Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!) … with Valentine’s Day Ideas!

This Recipe Is:     Make Ahead    Vegetarian  

Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

Gather round, friends. It’s story time.

Once upon a time, back when we were dating, my husband wanted our first Valentine’s Day to be really special. Instead of going out to dinner at a restaurant in our little college town, he wanted to cook me dinner before we went to his fraternity’s date party.

Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

A baking tip I learned from my mom … just a teaspoon or two of granulated sugar is all you need to finish these brownies! The sugar on top provides a nice crunch, as well as a touch of sweetness. Especially in healthier baked goods, sweetness is often compromised. The solution? This sprinkle of sugar on top will be the first thing you taste, and you won’t miss the extra sugar inside the brownie!

I shopped for the perfect gifts, found the perfect card (I spent … oh, I don’t know … an hour reading cards!), and got all dolled up for a fun night with my guy.

When I got to his house, there was a note on the door to follow the rose petals. I walked along the (darling!) path he’d made, and finally found him in the kitchen cooking up a storm. He was all dressed up, looking so darn cute. And on the table he had flowers and gifts for me. Oh … and dinner smelled amazing!

Before we ate, we exchanged gifts … cards first, of course!

Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

As I opened the card he’d gotten for me, my heart stopped. Oh no!

Did I open the wrong card?

While my mind was racing, he started laughing as he opened the card from me.

What was happening???

I’ll tell you what happened. We bought each other the SAME card. The exact one. Of all the thousands and thousands of cards available for that one day, we’d picked out the identical card.

Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

Welp, that was it for me. I was going to marry this one. I already knew I loved him, but those cards solidified it. If we could pick out the same sentiments for how we felt about each other … well, I figured it was destiny. And by the next Valentine’s Day, I was knee-deep in planning my wedding!

Now that we’re married and have kiddos, February 14th isn’t quite the same. Instead of shopping for the perfect gift, I’m at the craft store picking up supplies for the perfect Valentine’s Day “shoebox” for the class party. Stickers, papers, duct tape, oh my!

Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

Instead of granulated sugar, you can use powdered sugar and make “stencils” out of parchment or wax paper! Simply use a mesh strainer and shake powdered sugar over the design. The powdered sugar won’t provide the same crunch as the granulated sugar, but still gives a nice sweet touch (and adorable design!) to these brownies.

But no matter! With brownies like these, any Valentine’s Day (heck any regular day!) is awesome … rose petals or duct tape! Whether you’re a kiddo hoping for the best candy at the class party, a teenager hoping for a smile from the cute guy in your math class, or a wife hoping for a little blue box with a big white bow (ahem … hint hint, honey) … these brownies are just the thing.

Deliciously fudge-y, perfectly chocolaty, wonderfully healthy, and a breeze to make … what better way is there to tell someone you love them?

Want to know how I know these are so easy to make? It’s because I made at least 10 test batches. Some were promising, others … notsomuch. But this version. Oh … this version … our taste tester panel families seriously loved ’em! My oldest didn’t believe they were healthy. So good. Shelley texted me in desperation when her supply ran out because she wanted more, and the rest were at my house. Yes, friends. These brownies are that good. And then, she texted to ask if I thought it’d be ok for her to make these once or twice a day. Told ya. They are just. that. good. 

Oh … one more thing … this is all done in one bowl! Super fast. Super easy. Super clean. Seriously!

No doubt, these brownies say love any day of the year. Rose petals or no. Really … you need to enjoy these little beauties year-round. Every single day, in fact, would be best.

Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

This past summer, Shelley and her husband joined my hubby and me for an evening out. We had a fantastic dinner with everything served shish-kabob style … even dessert! As soon as we saw the brownies and strawberries threaded on skewers, we just knew we had to share this amazing idea with you! What’s better than chocolate and strawberries?

So … bake these brownies, and tell someone you love them! Any day … every day!

THK by Gretchen

We’d Love to Hear From You!

What are your Valentine’s Day plans? Is it gonna be a rose petals and romantic dinner year, or are you whipping up a last-minute class party snack and a duct-taped mailbox?

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Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!)

