Betties Brownies: The EASY OG Recipe that Started it All
Betties Brownies: The EASY OG Recipe that Started it All
This is the first brownie recipe that Dolled Up Desserts produced!
This original recipe has since been modified significantly to be the Betties Brownies we proudly made in our shop. I will share that iconic recipe in time. However, Betties Brownies (named after Bettie Page) are a great starting point for the beginner inclusive baker looking for a reliable chocolate fix, whilst learning some gluten free and vegan baking fundamentals.
This simple gluten free and vegan brownie recipe exposes you to:
- The properties and behaviours of the most common vegan egg replacement (flaxseed and water);
- The behaviours of xanthan gum in a baked good;
- The flavour transformation of gluten free flour from unbaked to baked;
- The unusual consistency of gluten free doughs/batters, which tend to be always very thick and sticky, versus its gluten containing counterparts which are more liquid, delicate and neutral;
For a gluten free, dairy free and sugar free brownie, this is a great first timer recipe because:
- It does not require a custom gluten free flour blend;
- They do not require melted chocolate, thus reducing cost;
- It is not measured in metric grams, meaning I will not force you to crack out the kitchen scale;
- No mixer required, just a spatula and some elbow grease!
- The recipe is made in one bowl, meaning less dishes!
All good stories start at the beginning.
The real beginning of Dolled Up Desserts starts in 2013, three years before Dolled Up Desserts was conceived.
(listen to this reflection in the video above!)
I was in my first year of university. I was granted the privilege of being a student of the McMaster Bachelor of Health Sciences class of 2016, a program that is known to the outside world as the penultimate premedical program in the country. With only 160 students accepted in my year, not only did you have to have a 90% average in high school, but you needed to crack the code to an outlandish supplemental application that asks you to talk about problem solving, vision and your own critical ideas. It goes without saying, I was incredibly lucky to be there.
At the time, I had blinders on, with my eyes set on the path towards becoming a pediatrician (which later morphed into psychiatry, but that’s another story). Like most parents, teachers or guidance counsellors, all my adult mentors reinforced the security of being a physician, lawyer, or another steady, low risk, high compensation career. Why grapple with the anxiety associated with the unknown of adventure when there are respectable, consistent careers you can fall into? And not to shit all over those careers, there is incredible opportunity for adventure within each of them!
However, as I am now the alumni that is called in to “shake up the reality” of current BHSc students, there is definitely pressure to ease the anxiety of parents of high achieving children to pursue one of these defined professions. As an entrepreneur, I find it almost disease-like that parents, teachers, and adult influences quash creativity and curiosity by forcing kids to know “what they want to do when they grow up” as soon as possible. It stifles the child’s potential skills and talents for reduced adult anxiety. But again, another conversation for another day.
Needless to say, the pressure in the BHSc program was intense. Combine it with my own pressure to continue to get 90’s in all my university courses plus the added challenge of living away from home, it was the perfect storm for chronic health issues to take root.
Part way through my first year, I stopped being able to digest food.
It was the first time in my life that I was experiencing such consistent and severe health issues.
At the bakesale I hosted for the club I founded at McMaster University. Of course, they were gluten free and vegan.
Without too much gruesome detail, I had no appetite, I was incredibly bloated, gassy, fatigued, enduring stabbing abdominal pain every night, and you can probably fill in the rest of the symptoms. It was the first time in my life that I was experiencing such consistent and severe health issues. As a teenager, I had some gut health concerns. I suffered with a different stomach flu each year of high school, and whenever I ate any dairy or was stressed from school work, I would have some not so nice moments in the bathroom. But it was never a 24/7 concern.
I went to see a campus physician and got some tests done. Maybe I had another stomach bug? Unfortunately, all tests for the top five stomach bugs and viruses came back negative, and there was no indication of celiac disease. The doctor said it probably is IBS, and there’s nothing they can do for me.
This moment was a massive turning point in my life. It was the first time that a trip to the doctors was disheartening. Where there was no answer, no relief, no cure or treatment plan to follow. Western medicine failed me. I already knew from previous stomach bugs and visits to the hospital that if I was not bleeding out my butt, my gut issues were not immediately treatable. But this moment of being told that it was IBS and there is nothing I can do left me hopeless. It also felt so wrong. As someone who likes to make changes as soon as I receive feedback, I went home and researched my new diagnosis. Of course, I came across the classic FODMAP diet recommendation, but there was also the odd suggestion to seek out the help of a naturopath.
At the time, I still believed western medicine was the gold standard for health care. I was in pre-med after all. But given how much pain I was in, I decided being open to a naturopath’s opinion might provide me at least some relief. I did a sensitivity IGg test with that first naturopath, and the foods that came back positive on the test were alarming! All foods I ate often, all foods that made me feel sick, were on there. Gluten, wheat, barley, dairy, yogurt, eggs, chickpeas, black beans, chicken, oranges, tomatoes, eggplant, tuna, sesame, peanuts… the list was EXPANSIVE. She suggested I stop eating all those foods for awhile, prescribed some homeopathic remedies, and sent me on my way.
She was the first of many nauturopaths I have consulted on my journey to better gut health. But she gave me something no western doctor had given me: the path towards a solution to my chronic health issues. Relief. Hope. This moment was pivotal, as it was the seed that blossomed into my rejection of a career in medicine, rejection of seeing or trusting allopathic physicians in general for chronic health issues, and an opening of my mind to the many facets of health and wellbeing.
