Brownie Redux: Secrets for Cutting the Sugar & Keeping the Flavor

Dessert,Health Tips,Nuts & Nut Butters

Everyone enjoys treats. Problem is that most desserts contain large amounts of sugar, something we would all do well to minimize. Even if you’re using honey, maple syrup, or coconut palm sugar, you’re still taking in sugar, just a less refined form of it. But what if you could take one of your favorite dessert recipes and make it even better by reducing the total sugar load by 50% or more without sacrificing the flavor, texture, and your enjoyment of it? What if you could make it so delicious that people who aren’t trying to eat less sugar would still enjoy it?

You can! I’m about to show and tell you how.

6a00e552ad01da8834017d423326e5970c-320wiThe best brownie recipe
Heather Wolcott, one of my best friends, shared a fabulous flourless almond butter brownie recipe with me five or six years ago. It was a recipe she’s made many times and shared with friends. It was always one of the first things to disappear at potlucks she brought it to. I recall looking at the recipe but not making it for months. I didn’t know how good it would be, until I tried it.

The recipe came from Elana Amsterdam’s blog, Elana’s Pantry. The recipe filled a 9x13x2-inch Pyrex baking dish (most brownie recipes make a 9x9x2-inch batch) and it made 24 brownies. The original recipe called 1 1/4 cups of agave nectar, which Heather replaced with honey. She also cut the honey back to 1 cup and found it plenty sweet. (The recipe also contains half a cup of chocolate chips, which provide additional sugar.)

This amazing gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free brownie batter, made with a 16-ounce jar of roasted almond butter, made a very thick batter. Nixing 1/4 cup of syrup made the mixture even thicker. One of my cooking students, Heather Harris Torriente, found that adding 1/4 cup of water made the brownies more moist and delicious and it made such a difference! Easier mixing and an even better brownie. (Recall that 1/4 cup liquid is what Heather Wolcott originally cut when she removed 1/4 cup of liquid sweetener.)

Making the Cut
I made the recipe many times, often making it classes and sharing it with my cooking students, clients, and friends. Over time, another friend, Janet Morley, shared with me that she made the same recipe with half as much honey and some added stevia, a trick she uses with most dessert recipes and that that fits with my style of recipe modification. I was curious to know exactly what she did. Turns out she replaced half a cup of the honey with 1/2 teaspoon of clear stevia liquid (I’ll tell you in a minute about which brands she and I like best for smoothness of flavor). I loved the results. Eventually I decided to add more water to Janet’s lower sugar version, just as Heather Harris had done with an earlier version of  the recipe. That added more moisture. You’ll see the full recipe below. It’s amazing! People can’t believe that it’s grain free. It has a texture like a brownie made with flour. They’re also blown away to discover that it is so low in sugar––1 teaspoon of honey + the sugar found in 1 teaspoon of chocolate chips or dark chocolate per brownie, with 24 brownies per 9x13x2-inch pan. That’s a very, very small amount of “sugar” compared to most brownie and bar recipes.

The result
The changes we made, primarily replacing a little more than half of the honey with water and a very small amount of liquid stevia (replacing 1/2 to 3/4 cup honey with 1/2 teaspoon of clear stevia liquid) cut 180 grams of sugar and 720 calories from the original recipe without sacrificing the moist texture and rich, sweet taste. To make sure this wasn’t just a health foodie’s favorite, I made half a batch of the brownies (baked in an 8-inch square baking pan) several months ago for the kids next door to me (8 and 10 year olds). I used the chocolate chips in their batch. I made another half batch to give to friends using the 70% cocoa content chocolate bar in place of the chocolate chips.

These kids eat a conventional American diets: fast food, soda, packaged foods, commercial baked goods, Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines brownies, and the like. I said, “Tell me what you think. Rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best and 1 being the worst.” All of the kids gave them a 10! The adults who also received the brownies, some of them into natural and organic foods, were also delighted!

You be the judge! Try the recipe. See what you think.

Cut the sugar, save the sweetness
By using stevia in combination with a concentrated sweetener, you can achieve a satisfying level of sweetness with one-third to one-half the customary amount of sugar, honey, or maple syrup in many recipe. This is just one of the many that my friends and I have made, enjoyed, and shared with success. My entire Ice Dream Cookbook is built around this strategy. You’ll find cookies, bars, macaroons, chocolate and fruit sauces, and a delicious array of coconut milk based frozen desserts that are high in flavor and low in sugar as well as being gluten free and dairy free.

