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Vegan Valentines: Heart-shaped Brownies

Taste and share some love this coming Valentine’s Day in brownie form. These brownies, a recipe from Mariana Cortez’s Bunnie Cakes Bakery, in Miami, offer a healthier chocolate splurge.

by John D. IvankoFebruary 5, 2014

Vegan, Soy-free and Gluten-free Brownies - Photo by John D. Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by John D. Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com

Taste and share some love this coming Valentine’s Day in brownie form. These brownies, a recipe from Mariana Cortez’s Bunnie Cakes Bakery, in Miami, offer a healthier chocolate splurge. Both moist and full of flavor, they can be served to just about anyone with special dietary needs because they avoid soy, gluten and animal products.

We caught up with Cortez at her cooking workshop at the 8th International Chocolate Festival at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Fla. As the largest tropical botanic garden in the continental United States, it’s the perfect place to host such an event, as we could witness the entire process of making chocolate, from the cacao plants grown on site to the hot chocolate we savored beneath the coconut and palm trees.

“Our business motto is we put our heart in everything we do,” says Cortez, a Venezuelan native and former contestant on the reality show “Cupcake Wars.” You’ll see visual evidence of that love as every item in her bakery is either heart-shaped or is decorated with a heart, not just for Valentine’s Day, but throughout the year. Her artisanal bakery specializes in vegan, gluten-free baking.

The culinary tent, where we enjoyed Mariana’s demo, is one stop on Fairchild’s nine-stop “ChocoWalk” that starts in their tropical rainforest and passes through their edible garden where we sampled several tropical fruits, canistel and chocolate persimmons. It includes stops in the garden’s Science Village, where you could learn about cultivating cacao (if you happened to be fortunate enough to live somewhere warm and humid enough), and the Garden House, where chocolatiers sampled out their hand-crafted sweets. There’s nothing out of a Willy Wonka factory here.

Of course, you don’t have to twist our arms to go to any festival dedicated to the art and science of chocolate produced from the seeds of the cacao plant and that’s filled with cooking demos, tastings and hands-on displays. The three-day event is now one of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s most popular, attracting more than 12,000 people every year. So forget the cheeseburger. You might want to put this event on your bucket list for chocolate in paradise.

Gluten Free, Soy Free Vegan Brownies
Recipe courtesy of Mariana Cortez, Bunnie Cakes Bakery

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Yield: 1 dozen heart-shaped brownies


  • 2 cups all-purpose, gluten free flour (Bob’s Red Mill recommended)
  • 2 cups evaporated cane juice
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking powder (aluminum free)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup virgin coconut oil (extra virgin, cold pressed)
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (a thickening and stabilizing agent)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand, dairy-free)
  • 12 small heart-shaped candies (optional)
  • 1 T. chocolate vegan frosting (optional), divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix gluten-free flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Pour in water, coconut oil, vanilla, xanthan gum and chocolate chips until well blended.

Spread evenly in 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until the top is no longer shiny. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares or hearts.

Decorate with small candy hearts, attached to the brownie with a dot of frosting.

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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