Preparation 7 min. 2017-07-26T00:07:00+00:00 Cook Time 28-33 min. (plus cooling) 2017-07-26T00:00:00+00:00
Serves 16 two-inch brownies     adjust servings


  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-2 teaspoons granulated sugar for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Stir well with a whisk until ingredients are evenly combined and brown sugar is broken up.
  3. Add eggs, applesauce, oil and vanilla, stirring just to combine and being careful not to overmix.
  4. Pour batter into ungreased 8x8 pan.
  5. Bake for about 28-33 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean with just a few crumbs. (A perfectly clean toothpick will yield drier, more cake-like brownies.)
  6. Remove pan to a cooling rack and immediately sprinkle brownies with granulated sugar.
  7. Allow to cool before cutting.


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Surprisingly Decadent Brownies (Healthy, Whole Wheat & One Bowl!) … with Valentine’s Day Ideas! — 50 Comments

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  4. These made a great birthday dessert tonight — which we paired with the Shamrock Shakes 🙂 Super yummy! Thanks for all of the great healthy ideas!

    • Wow! We’re so thrilled (and honored!) that these brownies joined your family’s birthday celebration! And, that’s a brilliant idea to combine the decadent chocolate of the brownies with the minty Shamrock Shakes! Yum! Thanks so much for stopping by to give us feedback – we always totally love hearing from readers and finding out how our recipes worked for them! 😀 ~G&S

    • Hi Cailee! You’ve got to try these! They ARE delicious!! 😀 And we just had to share the idea of using the skewers with brownies and strawberries – it was just genius … and now perfect for Valentine’s Day! ~G&S

    • Hi Kelly! I’m a huge fan of quick and easy recipes (who isn’t?!) but when it can be made in one bowl, I’m totally sold!! Yes, the sugar crunch on top is perfect for this recipe – it’s the first thing you taste so you won’t miss the sugar on the inside! Glad you enjoyed the flour lesson, too! 🙂 ~Gretchen

  5. Great Valentines Day story. I had to laugh when I saw you brownie recipe. After looking it over I thought that’s what I would have done. Perhaps a minor variation with flavoring or something like that, but it’s right on. Great recipe for healthy eating.

    • Thanks Mireya! We were pretty happy with this recipe – and it only took 10 test batches to get here! Lol!! I didn’t really hear too much complaining from the taste testers! 🙂 Well … I take that back. There was one batch that had no redeeming qualities! And yes – the whole wheat and reduced fat are very friendly to a healthy diet! Thanks for stopping by! ~Gretchen

  6. Oh I wish you had been my Valentine, just so I could eat these brownies.. Your story is so cute! It does sound like destiny that way. I don’t have a story like that to share, but.. this year my boyfriend came up to me grinning (you know, fancy clothes, shaved and all) “Do you know what day it is?” on the 13th. I laughed at him so hard, the poor thing. We ended up just celebrating Valentine’s twice 😀

  7. You know, I made brownies with whole wheat flour the other day and they were better than with white! Who would’ve thought?! They were chewier but not in a bad way and softer! These look so yummy!! Hope you enjoyed Valentine’s Day!

    • Hi Jessica! I tested these brownies with all whole wheat flour, a half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour blend, and finally the winning batch was with the whole wheat pastry flour! We simply preferred the texture with the pastry flour (it has less gluten than the regular whole wheat flour, so these are not quite as chewy). But … you’ve got to remember that we were taste testing side by side. ALL of the brownies were really good! Isn’t it fun being a food blogger?!? 😀 ~Gretchen

    • Thank you! We just used a cookie cutter to make them into hearts – so simple but it certainly makes them more festive! These brownies are so easy to whip up, you won’t mind making these for every holiday! Or every weekend! 🙂 ~G&S

    • Thank you, Dearna! I’m also a sucker for a great love story – and I’m super happy this one is mine! 🙂 So lucky I found my perfect guy!
      I hope you try these brownies! They taste so delicious, and you can even indulge a little bit! They are full of whole wheat flour and have less fat than any ‘ol brownie … so go ahead and have two (or three, or four …) 😀 ~Gretchen

  8. I love your story Gretchen! What blows my mind is my husband and I have given each other the exact same card on multiple occasions. It is always so funny when we open them and see we did it again. Like you said, we are so connected and perfect for each other 😀
    What also looks perfect are the beautiful heart shaped brownies! Yum! I love the sprinkle sugar on top. I too find a little sugar on top and you don’t miss the lack of it inside. 😀 Pinning!!

