Baked Goods With A Twist, Part I: Not Your Usual Brownies

These incredible brownies have an ingredient that's hard to believe.
These incredible brownies have an ingredient that’s hard to believe.

Deep, dark and rich, these irresistible brownies are gluten-free, as they’re made with almond meal.

They also sport a very unlikely ingredient.

Soy sauce.

Before you scratch your head in complete disbelief, consider that soy sauce actually amplifies the chocolate even more, in much the same way that a little espresso does.

Only in this case, the soy sauce imparts a subtle salted caramel note.

If that doesn’t make you a believer, one taste surely will.

Yup, soy sauce, of all things.
Yup, soy sauce, of all things.

This genius recipe comes from food writer and best-selling cookbook author Hetty McKinnon, who started a community salad delivery business in Sydney, Australia, before moving with her family to Brooklyn in 2015.

It’s featured in her newest cookbook, To Asia, With Love: Everyday Asian Recipes and Stories From the Heart (Prestel), of which I received a review copy.

A vegetarian for decades with a Chinese mother, McKinnon presents an array of home-cook-friendly recipes so appealing that I’ve bookmarked practically every other recipe in the book already. The charm extends to the photos, which were taken by McKinnon, using her own dishes and cutlery as props.

These recipes entice for their simplicity and inviting flavors. So much so that you might not even notice at first that they’re all vegetarian. Fall for everything from “Condensed Milk French Toast,” “Cacio e Pepe Udon Noodles” and “Ketchup Fried Rice Arancini” to “Banh Mi Salad” and “Tamarind Apple Crisp.”

These brownies are a follow-up to another brownie recipe that McKinnon posted years ago that used Vegemite, that famous — or infamous — Aussie salty-umami spread.

With soy sauce or tamari this time around in the mix, the brownies get their chocolate heft from both cocoa powder and melted semisweet chocolate bits. The almond flour lightens up their texture, giving them a melt-in-your-mouth quality, so they’re not as dense as other brownies. It also gives them added tenderness and moistness.

The soy sauce is subtle tasting. It’s not like you bit into a square and automatically think “Chinese takeout food.” Instead, the chocolate just tastes somehow more chocolate-y, with a deeper caramelized note and just a hint of salt. I used a tablespoon of low-salt soy sauce. But next time, I might increase that by an additional teaspoon, as McKinnon suggests you can.

McKinnon also says to refrigerate the baked brownies so they’re easier to cut neatly. I admit I didn’t do that, as I didn’t have the patience to wait that long to try the brownies. Instead, I lined and greased my pan with foil that included enough overhang for me to lift the entire thing out when cooled to room temperature. Then, I used a metal bench scraper (a trick I learned long ago from Cook’s Illustrated) to slice through for reasonably tidy pieces.

Never in a million years would I have thought of adding soy sauce to brownies. But I’m sure glad McKinnon did, because these just might be my new go-to brownies.

These are true winners.
These are true winners.

Flourless Soy Sauce Brownies

(Makes 12 to 16)

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate bits

1 cup almond meal

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 large eggs

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 to 4 teaspoons tamari or gluten-free soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line a 9-inch square baking pan.

Place the butter and chocolate in a large glass bowl (one that is completely dry and clean) and set over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water). Leave until melted, then whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

In another bowl, whisk together the almond meal, cocoa powder and baking powder.

In a third bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, vanilla extract and soy sauce.

Slowly whisk the egg mixture into the cooled chocolate mixture until well combined. Fold in the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely in the pan (I like to leave it in the fridge overnight which makes it easier to handle). Cut into 12 to 16 pieces (depending on how big you like them). Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.


Tamari or soy sauce: 1 1/2 tablespoons Vegemite or 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes

Almond meal: hazelnut meal or ground walnuts

From “To Asia, With Love” by Hetty McKinnon

More: Baked Goods With A Twist, Part II: A Lemon Cake To Be Reckoned With

And: Baked Goods With A Twist, Part III: The Out-of-the-Norm Blueberry Crumb Cake

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  • Ooh, I remember reading news about this cookbook because the cover is so striking. I never would have imagined using soy sauce with cocoa or chocolate, but my interest is piqued for sure. Also, very cool tip about the bench scraper — I’m definitely borrowing that for next time I make brownies. They look delicious!

  • Hi Joanna: Right? I never would have thought to add soy sauce, either. Now, I’m thinking a splash might elevate chocolate cake or chocolate sables even more. You’re welcome about the tip about using a stainless steel bench scraper to cut the brownies. I think what it does is give you even pressure on a larger cutting edge so that the pieces emerge with cleaner edges. Enjoy!

  • Just made it, delicious with a really chocolate focus. Loved the caramel flavor that the soy sauce imparts. i will say it has an incredibly delicate crumb.

  • Hi LouAnn: Yay! I’m so glad you loved the soy sauce brownies. This recipe is definitely a winner. I can’t wait to bake these again and again. 😉

  • Pingback: Este ingrediente surpreendente tornará seus brownies caseiros muito mais saborosos - Pira Toldos

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