Mexican Cocoa Brownies with an Almond & Pepitas Crust

When I think of brownies, I think of dense, fudge-y, chocolate "cake" with that thin layer on top. I love that thin layer on top. So in developing a recipe for a complex brownie, I made sure nothing would be on top. What is that thin layer? People call it a meringue layer: the proteins from the egg whites combining with the sugar and migrating to the top during the baking process. However, I have seen this with vegan brownie recipes I have made. Maybe in general, a film of protein and sugar forming on top. A syneresis as I would call it as a scientist. (A good example is the liquid whey that separates out on top of yogurt.)

Mary Fran of FrannyCakes hosted this month's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally with brownies as the challenge. The Gluten-Free Ratio Rally is a group of GF bloggers, rallied by Shauna of, where we put our on spin a a culinary standard. These culinary standards are known formulas, ratios, that professionals use. The caveat is that everything is done by weight, since weight is more standardized and much more accurate than measuring by volume. This is the foundation of the GFreeRally as started and explained by Gluten-Free Girl here. The book that we base our ratios is Michael Ruhlman's Ratio. Brownies did not have a predefined ratio by Ruhlman. And since a major ingredient is chocolate with its many forms (solids and cocoa), chocolate needs a special ratio unto itself.

I decided to go the Mexican spiced chocolate route, using cinnamon, chilis, coffee, nuts, and seeds to add depth and complexity. But at first, I pondered, "How am I going to incorporate the seeds and nuts?" I know, make a crust. This will give a unique texture to the brownies without interfering with that special thin meringue layer and giving an emphasis on what I chose: marcona almonds and pepitas. The marcona almonds are skin-free and make it easier to work with. Given, the crust makes for more work and a double bake with crisping up the crust first, cooling, then adding in the brown batter. So. Worth. It. I bet you have never had a brown like this. My friends told me this is their new favorite. The ratio of these brownie were (roughly) 2 parts eggs : 4 parts sugar : 2 parts butter : 1 part cocoa powder : 0.6 parts flour.

50 grams marcona almonds
50 grams pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
25 grams brown sugar
25 grams butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of chipotle powder, cayenne
salt to tast

200 grams sugar
200 grams brown sugar
113 grams natural cocoa powder
30 grams GF oat flour
30 grams tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 teaspoons Nescafe instant coffee
2 teaspoons Mexican vanilla (if possible)
4 large eggs (200 grams), room temperature, mixed well
226 grams (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled

  • Preheat oven to 325F.
  • In a processor, combine the almonds, pepitas, brown sugar, seasonings and pulse until coarse like gravel. Add in the melted butter and pulse again until completely incorporated.
  • Turn out into brownie pan (8"x8") into a thin, 1/4", layer and pack well.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, flours, seasonings (all the dry ingredients) and mix very thoroughly.
  • Add in the eggs, butter, and vanilla all at once and mix with a wooden or silicone spoon until uniform.
  • Pour the batter evenly and slowly onto the cooled almond and pepitas crust. 
  • Bake for about 35 minutes or until only a tiny amount of chocolate is visible when a toothpick is inserted and removed from the center.
  • Cool on a rack and cut when mostly cooled. Store in a tightly-sealed container in the fridge.
Trust me, they disappear fast.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Head on over to Mary Fran's host post to see her amazing popovers and all the other fantastic recipes brought to you by rally participants this month! Thanks again Mary Fran for hosting a chocolate-y delicious challenge! Also, if you're on Twitter, search #GFreeRally

Adina from Gluten Free Travelette made Chocolate Brownie Pie with Orange Zest
Angela from Angela's Kitchen made Gluten & Dairy Free Cream Egg Brownies
Brooke from B & the boy! made Triple Chocolate Brownies
Caitlin from {Gluten Free} Nom Nom Nom made Peppermint Brownie Bars
Caleigh from Gluten Free[k] made White chocolate and marshmallow brownies
Caneel from Mama Me Gluten Free made Triple chocolate brownies
Charissa Luke from Zest Bakery made Slutty gluten-free brownies
Claire from My Gluten Free Home PB&J Brownie Whoopee Pies
Claire from This Gluten-Free Life made St. Patty's Day Marshmallow Swirl Brownies
gretchen from kumquat made salted caramel brownies
Heather from Discovering the Extraordinary made Nutmeg Blondies
Irvin from Eat the Love made Blueberry Citrus Marble Brownies
Jean from Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes made Blue Ribbon Brownies
Jenn Cuisine made Grain free brownies with no-bake ricotta cheesecake cream
Jonathan from The Canary Files made Vegan Marbled Banana Walnut Brownies
Karen from Cooking Gluten Free! made GF Chewy Crackled Top Brownies with Raspberry Puree
Mary Fran from FrannyCakes made Gluten-Free Hazelnut (Nutella) Brownies
Morri from Meals with Morri made Oaxacan Brownies & Mesquite Cacao Blondies
~Mrs. R from Honey From Flinty Rocks made Black Bean S'More Brownies
Pete and Kelli from No Gluten, No Problem made Caramel Mexican Chocolate Mesquite Brownies
Rachel from The Crispy Cook made Co-Co Nut-Nut Blondies
Shauna from Gluten-Free Girl made Gluten-Free Brownies
Tara from A Baking Life Mint made Chocolate Flourless Brownies
TR | No One Likes Crumbley Cookies Gluten Free Berry Fudge Brownies 


Claire Berman said…
These look amazingly delicious, Erin! Well done!
gluten-free[k] said…
These look delicious, I love that crust. Such a great idea!
Morri said…
O_O Want. So. Badly.

Seriously though, Erin, these look phenomenal. I love how you used a lot of ingredients native to the Americas (that was my initial plan), and I adore the spiciness.

Oh, and the crust was was simply genius.
Caneel said…
Erin, you've done it again. These are making my mouth water. I love Mexican cocoa flavors and spicy with chocolate. All of it looks amazing! And I always love the detail you give us on the scientific aspect of our baking. Thank you!
Anonymous said…
Oh Erin!! I love your creations of delectable goodness... gooey chocolate spicy wonders. Can you email me one? ;-)
Blessings, ~Mrs. R
Jenn said…
Beautiful Erin, I love the layered look and the flavors are perfect!
Karen said…
Brillant idea (as always) my mouth is watering.
Angela said…
Oh, my goodness! These are just too lovely! The crust is brilliant and I am guessing the spices really compliment the brownies. Thanks so much for sharing your tasty creation.
Jonathan said…
LOVE the flavor combination as well as the "word of the day" at the top of the post. Speaks equally to the gastronome and the academic in me. Awesome post, Erin!
gretchen said…
love love your flavor combinations. so well thought... thanks for sharing!