Although I didn’t fully cut out every food that was positive on that test, I did cut out the big allergen culprits:
Gluten, eggs, dairy (sorta, I couldn’t help myself from eating cheese and greek yogurt from time to time).
I still ate meat. That summer I felt better, although not perfect. But it was in that summer of 2013 that I started baking gluten free, dairy free and egg free.
Baking is an integral part of my spirit. Growing up, I never had oreos, chips ahoy or even cookies from a bakery. My mother, Karen, baked everything that my younger sister and I enjoyed, and did she ever sharpen our sweet tooth. Of course, baking with mama became a weekly activity, where we learned to make basic chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, butter tarts with the frozen tenderflake shells, brownies from the back of the Bakers Chocolate box, or as Alexandra (my sister) always wanted, “vanilla sprinkle cookies”.
Karen wasn’t the only baker that influenced my love of sweets. I grew up with matriarchs that were super bakers. There was never a time I went to my Baka’s (Croatian for grandmother) house and there wasn’t a giant plate of apple and cheese strudel and 5 types of traditional cookies waiting for Alexandra and I to overeat. If we were lucky, she would also make krafne, donuts with rosehip jam.
All of my aunts were incredible bakers as well (pictured is my Aunt Gordana, the primary inspiration behind my desire to become the Gen Z Martha Stewart). There was never a Poletto holiday party where you didn’t leave with a takeout box full of classic Croatian desserts for the week ahead. It would be looked down on, almost scornful, if there wasn’t an entire buffet table of desserts for family members at a party (pictured is our annual Christmas party spread, which is what we considered enough dessert for 20 people).
So, needless to say, I grew up loving the process of baking, and then sharing those baked goods to the delight of my family. My time away at McMaster, however, solidified my love of baking. I found peace and joy baking while living in residence. I would bake a loaf of chocolate chip banana bread or a new version of a chocolate chip cookie (all my baked goods had chocolate in them), and the smell would waft through the residence hall. I would take my baked goods to my friends dorm across the hall, and we would all get a moment of sweet pleasure, a little break, from the pressure and grind of first year university. My baked goods gave me something to look forward to snack on during lecture while dozing off, or something to reward myself with after hours of homework.
But now, with the challenge of cutting out gluten, dairy and eggs, I had to learn how to bake again. I didn’t want to stop baking. Baking provided mental solace beyond just eating something delicious. Plus, all the baked goods I could buy at the store were absolute garbage. As my mum Karen always said, baking it yourself is always better and healthier, so I started my journey learning to bake gluten free and vegan.
Honey Almond Shortbread with Lavender, 2014 (Gluten Free and Dairy Free)
Recipe for brownies in r+d testing (sticky note on fridge, 2014)
Peanut Butter Crunch Cookies, 2014 (Gluten Free and Dairy Free)
I distinctly remember the first gluten free flour I bought. Robin Hood’s gluten free blend, and I made shortbread cookies.
I threw them out as soon as they came out of the oven (Note: they are not the honey shortbread pictured above! I would never photograph THAT failure)
I couldn’t pick them up off the baking sheet without them disintegrating into dust. And their taste!! Gritty, bland, ricey, and totally unpalatable. It was like eating crusty sand. The sugar couldn’t save it. I remember crying as I threw them out, because all my hard efforts went into something that was disgusting. Baking gluten free felt hopeless, like a massive sacrifice. Plus, these terrible treats were not something I felt proud enough to share with friends or family: who would want this shit when they could eat something with wheat and butter?
Being gluten/dairy/egg free was isolating, and baking it at home was a giant reinforcement at how horrific my sacrifice was. But, being gluten and dairy free did make me feel better, so I stuck to it and proceeded to eat less baked goods and bake less.
My mom’s friend Lili shared the first half decent gluten/dairy free recipe with me that summer of 2013. It was a recipe for brownies with almond flour and coconut oil. All new ingredients to me, but she swore by it as the best brownies she’s ever had. I tried it out, and she wasn’t wrong! Those brownies were the first gluten free brownies that actually tasted GOOD! Although they contained eggs and still made me feel sick after, it was a glimmer of hope that maybe this gluten free/dairy free baking thing wasn’t so bad afterall (pictured above).
For the first recipe of my reflection capsule, I want to share that brownie recipe with you, with modifications for it to also be egg free (and thus vegan). A quick, accessible, low cost brownie recipe that the absolute beginner baker, with no prior baking skills, can make and feel proud of sharing with friends and family. The foundations of Betties Brownie that was one of our most popular treats in the shop.
I have included the modifications to make the brownie refined sugar free for those that prefer baked goods without white sugar, which was an innovation encouraged by Rachel Hofing, the co-owner of Relay Coffee. Relay welcomed our baked goods into their coffee shop pastry case because Rachel and their barista Chrissy were both gluten free, and thought these brownies were the best they have ever had! Rachel was also egg and sugar free, thus Relay’s brownies were always made with 100% local maple syrup so she could eat any brownies that didn’t sell.
The OG Refined Sugar Free Brownie, photographed by Rachel Hofing at her cafe, Relay Coffee in Hamilton
The OG Brownie in this recipe, photographed in 2016
The OG Brownie, packaged for wholesale at Union Market and the Mustard Seed Co-Op
I hope it provides you with the confidence to get baking more inclusive dessert.
Until next time,