The brand makes a difference
Regarding stevia, the brand and form make a huge difference in the flavor–or in the seamless way the stevia can disappear into a recipe so that you don’t taste it but you get the sweetness you’re after, which is the goal. Liquid stevia is smoother and dissolves more readily into liquids and batters than powdered stevia. Not all brands taste the same. Some leave a bitter aftertaste. However, even with a good brand you need to know how much to use. Use too much and you’ll be disappointed with the results!

I do not use green stevia leaf powders or liquids in cooking or baking. They impart a strong flavor that detracts from desserts I recommend clear stevia extract liquid made and marketed by Nu Naturals, Kal, or Wisdom Naturals. Pure stevia extract powder can be used but the amount you need may not be the same and again, the brand you use can make a huge difference. While I have made desserts with pure stevia extract powder (see my Garden of Eating Cooking and Ice Dream Cookbook), I’ve not made the brownie below with powdered stevia. If I did, I would use pure stevia extract powder with nothing added (no fillers, no starches, no FOS) made by one of the companies listed above. Read labels carefully as most companies sell multiple stevia products with varying ingredients.

The honey for sugar swap
If a recipe calls for sugar, you cannot replace it one-for-one with honey and expect good results. Replacing a dry sweetener with a liquid sweetener changes the wet to try ratio in a big way. You need less honey than sugar for the same level of sweetness. One cup of sugar is the sweetener equivalent of 3/4 cup of honey. I have a formula I use to make the change. I’ll share tips for doing this in another post. In the meantime, consider buying my Ice Dream Cookbook. It contains a chart and instructions you can begin to apply immediately.

Flourless Almond Butter Brownies

Prep: 30 minutes        Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes    Yield: 24 brownies

Blogger Elana Amsterdam of Elanas Pantry created the prototype for this recipe. She called it Chocolate Chip Brownies. I wanted a title that conveyed the uniqueness of the recipe, so I changed the name. Three of my girlfriends and I tweaked the original. We upgraded from agave nectar to honey (honey’s healthier!). Heather W. nixed 1/4 cup of honey. Janet cut another 1/2 cupful and supplemented with liquid stevia. Heather H. added water to replace the missing honey, thereby adding more moisture to the recipe.

The result: We nixed 180 grams of sugar and 720 calories without sacrificing the super moist texture and rich, sweet taste. These brownies are always a crowd pleaser––even with conventional eaters, including kids who live on either side of my townhouse, who are accustomed to Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines brownies. They gave the brownies top ratings.

Note: Check your oven for accuracy. If it runs hotter or colder than the dial indicates, adjust your baking time or have a repairman out to recalibrate it. You don’t want to burn these babies!


  • 1 (16) ounce jar salted, unsweetened, roasted, smooth almond butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup raw honey
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (not imitation)
  • 2 droppers full (1/2 teaspoon total) clear stevia liquid, plain or vanilla flavored (Nu Naturals, Wisdom Naturals or Kal brand)
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon finely ground unrefined sea salt (Redmond Real Salt or Celtic Sea Salt; double if using unsalted nut butter)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup chocolate chips*
  • Coconut oil or palm shortening to grease baking pan

Note: To reduce the sugar content, you can use part of a coarsely chopped dark
chocolate bar, ranging from a 70% to 85% cocoa content, depending upon
how sweet you want it


  • Preheat oven to 325° F. (Bake at 350˚F if using a metal baking pan.) Liberally grease one 9x13x2-inch Pyrex baking pan with coconut oil or palm shortening. Alternatively, use two 8x8x2-inch baking pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the top again for easy release. (Measure pans for accuracy. Size makes a huge difference in how and whether they bake up properly.)
  • In a large bowl, blend the almond butter until smooth with electric beaters or in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
  • Blend in the eggs, then add the honey, water, vanilla, and liquid stevia. Batter will be very thick. Blend in cocoa powder, sea salt and baking soda. Fold in chocolate chips or dark chocolate.
  • Pour batter into prepared baking pan(s) and level with a damp spatula.
  • Allow about 25 minutes for 8-inch square baking pans; 30 to 40 minutes for a 9×13-inch pan. Test the larger pan at 25 minutes if you prefer a fudgey texture. Brownies are done as soon as a toothpick inserted into the center comes out lean.

Recipe variation created by Chef Rachel Albert:

1 Comment

  • Linda
    January 18, 2020 at 11:49

    These sound awesome! Thanks so much for the recipe!

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