When it comes to gift-giving, I'm all about the homemade kind (as all of our friends who received a set of hand-carved salad spoons, a color-dipped bird's-eye maple cutting board, or a custom-painted kitchen bakery sign as a wedding gift in the past couple of years can attest to). A sentimental streak passed down from my mom who still has a framed card on her wall that I made when I was 5. Nothing says "I Luv U Mom" like yellow construction paper with oil pastels. You know the other direct route to someone's heart? A batch of this Walnut Cocoa Brownie mix all layered up in a jar.
For the second year in a row now, I've been missing my holiday crafting pal. Cas spends just about as much time in the kitchen as I do, and always gives the best homemade holiday gifts - anything from pickled pumpkin to marmalade to pancake mix to hot cocoa mix.
This girl is so creative that she once taught me how to turn an ugly thrift store holiday knit sweater and a hanger into a wreath that's still the most festive Christmas decor we own. Then she used the leftover scraps to make holiday cards with sweater Christmas trees sewn on the front.
Though we couldn't be together last year, she still DIYed the heck out of the holidays and sent me little labeled mason jars filled with homemade rosemary salt, lemon salt, and vanilla salt across the country. Also known as jars oozing with love.
Spoiler alert: I need to step up my game, so this year I'm sending some love her way via this gluten-free walnut cocoa brownie mix in a jar. When I partnered with Diamond Nuts to come up with a layered gift in a jar recipe for the holidays, I instantly knew I'd send my jar to Cas.
Then literally the day after I'd perfected the recipe for these gluten-free walnut cocoa brownies, Cas and I played catch-up on the phone where I learned that her boyfriend Brian recently found out after a series of inexplicable health issues that he's gluten-intolerant. So Brian, these are also for you...from me to Cas to your belly. (Surprise!).
These brownies took a bit of time to perfect; Normally I make my brownies with loads of melted chocolate, so I tried to compensate by putting a little baggie of to-be-melted chocolate as the top layer of the jar. I bet you can guess how not stellar that looked. So instead I whimsically tweaked my recipe and baked up a huge pan of just so-so cake-y brownies.
Which side of the cakey-fudgy brownie battle are you on?
I'm firmly on the moist chewy fudgy side of the tracks (but not in the land of dense this-is-no-longer-considered-a-brownie fudge). And that second cakey attempt just wasn't cutting it. Fortunately Lucas's cousin was in Berkeley for the football game that day and happily took the tray of brownies off my hands. Have you seen a college freshman's face when you offer a batch of freshly baked (rejected) brownies? It's sheer determination. Must get to the brownies by any means possible, even if it means almost missing the last bus back to Stanford.
This batch - round three - is exactly what I'd been searching for in a brownie.The key to getting that deeply moist chocolate texture out of cocoa brownies is a generous amount of cocoa powder and a high sugar to flour ratio. These cocoa-based brownies are richly chocolately, super chewy, and incredibly moist, with their tops crackling just so. I used Diamond Almonds to grind up my own almond flour to turn the brownies gluten-free. And the bars get an extra boost with crunchy chopped walnuts studded throughout.
If you're looking for DIY holiday inspiration, this layered walnut cocoa brownie mix in a jar is a sure bet.
For the Brownie Mix
- 6 tablespoons sweet rice flour (*See notes for finding this flour and for non-gluten-free option)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ cup high-quality dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1½ teaspoons espresso powder
- Scant ½ cup sliced or whole Diamond almonds (or 6 tablespoons almond meal/flour)
- 1½ cup sugar
- Approximately 1 cup chopped Diamond walnuts
- 1-2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips
- Need: 1 quart-sized mason jar
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 3 large eggs
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Brownie Mix
- If using whole/sliced almonds, make the almond meal/flour first. Pour the sliced almonds into a blender and pulse just until it becomes a fine powder (if you pulse too long, it’ll start to turn to almond butter). Sift the ground almonds, discarding any large pieces. Measure out 6 tablespoons of almond flour and set aside.
- Combine the sweet rice flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. Use a wide-mouthed funnel to pour the mixture as the first layer in the quart-sized mason jar. Tip: If you don’t have a wide-mouthed funnel, you can do what I did and roll & tape a piece of paper into a funnel with an opening just slightly smaller than the jar).
- Carefully use a muddler or a large spoon to evenly pack the flour down. Tip: If you get any flour on the sides as you’re pouring it in, you can use a paper towel to wipe the inside edges before adding another layer.
- Use the funnel to pour the cocoa powder and espresso powder as the second layer in the jar, again gently using the muddler or spoon to evenly pack it down.
- Repeat by pouring in the almond meal as the 3rd layer and the sugar as the 4th layer.
- Fill the remaining jar with about 1 cup chopped diamond walnuts, leaving about an inch at the top.
- Fill the rest with chocolate chips until tightly packed to the brim.
- Seal and attach the following directions to the jar.
Printed Directions for Tag
- Mix the contents of the jar with ¾ cup melted unsalted butter, 3 large eggs, and 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract. Bake in a parchment-lined 9x13 pan at 350°F for 25-30 minutes.
Sweet rice flour is also called glutinous rice flour or mochiko. You can get Koda Farms brand or Bob's Red Mill at many major supermarkets or online. It is different from "white rice flour" or "brown rice flour."
For non gluten-free version, replace the sweet rice flour and almond flour for equal amounts of all-purpose flour (¾ cup total).