    • See Cindy … you know what I mean! 🙂 You’ve found your soul mate, too! It was so funny when it happened – I can’t imagine it happening more than once!!!
      Don’t be fooled by the heart shape – you could totally make this into a shamrock, Easter egg, or snowman! Absolutely perfect every single day of the year! And that little teeny sprinkle of sugar makes all the difference! ~Gretchen

  9. Hey Gretchen! Sweet story, sweet recipe! 🙂 So, I’m going to continue the flour question by asking what you think about using white whole wheat flour?! All the same benefits as whole wheat? Thx!

    • Hi, Kristen! That’s a great question. White whole wheat flour is becoming much more widely available to consumers in typical supermarkets, so you’re undoubtedly not the only one wondering this! Buckle your seatbelt, though … this is gonna take a little explaining! Without getting super food-geeky on you, let me try to give you a quick overview (the nuances of wheat in baking can be a pretty lengthy discussion!).

      White whole wheat is often a great option for people who don’t like the heartier flavor of regular whole wheat flour, or for baked goods where you want a lighter-colored finished product. Nutritionally, white whole wheat flour is considered to be basically the same as regular whole wheat flour. They’re actually just made from two different types of wheat (red wheat vs. a white wheat). If you’re craving a more detailed explanation, I found a great link for you at The Whole Grains Council. Also, you might enjoy a peek at the utterly fantastic book “Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads”, which has even more details on the subtle yet important differences in various types of wheat and their effects on baked goods. (Mr. Reinhart is incredible – I had the honor of learning from him when he taught at a local cooking school, and he is not only brilliant, but also funny, warm and personable. I highly recommend checking out his work!)

      Any-who … the reason we didn’t use white whole wheat flour in this recipe is because white whole wheat flour (at around 13-16% protein depending on brand) has roughly the same protein content as regular whole wheat flour, which can yield tougher baked goods due to the increased gluten – not what we were going for in this recipe. A big reason why we normally mix regular whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour in some of our recipes (such as some of our muffins) is because, with their higher protein levels, whole wheat flours can make baked goods tough. A mix of all-purpose flour (usually around 11-13% protein) and whole wheat flour (usually around 13.5-14%) gets that protein level down to about the same level as that found in the Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour we used for this recipe (12% max protein). One caveat … protein levels can vary between brands, and even within the same brand (you know … just to add to the confusion!). Bob’s Red Mill has a handy list of the protein levels in their flours. Yeah … that’s more than you wanted to know, right?!?!?

      Bottom line: if you’d like to try these with white whole wheat flour, definitely give it a go! The main difference you may notice is that they may not be as tender, delicate and fudge-y in texture because the extra protein will give them more structure or toughness. A good option, though, if that’s what you have on hand, might be to mix half white whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour. (Although, as we mentioned in our earlier comment to Sue, if your whole wheat flour is coarsely ground, you may notice a textural coarseness in these delicate brownies.) Definitely … if you try it, let us know the results! 😀 ~Shelley

    • Hi Kristen! Just wanted to say thank you for your sweet comment! I see Shelley already answered your question about the different flours (she’s so smart … and incredibly thorough!!). Sorry I couldn’t get back to you right away – I was at a PTO meeting and then off to the Valentine’s party! 🙂 ~Gretchen

    • So true, right!?!? Strawberries and chocolate … quintessential pairing! And seriously, that dinner of shish-kabob-everything, as we were sitting on an outdoor terrace and laughing with our Romeos on a lovely, warm evening … it was fabulous! But whether you have strawberries (kinda tough this time of year, right!?!?) or not, … just whip up these brownies quick-quick (kabobs optional)! 😀 ~G&S

  10. That is just the sweetest Valentine’s Day story ever Gretchen! To spend an hour pouring over cards and picking out the same one… It definitely sounds like you found your Mr. Perfect! 🙂 And I have such fond memories of making my own Valentine’s Day “mailboxes” from retired shoeboxes. I actually still have one or two at my parent’s house — red wrapping paper, glitter glue & pink heart stickers! Your kids are lucky to have you as a mom!!

