, mint, rose or cinnamon)
Nuts, berries and coconut for garnish

1. For the coconut ice cream, blend all ingredients except for the coconut oil in a high-speed blender until extra smooth. Add the melted coconut oil and blend until the oil has been well-incorporated and the mixture is very smooth.

2. Pour the mixture into a shallow container and freeze overnight. Scoop the frozen mixture into a food processor, then blitz to break up the ice crystals, making the ice cream smooth.

3. For the ice cream pops, before you start, place a tray in the freezer to chill. Scoop small portions of ice cream with a tablespoon, or use a mini ice cream scoop to help.

4. Working quickly, roll the ice cream portions into balls using your hands. Place the ice cream balls on the cold tray and insert a toothpick inside each ball. Freeze until very hard.

5. Melt the chocolate slowly over a bain-marie, then dip each ice cream ball into the melted chocolate. Roll the balls in your chosen garnish, then refreeze.

Nice Crispies

Yields 16 servings

2 Tbsp coconut butter
2 Tbsp coconut oil
4 Tbsp tahini
4 1/2 fl oz. coconut nectar
2 oz. puffed millet
7 oz. activated buckwheat

1. Melt the coconut butter and coconut oil together over a bain marie.

2. Take the mixture off the heat and stir in the tahini and coconut nectar.

3. Pour the mixture into a bowl along with the puffed millet and activated buckwheat and stir to combine.

4. Pour the mixture into an 8 x 8 x 2 inch brownie or cake tin and smooth out with a palette knife.

5. Refrigerate until firm, then portion into 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch squares.

If these recipes have inspired you to adopt a sugar-free lifestyle, here's a beginner's guide to quitting the sweet stuff. Still not convinced you should cut it out? This is what happens to your body when you do

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