from L to R: Brownie A: Chewy Brownie from Cooks Illustrated; Brownie B: beloved old recipe; Brownie C: Ina’s Outrageous Brownie
For years and years, I had two signature desserts: Oreo Cheesecake and Brownies. The cheesecake I made every Thanksgiving, but the brownies joined me on outings to other gatherings. The beloved brownies–everyone requested them, everyone begged for the recipe, everyone devoured every last morsel.
Enter world of food blogs and new brownie recipes, exit old beloved brownies which I ignored in the face of newbies.
The new recipes call for several types of chocolates whilst the old brownies use just one ol’ bag of chocolate chips. Hence, I playfully dubbed the recipes Rich Man’s Brownies vs. Poor Man’s Brownies due to cost-of-chocolate differences. Curious, though, I wanted to see how the old beloved brownies would stack up against the newer versions. Would the ingredients really make that much difference?
from L to R: Brownie C: Ina’s; Brownie B: old beloved; Brownie A: Chewy from Cook’s Illustrated (reversed b/c I turned the plate around for the photo)
A book club meeting (a.k.a. Chocoholics Club) provided the perfect opportunity for my experiment, and what fun to taste all the samples!
I fussed over how to set up some kind of rating system. What would I ask participants to assess other than simply their favorite? I wanted reasons. I wanted blog-worthy material to share with you. After some google searching, I learned that brownies fall into categories: fudgy, chewy, cakey… Right there I realized this process would be a challenge. I mean, how do you rate brownies when some like chewy, some like fudgy, and some like cakey? Seems to me you would have to have brownies for each of those categories. Kinda like you have most humorous, most creative, most scary, etc. for Halloween costume contests instead of only best overall, you know?
Maybe I should just let tasters judge/rank by favorites and not have any other criteria, and then have them give me their reasons why. Why not keep this simple, after all? In the end, I made a form which provided some descriptors and a chart to jot down some evaluations. Though we didn’t thoroughly use them, it provided some guidance about evaluating the brownies.
Now, which recipes to select? I had tons saved. However, I wanted just plain ol’ chocolate brownies with no fancy additions or flavors. No nuts, either. Just trying to keep this as simple and streamlined as possible.
After typing a chart of recipes with ingredients and directions side-by-side (I needed the visual), I narrowed the selections to a total of 3, each with ever-so-slight differences in ingredients:
- Brownie A: Chewy Brownies from America’s Test Kitchen (the folks at Cook’s Illustrated magazine)
- Brownie B: Double Chocolate Brownies, the recipe I have used since I was in high school, which I think came from the back of the Hershey’s chocolate chips bag
- Brownie C: Outrageous Brownies from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa
By the way, I used Ghiradelli chips for all recipes to maintain a standard across the board.
from L to R: Chewy Brownie from Cook’s Illustrated; Double Chocolate Brownie; Ina’s Outrageous Brownie
Now comes my total anal nerdy side: I carefully poured over the chart and made notes of differences. I wanted to have some understanding of how the recipes differed:
- all use melted butter but in varying amounts w/ Ina using most and Double Choc least
- Chewy & Ina use espresso powder but not Double Choc
- Chewy & Ina use unsweetened chocolate but in varying amounts
- all use chocolate but with vast differences in total amounts: Chewy @ 8 oz. (cocoa powder used to make up for least amount of solid chocolate); Double Choc @ 12 oz; Ina @ whopping 17oz!!
- only Chewy uses cocoa powder & oil; as a matter of fact, this recipe has the largest ingredients list hence most pricey to make
- all use eggs & vanilla & sugar & flour & salt but in varying amounts (Fine Cooking explains how amounts affect brownies)
- only Double Choc uses baking soda; Ina uses baking powder; Chewy uses neither
- all use melted chocolate of some sort and add choc chips into batter
FYI: After making the brownie batters, I noticed that Ina’s is the thickest, most dense. It doesn’t pour like the other batters; you really have to evenly spread it in the pan. Therefore, I guessed that her recipe would come out the fudgiest, especially because it uses the least amount of flour, and a flourless cake I’ve made before was super duper fudgy.
So what did the taste testers have to say? Which recipe was most Fudgy? Chewy? Chocolatey? Dense? Moist? Gooey? Rich?
Of all testers (10), 80% voted Ina’s Outrageous Brownies as BEST. It earned accolades for tasting most dense, most fudgy, most chocolatey, and most rich. Well, no wonder with a whopping 17 ounces of chocolate in it!! And a few bites sufficed for most because of it’s outrageous richness (although that didn’t stop me from scarfing all the leftovers in the next few days ; )
Most of the testers have eaten the beloved brownie recipe over the years and were quite surprised at the so-so quality of it after this experiment. After setting it up side-by-side with the others, it sure looks wimpy in stature–notice how flat it looks, poor thing. You can also tell by the coloring of the brownies how full of chocolate Ina’s Outrageous Brownie is–just look at its deep, rich brown coloring (best viewed in the opening two photos).
Brownie B: Double Chocolate Brownie, my former beloved recipe now falls flat against the other contenders
Most tasters voted the Chewy Brownie 2nd place for flavor. And only two people chose the old standby as the #1 pick.
Brownie A: Chewy Brownie from America’s Test Kitchen, ranked #2 by tasters
So, if you want a killer brownie, definitely try Ina’s Outrageous Brownies, oh-so-very aptly named!
Brownie C: Ina’s Outrageous Brownies and the clear winner!
I’ve provided a link above to the chart with all three recipes, but if you want them each typed up separately, here are the links: