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Cooking Tips

For Better Boxed Brownies, Use Coffee

Boxed brownie mixes usually call for water. Add coffee instead and kick them up five notches.

Published Feb. 17, 2022.

At home, I bake almost all my desserts from scratch, including brownies. Still, there's plenty of room in my heart—and kitchen—for boxed brownie mixes. They can reliably and quickly produce fudgy, chocolaty, and downright delicious brownies.

I make my boxed-mix brownies even better with one simple trick.

Almost all brownie mixes call for water, plus a handful of other ingredients. The trick: Replace the water with coffee. You don't need much, generally ¼ to cup. We already know that adding espresso and coffee flavor to chocolate desserts supercharges chocolate flavor, and the same principle applies here. Using coffee in your brownie mix will result in better, more chocolaty brownies.

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But why stop with coffee? I've got a few more tips to upgrade your boxed brownies.

1. Swirl in Nut or Seed Butter

Peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini make excellent pairings for brownies. Measure ⅓ cup of room-temperature nut or seed butter. Once you’ve scraped the brownie batter into the prepared pan, drop the butter in 10 small dollops over the batter. Without touching the foil lining (or the bottom of the pan if you’re not using a foil sling, but please use a foil sling), run a paring knife through the batter to create swirls. Bake the brownies as directed.

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2. Add Your Favorite Mix-Ins

The addition of toasted nuts and chocolate chips creates a pleasant textural contrast. Plus, they’re delicious. After the brownie batter is mixed together, stir in about 1 cup of toasted nuts or chocolate chips until they’re evenly distributed. Bake the brownies as directed.

3. Add Sugary Toppings Postbaking

Sugar-heavy additions such as caramel sauce and mini marshmallows should be added after your brownies come out of the oven. If you try to swirl caramel or mix mini marshmallows into the batter before baking, they will melt into the brownies and disappear.

Drizzle caramel sauce on top of your brownies after they’re baked and cooled. For the marshmallow topping, evenly sprinkle baked brownies right out of the oven with a single layer of marshmallows. Return the pan with the brownies to the oven and broil until the marshmallows are lightly browned, 1 to 3 minutes. (Watch the oven constantly. The marshmallows will melt slightly but should hold their shape.) Immediately remove the pan from the oven. Let the brownies cool completely on a wire rack, about 2 hours.

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