Packaged mixes are convenient, but are any worth making?
Published Feb. 22, 2022.
There's nothing like freshly baked brownies. We love baking them from scratch, but we also love the ease and convenience of brownie mixes. With so many products on the market, we wanted to know which one is best. Our lineup included nine nationally available brands—including a reader favorite from Trader Joe's.
First and foremost, brownies should be chocolaty, and some brownies in our lineup were more chocolaty than others. They all contained cocoa powder, a common ingredient in chocolate desserts since it’s powdered and has a high proportion of flavorful cocoa solids. All but two brownie mixes included Dutched cocoa, which has been treated with an alkalizing agent that neutralizes the cocoa’s natural acid. Dutched cocoa is darker in color and provides deeper, earthier chocolate notes than nonalkalized cocoa (natural cocoa powder). One brownie mix containing only natural cocoa powder produced light-colored brownies that were a little lacking in chocolate flavor. The other had two additional ingredients, melted chocolate and coffee sprinkles, that helped it taste more chocolaty (more on that later).
Even some of the mixes that contained Dutched cocoa powder produced brownies that didn’t have enough chocolate flavor. Without strong chocolate flavor, these brownies tasted too sweet.
All our favorite brownie mixes got chocolaty boosts from an additional ingredient (or two), including chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, melted chocolate, a blend of cocoa powders, and even coffee sprinkles (see “Why Are Some Brownies More Chocolaty Than Others?”). These ingredients provided impressively strong, chocolate-forward flavor that our tasters loved.
In general, brownies range from cakey to fudgy in texture. Most of the brownies in our lineup were fudgy, and our tasters loved their moist, chewy textures. However, three of the brownies were disappointing. One was particularly “sticky,” like “taffy.” Another was a touch dry, and the last was almost too moist; tasters found it “a bit gummy.”
The tops of a few of the brownies were crackled, and we loved this textural contrast; the textures of other brownies were more uniform from top to bottom. Over the years we’ve developed many recipes for brownies, and we've learned that sugar, fat, and egg all play a role in achieving this crackled surface. Some of the manufacturers had clearly engineered a crackly, crispy top for their brownies, and we loved it when they did.
There’s one more thing to consider when buying brownie mixes: how convenient they are to make. Th...
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Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.