    Happy Valentine’s Day to you both, Gretchen & Shelley!

    • Aww thank you, Amy! You are so sweet!!

      The part I laugh about is that men (in general!) can simply choose a card in five minutes! I know picking the right card is a huge process for me … I read and compare and hold multiple ones until I find just the perfect sentiment. But yes … we ended up choosing the exact same card! And I couldn’t be happier with my hubby! 🙂

      This year we used duct tape for the shoebox decorating extravaganza. FYI – it’s much less forgiving than scotch tape! But, the end result was really cute – and held all those sweet cards and candy just fine! ~Gretchen

      • It’s so true! I spend at least 20 minutes on a simple birthday card, and those occasions where love is in the air… Goodness me. 😉 Good to know about the duct tape, especially now that they sell so many fun colors and patterns!

    • You’re so cute! And so right – just everything about these brownies is awesome! And you know what? If you met Gretchen and her Romeo, you would totally think that they’re every bit as adorable in real life as they sound like in this story! 😀 Happy, happy Valentine’s Day, Kristi! ~Shelley

  11. What a story! You two are meant to be. Thanks for your kind words about George. I’m managing but it will take a while for the tears to stop. Hope you have another romantic Valentine’s Day and that he still does the cooking! and as for these brownies, I have just one question. If I eat them all, are they still healthy?

    • Awwww … thanks, Abbe! We were both so sad to hear about George and are sending you extra hugs of sympathy and encouragement. Hang in there … it gets easier. We hope you have a good Valentine’s Day, without too many tears today. And listen to you – funny as ever – considering your options on eating the whole panful! Ummmmm … we think that, at least for you, eating a whole pan of brownies today should get an absolute green light! 😀 Hugs, friend. ~G&S

    • Aww! Thank you for your sweet words! I do look forward to having grandkids some day … but that’s a LONG time from now! 😀 Not that we haven’t thought about it, and even discussed it on here! LOL! HeeHee! 😉
      And yes, Lori – don’t forget the sugar on top! It’s the perfect touch! ~Gretchen

  12. Cute cute. I love the story. I love a good romance story. 🙂 The brownies look great too! I also love a good brownie. Hmmm, just like you and your hubs were meant to be, so are these brownies and me! hee hee. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  13. I don’t have pastry flour on hand. If I use regular flour, the brownies will be heavier, right? Should I try it, or do you strongly recommend I get the pastry flour? Thanks!

    • Hi Sue! That’s a great question – one that Shelley and I have been discussing in great detail! We’ve found whole wheat pastry flour at several of our local supermarkets – it is available, you just may need to keep an eye out for it!

      Our go-to replacement is to use half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour (because the gluten content is essentially the same in this mix as in whole wheat pastry flour) – such as in our muffin recipes. In most other recipes we’ve tried, this works perfectly and we couldn’t tell a difference between the different batches. And it does work in these brownies … but the texture is a bit different (it isn’t a problem of them being more dense). Additionally, the bake time was actually shorter when we used the all-purpose/whole wheat blend.

      Most whole wheat flours tend to be more coarse. Due to the delicate nature of the brownies, we found that occasionally you could detect that coarseness of the flour in the brownie.

      These are just so delicious, if you’ve only got whole wheat and all-purpose on hand – just make them! Enjoy!! ~Gretchen

    • Thanks Consuelo! I think he’s pretty great, too!
      These brownies earned such rave reviews – I think you and your whole family with love them! My oldest was shocked when she found out they were healthy – she thought I was joking!! Honestly, I think it’s that little bit of sugar on top – that’s what you taste first, so you don’t even miss the sugar inside. Have a very Happy Valentine’s Day!! ~Gretchen

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