Published December 1, 2008. From Cook's Country.
Do any come close to homemade?
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.
"Balanced chocolate (flavor) and sweetness" was tasters’ assessment of these "moist, chewy" brownies. (This product was formerly called "Chocolate Syrup").
Most tasters lauded the "very rich," "real," and "natural" chocolate flavor of this upscale brand.