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Boxed Brownie Mixes
Do any come close to homemade?
Ghirardelli Chocolate Supreme Brownie Mix
What We Learned
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.
Everything We Tested
“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.
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.
Recommended with reservations
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.