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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 02/18/2011

Taste Test: Fancy brownie mixes

By Bonnie S. Benwick

It took Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, a.k.a. the Baked guys, a year of testing before they signed off on their new line of premium brownie mixes, and that got us wondering about the market for such things.

Brownies are easy to make from scratch; maybe some folks don't like to keep chocolate on hand or want to bother with measuring ingredients. Mixes offer uniformity and ease.

So we gathered five up-market brands that tout really good chocolate and promise an artisan hand or better flavor than regular boxed-mix brands on the baking aisle. They range in price from less than $4 to $16.

The brownies were baked according to their individual package directions, with specific times and pan sizes. We only added parchment paper to the bottom of the pans to help with brownie removal. Brownies were cooled overnight before cutting.

Our six-member panel had one center-cut brownie from each brand, rating the squares on taste, chocolate intensity and overall impressions.

The results? It's better to crack some eggs than pour some oil. When fudgy was promised, fudgy was delivered. . .

The winner. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

1. Williams-Sonoma Brownie Mix (Dancing Deer Baking Co.)
Williams-Sonoma stores, $16
20 servings/200 calories per brownie
First three ingredients: Pure cane sugar, cocoa powder, bittersweet chocolate chunks
Need to add: 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, 4 eggs
(Received 4 out of 6 overall votes)
Tasters' comments (a compilation): Moist, straightforward yet not overly sweet; intense with chunks of chocolate and maybe a hint of coffee

barefoot_opt.jpg "Nice crust on top." (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

2. (a close second) Barefoot Contessa Outrageous Brownie Mix
Grocery and specialty food stores, $10.99
9 servings/270 calories per serving
First three ingredients: Semisweet chocolate chunks, cocoa butter, sugar
Need to add: 1 stick unsalted butter, 2 eggs
Tasters' comments: Chewy/fudgy, a bit too sweet; nice crust on top.

ghirard_opt.jpg "Not sure about the goopy topping." (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

3. Ghirardelli Ultimate Fudge Brownie Mix
Grocery stores, $3.59
16 servings/170 calories per serving
First three ingredients: Sugar, enriched flour, cocoa
Need to add: 1/4 cup water, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 1 egg
Tasters' comments: Soft and spongy; an unpleasant nutty flavor; more like a boxed-cake mix. Not sure about the goopy topping.

baked_opt.jpg "Seems the most traditional." (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

4. Baked All-Natural Deep Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix (a.k.a. the Baked guys' mix)
Williams-Sonoma, $16
20 servings/280 calories per brownie
First three ingredients: sugar, unbleached enriched flour, brown sugar
Need to add: 2 sticks unsalted butter, 4 eggs
Tasters' comments: A little too buttery and oily; almost salty in comparison with the others (in fact, its sodium content was higher than the other competitors'); seems the most traditional

fatwitch_opt.jpg "More butterscotch than chocolate." (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

5. Fat Witch Bakery Original Fat Witch Brownie Mix
Grocery and specialty stores, $8.19
16 servings/160 calories per serving
First three ingredients: Sugar, enriched flour, bittersweet chocolate chips
Need to add: 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, 3 eggs
Tasters' comments: Has more butterscotch flavor than chocolate; can't place the flavor (toffee?); not good as a brownie but might call it something else and put ice cream on it.

What would you like to see our Taste Test panel tackle next? Add suggestions to the comment field below.

By Bonnie S. Benwick  | February 18, 2011; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags:  Bonnie S. Benwick, Taste Test  
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