As a wild foods enthusiast, it gives me particular pleasure to make a recipe with 100% acorn and to have it come out with excellent flavor and texture. For me, pulling off these chewy brownies made entirely of acorn flour feels like grasping the highest rung.
Working with acorn flour can be challenging because of its unique properties. Of course, one wouldn’t expect it to behave anything like wheat flour. Almond or chestnut flours are more similar to acorn than that. Even so, acorn flour doesn’t quite behave like either of those. Most of the time while working with acorn flour, one substitutes it for a portion of the regular flour, say a quarter or one-third, in a recipe.
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So, why bother with a challenge as difficult as making a recipe that uses exclusively acorn flour, or any other bizarre and ill-behaving foraged ingredient? Certainly eating acorns isn’t a novel concept. Historically, they were a staple food. For a lover of food, the joy in creating recipes with wild foods lies in combining them with all of the modern ingredients and equipment that we now have at hand. Whereas historically acorns may have been eaten as gruel or pancakes, with all the tools I have access to, I can create anything from acorn falafel to delicate acorn lace cookies.
As a forager who began pursuing wild foods because they offer exciting new flavors, I aspire to eat as many wild foods as I can manage every day. To do that well and in the company of my family and friends, I need to make certain the meals I cook with wild ingredients are as appealing and tasty as I can manage.
Here in the central Rockies, there are definite on and off seasons for foraging. I go to great lengths in the summer to preserve and put up the foods I collect so that I can continue to eat them throughout the snowy months. In the winter, my fingers miss the sensation of harvesting and also the thrill, as there is a deeply buried artery of treasure hunting within every pursuit of wild foods. I’ve found the best way to get my foraging fix during the down season is to play with the ingredients I’ve squirreled away.
Often these take on a theme based upon what is most abundant. The year after the big porcini boom, I created almost exclusively mushroom recipes. The following year, my brain chewed upon the subject of prickly pears. I can see quite clearly that this will be the year of the acorn.
Foraging for a treat
Now, if you live in a place where it seems there are as many acorns falling as pebbles in the stream, you would probably think that every year is the year of the acorn. Unfortunately, I live in a place where there is only one native species of oak, Quercus gambelii, a scrubby bush that produces tiny, though tasty, nuts beloved by deer, birds and squirrels. There is no shortage of oaks planted in landscaping, of course. Not being native, however, they are a little fickle when it comes to our often snowy Mays and dry hot summers. It can be hit or miss when it comes to whether the ornamental oak trees produce acorns, causing the few acorn-loving humans around to guard their spots with a similar intensity to how others might protect their best mushroom spots.
Pursuing acorns has led me to some other bizarre behaviors that are surely outside the norm. I’ve made public pleas for my friends to message me if they see a loaded oak tree. I’ve scrambled to collect acorns from the sidewalk of a popular walking mall. I’ve gathered from trees at the edge of a shopping center that includes a Walmart. Later, when I tell my students that I’m using “Walmart acorns,” they give me quizzical looks, wondering if perhaps I purchased them.
Last year, I’d planned to teach a large workshop dedicated exclusively to processing and cooking with acorns. Of course, that was the year that not even my best scout could find any acorns locally. Instead, my mama shipped me box after box of acorns from four states away, each box arriving with chubby white acorn grubs squeezing out the corners. I can only imagine what the mail carrier thought of me.
Adventures with acorn flour
In the end, these adventures enable me create in the kitchen the way a toddler would with finger paints. I have a lot of failures, to be certain. But every once in a while, I take something like a steaming irresistible batch of brownies out of the oven and get to delight everyone who gathers by telling them they’re made exclusively with acorn flour.
This recipe uses acorn flour made in the method described previously in my recipe for acorn lace cookies. I’m usually the kind of person who thinks nuts are essential in brownies. I’ve left them out here for fear of them obscuring the acorn flavor. I do, however, think acorn brownies are nice with a swirl of either raspberry jam or goat cheese.
100% Acorn Brownies
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 16 brownies
For the brownies:
10 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup acorn flour
For the swirl:
3 ounces goat chevre, room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat your oven to 325 F and make a parchment paper sling for an 8×8 inch pan, so that the bottom and two sides are covered. This makes it easier to remove the acorn brownies once they’ve finished baking.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the still-hot melted butter, sugar, cocoa and salt.
3. Beat in the vanilla and eggs until the batter looks shiny. Then stir in the acorn flour.
4. Pour the acorn brownie batter into the prepared pan.
5. To make the swirl, in a bowl, beat the goat cheese, sour cream and sugar with an electric mixer until they are smooth. Add flour, egg and vanilla and continue to beat until they are fully incorporated.
6. Drop a spoonful of the cheese mixture at nine points atop the brownie batter. Drag a butter knife through the brownies in swirl patterns to partially mix the cheese and brownie batter, making a pleasing marbled design.
7. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Traditional brownies would bake for less time. Acorn brownies need a bit longer so that they don’t come out of the oven with the appearance of raw batter. When cooked, a toothpick inserted 2/3 of the way to the center will come out clean.
8. Once cooled, you can lift the brownies out of the pan using their parchment sling, then cut them into 16 pieces.
Main photo: Coffee and 100% acorn brownies. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty