Boxed Brownie Mixes

Published December 1, 2008. From Cook's Country.

Do any come close to homemade?

Overview:

There are times, like a last-minute bake sale or Cub Scout meeting, when the convenience of a boxed brownie mix is appealing. To find out which of these mixes are any good, we rounded up seven national brands of boxed brownie mixes, did extensive pretasting to determine a sole contender from brands that offer different styles, baked them according to package instructions, and called our tasters to the table.

As expected, the majority of the brownies were awful, featuring “chemical” flavors, cloying sweetness, and a distinct lack of chocolate flavor. There were, however, two bright spots. A pair of brownie mixes from chocolate manufacturers were actually pretty good—not as good as homemade, but surprisingly close.

What separated these brands from the pack? For one, they were the only mixes to include additional sources of chocolate (other than chips). One mix comes with a packet of chocolate syrup; another mix has both semisweet chocolate chunks and mini chocolate chips. Tasters also praised the “rich,” “balanced” chocolate… read more

There are times, like a last-minute bake sale or Cub Scout meeting, when the convenience of a boxed brownie mix is appealing. To find out which of these mixes are any good, we rounded up seven national brands of boxed brownie mixes, did extensive pretasting to determine a sole contender from brands that offer different styles, baked them according to package instructions, and called our tasters to the table.

As expected, the majority of the brownies were awful, featuring “chemical” flavors, cloying sweetness, and a distinct lack of chocolate flavor. There were, however, two bright spots. A pair of brownie mixes from chocolate manufacturers were actually pretty good—not as good as homemade, but surprisingly close.

What separated these brands from the pack? For one, they were the only mixes to include additional sources of chocolate (other than chips). One mix comes with a packet of chocolate syrup; another mix has both semisweet chocolate chunks and mini chocolate chips. Tasters also praised the “rich,” “balanced” chocolate flavor of these mixes, which comes in part from their inclusion of both natural and Dutch-processed cocoa powder. (Our third-place also contains both types of cocoa.) We often find natural cocoa powder bitter, but used in conjunction with milder Dutch-processed cocoa, plenty of sugar, and another source of chocolate, it can make for richer, more chocolaty brownies.

Most mixes call for vegetable oil; one of our winning mixes calls for butter, which contributes richness and flavor and gave this brand a significant leg up in our tasting.

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  • Product Tested

    Price*

  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Recommended - Winner

    Ghirardelli Chocolate Supreme Brownie Mix

    “Balanced chocolate (flavor) and sweetness” was tasters’ assessment of these “moist, chewy” brownies, which were also praised for their “perfect texture.” One taster gushed, “Just like Mom used to make.” EDITORS' NOTE: Since we conducted our testing, Ghirardelli renamed this product Chocolate Supreme (formerly "Chocolate Syrup"). We retasted it and it is indeed the same mix.

    $3.69 for 18.75 ounces

  • Recommended - Winner

    Barefoot Contessa Outrageous Brownie Mix

    Most tasters lauded the “very rich,” “real,” and “natural” chocolate flavor of this upscale brand from television personality and cookbook author Ina Garten. The “dense and chewy,” “moist and fudgy” texture was also a hit. A few naysayers complained about “burnt” or “acrid” notes.

    $8.99 for 20.8 ounces

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Pillsbury Brownie Classics Traditional Fudge Premium Brownie Mix

    “Sweeter than most and not as chocolaty” and “pretty sweet but good” sum up tasters’ opinions of this brand’s middle-of-the-road flavor. Comments on texture were not as kind: “spongy,” “extremely oily,” and “weird chewy clumps.”

    $2.59 for 19.5 ounces

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Betty Crocker Hershey’s Ultimate Fudge Supreme Brownie Mix

    With the longest ingredient list in our lineup, it wasn’t surprising that tasters found these “very chewy” brownies to have a “fake” chocolate flavor and an “off aftertaste.” “More sweet than chocolaty.”

    $2.99 for 21 ounces

  • Not Recommended

    Duncan Hines Family-Style Chewy Fudge Brownies

    Cries of "too sweet," "all sugar and no chocolate," and "lacks flavor" dominated the comment sheets. "Looks awesome, but [tastes like] crud" and "tastes like microwave brownies" were other complaints.

    $1.69 for 21 ounces

  • Not Recommended

    King Arthur Flour All-American Fudge Brownie Mix

    Our tasters clamored over strange flavors: “offensive molasses,” “rank artificial chocolate,” “strange cinnamon aftertaste,” “prune-y,” and “tastes sort of dirty” were among the telling remarks.

    $3.83 for 18 ounces

  • Not Recommended

    Cherrybrook Kitchen Fudge Brownie Mix with Chocolate Chips

    The “stale and sour,” “murky” flavors didn’t come from the margarine—these eggless brownies were still last across the board when made with butter. The non-dairy chocolate chips in the mix didn’t seem to boost chocolate flavor. Tasters detected hints of “carob,” “fruit juice,” and “banana”—not chocolate.

    $5.29 for 16 ounces

*PRICES SUBJECT TO CHANGE
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