The best brownies are gluten free and have soy sauce in them — really

We talked to Hetty McKinnon about her new cookbook and instant cult classic brownie

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published June 30, 2021 10:00AM (EDT)
Soy Sauce Brownies (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Soy Sauce Brownies (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

I have one perfect chocolate chip cookies recipe. One platonic ideal cheesecake. But when it comes to brownies, I will never stop making any and every new recipe I can get my hands on. I've made the Katherine Hepburn brownies. I've made the Baked brownies. I've made cheesecake brownies and black bean brownies. I've made two-ingredient Nutella brownies and I've made sheet pan brownies. And from the moment I saw the words "soy sauce brownies" in Hetty McKinnon's warm, inviting "To Asia, With Love," I couldn't wait to make them.

McKinnon, a Chinese-Australian writer currently raising her family in Brooklyn, creates vegetarian and vegan dishes that showcase all her influences. As she writes in her introduction, she wanted to create a book with "a strong sense of home," with flavors that are "not strictly Chinese, but they are Asian(ish)." It's unsurprising, then, that her unorthodox brownie began its life as an homage to her home country.

"I don't love sweets in general as a person," McKinnon said recently via phone, "so my food has always lent very heavily toward savory. I had a salad business in Sydney where I delivered salads on my bike, and every week I would make a sweet thing as an option. Back then, I was making brownies that I would flavor with orange zest or tahini or peppermint. When I left Australia, I basically started adding recipes on my website as a way of staying connected to my audience. One of my first was a Vegemite brownie, as a nod to Australia. That's where the idea of using soy sauce came from — that deep saltiness that always benefits chocolate."

It sounds a little unconventional, but this is no TikTok gimmick. "When I started experimenting with this brownie," McKinnon says, "I realized the soy sauce not only did the job that salt does, it added these beautiful, rich caramel flavors which tell you there's something special about the brownie. You would never say, this is a soy sauce brownie; it just adds this deep flavor that's so effortless. You don't have to do anything cheffy, there's no huge technique, it's just the soy sauce bringing those deep rich flavors." As a tip, McKinnon suggests, "It's a fudgy brownie, and because it's held together with almond flour rather than wheat, it does benefit from sitting in the fridge overnight if you can wait." But, she adds, "I've had many people say to me they've not waited and eaten the whole thing in one go and that's fine also." Having tasted these, I can entirely see why. They're difficult to stop nibbling on.

Because I don't have dishwasher, I've streamlined the number of bowls and pans McKinnon uses. I've also swapped out one tablespoon of regular cocoa powder with one of black cocoa, because black cocoa is straight up magic, but regular cocoa works just fine. You could also use a different kind of nut flour here, and I suspect you could even get away with oat flour here. 

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Recipe: Soy Sauce Brownies

Inspired by Hetty McKinnon's "To Asia, with Love"

Serves 8 - 12

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1 cup (175 g) semisweet or dark chocolate chips, or roughly chopped chocolate (A digital scale really is your best friend, invest in one.)
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (or 2 tbs regular cocoa powder and 1 tbs black cocoa)
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup (185 g) brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 – 4 teaspoons tamari or gluten-free soy sauce

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, and grease the pan.
  2. Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. (Brown butter squad, keep going until it gets brown and toasty and has stopped popping.)
  3. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until it's smooth.
  4.  In your saucepan with the butter and chocolate, add the eggs, brown sugar, vanilla extract and soy sauce. Stir until well blended.
  5. Add your almond flour mixture to the batter and stir well.
  6. Pour batter in to pan and bake about 22 minutes. Do not overbake.
  7. Remove and cool in the pan, then slice and serve. McKinnon recommends letting these chill in the fridge, but the soy sauce flavor is more pronounced when they're still a little warm and slumpy from the oven, if you're into that.

More Quick & Dirty: 

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Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Brownies Hetty Mckinnon Quick & Dirty Recipe Soy Sauce To Asia With Love