Brow Beat

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

Several dark brown chocolate cup cakes with luscious white frosting sit on individual plates with forks next to a bowl of the frosting
Ty Mecham

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.

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

A large dark purple eggplant, a kitchen knife and lots of fragments of chocolate sit on a cutting board next to other cooking ingredients
Ty Mecham

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).

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.

Bird's eye view of chocolate mix in a square pitcher, a partially mixed bowl of mix and sugar, an opened quarter of a egg carton with 3 eggs inside and honey pooling around a mixer
Ty Mecham

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.

Ian Knauer’s Chocolate Eggplant Cakes

Serves 8

• Vegetable or other neutral oil, for the pan
• 1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
• 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken or chopped into pieces
• 2/3 cup wildflower honey
• 1/3 cup cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
• 1/3 cup almond flour
• 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3 large eggs
• Whipped cream for serving (Knauer adds a tablespoon or two of maple syrup and a pinch of salt to his)

See the full recipe on Food52.

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