Friday, July 9, 2010

A Book and a Brownie: "The Invisible Gorilla" Book Review and Trying "The Amazing Black Bean Brownies"

So why a book and a brownie? I was sent a copy of "The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us" by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simmons by the publisher to read and review, and because food is my life and this is a food blog, I chose to tie it to food. In this case a brownie...not just any brownie, but a brownie with a secret ingredient that you wouldn't notice unless someone told you it was there.

"The Invisible Gorilla" is named after an infamous psychological experiment the authors created, (if you don't know it you can check it out here). The premise of the experiment and of this book is that the mind doesn't necessarily work the way we think it does, and it effects our perception, attention to detail, and memory in ways we don't expect. We may think we are able to multi-task successfully, chat on our cell phones while we drive, and that we would notice something out of the ordinary if we saw it, but through their own experiments, as as well as evidence from a variety of sources, Chabris and Simmons show how our intuition can play tricks on us. It makes for entertaining and interesting reading, the easy to relate to stories and examples outweigh the dry, more technical information, and the book illuminates some of the inner workings of the human mind. It's a little something different to put in your beach bag and will leave you wondering how much information you actually miss each day.

So how does that relate to The Amazing Black Bean Brownie? Well, first off, I was craving chocolate and brownies sounded good. ;-) Secondly, I have had this recipe tagged for ages now and wanted to give it a try. Finally, in the spirit of the book, I thought it would be fun to give a few to some friends and see if they thought there was anything different about the brownie without knowing the ingredients, and if knowing the ingredients changed their perception of the taste of the brownies. The recipe is from a little cookbook I bought a while back that has languished sadly in my pile of cookbooks, "Baking With Agave Nectar: Over 100 Recipes Using Nature's Ultimate Sweetener" by Ania Catalano. I like to use agave and honey in my treats instead of white sugar and this book is a great resource for recipes using agave.

Catalano says, "Without exception, this was my most sought-after recipe at my restaurant and bakery. You would never believe these incredibly fudgy brownies are made with beans but no flour. The beans provide great body and fiber without a "beany" taste. Keep the brownies in the refrigerator. They will slice much better if refrigerated several hours or overnight. Find natural coffee substitute at natural food stores."

The Amazing Black Bean Brownie
"Baking With Agave Nectar" by Ania Catalano
(Makes 45 (2-inch) Brownies)

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter or nonhydrogenated butter substitute
2 cups soft-cooked black beans, drained well
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup natural coffee substitute or instant coffee
1/4 tsp sea salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups light agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 11-by-18-inch baking pan with parchment paper and lightly oil with canola oil spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on high. Stir with a spoon to melt the chocolate completely. Place the beans, 1/2 cup of the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a couple of spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Blend about 2 minutes, or until smooth. The batter should be thick and the beans smooth. The batter should be thick and the beans smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup of walnuts, remaining melted chocolate mixture, coffee substitute, and salt. Mix well and set aside. In a separate bowl, with an electric mixer beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the agave nectar and beat well. Set aside.

Add the bean/chocolate mixture to the coffee/chocolate mixture. Stir until blended well. Add the egg mixture reserving about 1/2 cup. Mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 cup egg mixture until light and fluffy. Drizzle over the brownie batter. Use a wooden toothpick to pull the egg mixture through the batter, creating a marbled effect. (I omitted the marbling steps.) Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the brownies are set. Let cool in the pan completely before cutting into squares. (They will be soft until refrigerated.)

Notes/Results: A fudgy, dense brownie that is quite tasty. I did make a couple changes--I lessened the agave to 1 cup as I like things a bit less sweet. I also didn't go through the step of whipping up part of the egg whites and using them to marble the brownies--I just didn't feel like doing the extra step--I am lazy like that! I ended up dusting them with a bit of cocoa powder after baking them instead--for a truffle-like experience. These are very good for a gluten-free brownie, especially if you are a fudgy brownie rather than cakey brownie fan, which I am. I somewhat suspiciously tasted them for "beany" taste or texture, and really found none, even knowing they had a can of black beans in them. They are by no means the best brownie I have ever tasted but good and probably even more indistinguishable from a regular brownie with all of the sweetener added and some frosting on top. ;-)

The verdict from my friends--while not scientific, pretty much supported my don't ask / don't tell flavor theory. I gave them to four different people, telling two of them only that they were brownies, with no extra details, and telling the other two that they were made with black beans. Three of the four thought they tasted like normal, fudgy brownies. One person thought there was a "slight beany texture and taste" to them--and of course it was one of the two I let know the secret ingredient. OK, so my experiment was a bit of a stretch to tie to the book and it probably won't make it in the next book as an example of perception, but at the end of the day,I read a good book and ate some good brownies. Life is good! ;-)

***Giveaway Reminder***
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Happy Aloha Friday!


  1. The last time I made black bean brownies they did NOT go over well. I had to throw out the whole batch. But I think it was the recipe and not the concept. I will definitely be trying these!

    That book sounds really interesting. Now that you have me thinking about it, there are so many ways our biased perception of things skews the way we see them. Hmmm. Might have to check this out of the library.

  2. This does sound like an interesting book.

    The black bean brownies have always sounded great to me and I'd really like to give them a try. Sounds like they were fudgy deliciousness!

  3. Not a stretch...I think it ties in perfectly! I'm a fudgey brownie fan, myself and I've seen recipes around here and there that used black beans and always wondered. I think I may have to give it a go! And the book sounds really interesting, I'll look for it at the library! =)

  4. You've made me curious, Deb - about the book and the brownies. I'll have to give both a try. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

  5. Wow Deb, what beautiful looking brownies and that too with black beans, what an amazing concept :)

  6. Those brownies look really good.

    If you liked that book, maybe you should check out "Quirkology" by Richard Wiseman.

  7. Questions: When it calls for coffee, is that like mixed with water already made coffee or just the granules? I'm not a coffee drinker at all. They don't TASTE like coffee right? I've so been wanting to make these!!

  8. I've been wanting to make these too! I'm so glad you tried them because I trust your opinion...and they look like a regular brownie! I wonder if I can trick my family...

  9. Joanne--Yikes! I think at least part of the key is processing the bejesus out of them so it is completely smooth. Hope you like this recipe better. ;-)

    Kim--they are a really good brownie--not as decadent as some but still really good. ;-)

    girlichef--hope you like the brownies and the book.

    Mary--thanks! Hope you like them. ;-)

    Priya--thank you!

    Andreas--I'll check out that book for sure! ;-)

    Debbi--Great question! The book wasn't clear but I felt like 1/4 cup of the grounds seemed like a lot so I brewed some coffee and added 1/4 cup of the liquid and it seemed to work fine. I found that the coffee added richness rather than any coffee taste. I imagine you could leave it out too.

    Reeni--They aren't as decadent as some brownies but I thought they were good. I think if you add the full amount of sweetener and maybe some frosting if you normally put it on brownies, you could fool them. ;-) Hope you like them.

  10. I have seen black beans in a few brownies...I am really intrigued with this addition! I do love brownies and yours look oh so chocolatey!!
    It sounds like you do have a winner here!

  11. I really like the idea of your study, and how you tied these brownies to your read. I agree that people are not very conscious about the major impact certain trends have on them - like constantly being plugged to technology. I'm really excited about this book suggestion. I'll look out for it.

  12. What a cool idea for brownies! I love foods that sneak in something surprising like this. I can't wait to give this recipe a try!

  13. I've been meaning to try these kind of brownies. Glad they passed the test- I'll have to do it now! Thanks for the nudge!


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