Brownie Taste Test: Mix, Scratch or Light?

Is it worth the trouble to make brownies from scratch?

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

If so, should you bother with a “lighter” brownie? I decided to find out.   Brownies are an all-American favorite, perfect for the 4th of July party I was headed to the day of my tests.

I set aside the morning of the party to test three types of brownies:

1. Classic (Indulgent) 2.  Light    3. Brownies from a Mix

I was not scientific in choosing a recipe for each category. There are zillions of choices and individuals have specific preferences – chewy, cakey, gooey…. I chose recipes from highly reliable sources. Each batch was baked in an 8-inch pan at 350°F, included chopped walnuts and was cut into 25 tiny squares.

1. Classic Chocolate Brownies

SourceSeriously Bittersweet, The Ultimate Dessert Maker’s Guide to Chocolate by Alice Medrich, 2003, p. 68.  Alice Medrich, one of our country’s most esteemed chocolate experts is credited with bringing chocolate truffles to the United States. She broke ground when she published one of my all-time favorite dessert books, Chocolate and the Art of Low Fat Baking, showing that lighter desserts can actually taste good and look beautiful.

Key ingredients:  a stick of butter, 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate

Personal Evaluation:  Sit down. The aroma of sweet butter and chocolate will knock you over.  A little crackle on the crust gives way to a very dense, rich brownie.  100% brownie satisfaction.

Approximate nutrients per serving 1/25th:  126 calories, 9 g fat ; 4 gm sat fat

2. Brownies

SourceThe Best Light Recipes by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated, 2006, p.333.

If any kitchen can “make light right” it is the exacting folks at “America’s Favorite Test Kitchen.”

Key Ingredients:  3 tablespoons of butter, 3 ounces semisweet chocolate and 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa, espresso powder to dial up the chocolate flavor

Approximate nutrients per serving 1/25th: 62 calories; 2.4 gm fat; 1.2 gm sat fat

Personal Evaluation: If I didn’t have the ultra-rich sample #1 for comparison, I’d be perfectly content with the flavor and texture of this brownie. My only complaint is that they were shorter than the others, with less batter, partially explaining why the calories and fat are so low.

3. Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix

Source: If you’re time-crunched and need brownies, Ghirardelli’s is tops among mixes.  Available widely in various chocolate variations.

Key Ingredients: bittersweet chocolate chips, cocoa (Add oil, water and eggs)

Approximate nutrients per serving (1/25th): 134 calories; 7 grams fat; 2 grams sat fat

Personal Evaluation:  An ever-so-slight “mix” aroma gives these away as not from scratch.  While they lack the buttery-ness of #1, they have deep chocolate flavor, enhanced with chocolate bits (included in the mix) and a just-right brownie structure. A+ for convenience.

Photo By Lorelle Del Matto

Photo By Lorelle Del Matto

What did others think of the brownies?  My hostess said, “I’m sure I’ll like ALL of them!” and whisked the platter to the food table.  By the time I made it to the table all the brownies were gone while plenty of other desserts remained.

Verdict?  People love brownies.   Many don’t care about a lighter version or whether it was baked from scratch. Even my own children, who’ve grown up doing many taste tests, couldn’t pick a favorite.  I’ll always opt for homemade take the challenge of creating an excellent and more healthful option.

©2014 Lorelle Del Matto


lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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