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Special Edition: Brownie Mixes

This is Part Two of my special issue of “FCLO”; this one’s devoted to brownie mixes. Making brownies is so easy I can’t imagine having to use a mix, but I know it’s the only way many people will make brownies. Again, I’m not unsympathetic to the modern-day time crunches in which we all find ourselves, but my objections to brownie mixes are identical to my objections to cake mixes. Both contain ingredients that you don’t need to be consuming (ranging from trans fats to propylene glycol), and, in the past, I didn’t think any of them tasted very good. As with the chocolate cake mixes, I bought a box or package of every kind of brownie mix I could reasonably obtain. All of the mixes were prepared according to package directions, using a large bowl and a spoon. I used the same brand of eggs (graded “large”) for all of the mixes. Where oil was called for, I used one brand of corn oil; where butter was required, I used one brand of unsalted (sweet) butter. All of the mixes were baked in a doubled foil pan of the size specified on the package except for one (The Original Brownie Mix called for a 9 inch square pan, and I couldn’t find a foil pan of that size, so I used a metal 9 inch square pan). Pans were rotated 180 degrees in the oven after 15 minutes while baking. Again, after recording my reactions to all of the mixes, I then set out to make up one of my own.

The brownies turned out to be a different kettle of fish (so to speak) than the cakes had been. Someone once wrote that it’s hard to make a really bad brownie, and I found this to be true. Even the brownies I thought too sweet, too salty, and lacking in chocolate flavor were edible, whereas a couple of the cake-mix cakes really were not. All of the mixes were relatively convenient, and all were very easy to make. I had some difficulty judging doneness in the mixes that instructed you to remove the brownies from the oven when they began to pull away from the sides of the pan; it’s a heck of a lot easier to be able to stick a toothpick into the center of something and see if it emerges clean or with batter still clinging to it.

I found that most of the brownie mixes had fewer objectionable ingredients than the cake mixes, but that didn’t surprise me much because a brownie is such a simple creation. Too many still had trans fats or artificial flavors or propylene glycol, though. If you didn’t read my September edition, I continue to be concerned, as I have been for some years, about partially hydrogenated oils, the trans fats to which I refer. This past summer, the FDA finally issued an order that food manufacturers must list the presence and quantity of trans fats on their food labels (better late than never!). Unhappily, this new regulation won’t take effect for over two years. There now appears to be overwhelming evidence that trans fats are as artery-clogging as saturated fats, and trans fats may cause cells to be less responsive to the insulin manufactured by your body. Occasional ingestion of a small quantity of trans fats likely wouldn’t be an issue for most people, but too many Americans have a steady diet of partially hydrogenated oils, which are hidden in many kinds of foods.

As with the cake mixes, the brownie mixes are listed in the random order in which I prepared them. Following each listing are my reactions. Please remember that these were my experiences, and yours may be different. My own brownie recipe follows the listings; it’s very simple and, I think, quite good for what it is.


**Pillsbury Fudge Brownie Rich and Moist Brownie Mix (purchased at local market). $1.99 (19.5 ounces, package indicates 20 servings from 13 by 9 pan). Fat used: oil.

*General description: medium-thick batter of a medium chocolate color. After recommended 50 strokes of beating, batter contained far too many dry lumps of mix, some large. I tried to break up as many lumps as possible with the back of a spoon, but very many were left. Batter formed a thin layer in pan. Brownies baked within time frame specified on package. Baked brownies had a dark chocolate color with a very mild chocolate flavor; taste was mostly sweet with some salt.

*What I Liked: nothing stands out.

*What I Disliked: excessively lumpy batter, contains ingredients people don’t need to consume, brownies too sweet and too salty, brownies lacking in chocolate flavor.


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**Duncan Hines Family-Style Brownies (Dark Chocolate Fudge)
(purchased at local market). *1.50 (19.8 ounces, package indicates 18 servings from 13 by 9 pan). Fat used: oil.

*General description: medium-thick batter of a dark chocolate color. Many small lumps in batter after recommended 50 strokes of stirring, but this is not unexpected for a brownie batter. Batter formed a thin layer in pan. Brownies baked within time frame specified on package. Outer edges of baked brownies especially crusty and dried out. Brownies tasted mostly sweet and salty with a very mild chocolate flavor.

*What I Liked: nothing stands out.

*What I Disliked: contains ingredients people don’t need to consume, crusty/dried out edges of baked brownies, brownies too sweet and too salty, brownies lacking in chocolate flavor.


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**Sheila’s Select Chocolate Decadence Brownie Mix
(purchased from www.yankeegrocery.com via (203) 776-2091 phone number). $5.50, not including shipping (approximate weight 19 ounces, package indicates 24 servings from 13 by 9 pan). Fat used: butter.

*General description: brownie mix comes with package of mint icing mix, which I did not use. Medium-chocolate-color batter thicker and less lumpy than most others. Directions call for stirring with a fork, but this left too much dry mix unincorporated. Directions called for a “medium” egg, which I didn’t have; I used a large egg and a bit less water. No test for doneness given; instructions merely state “bake for 25 minutes or until done” (my batch baked in 28 minutes). Baked brownies very sweet, with a mild chocolate flavor. Baked brownies not fudgy.

*What I Liked: mix has a “Best By” date.

*What I Disliked: contains ingredients people don’t need to consume, must remember to order mix, poor mixing directions, no test for doneness or range for baking time given, brownies much too sweet, brownies lacking in chocolate flavor, mix expensive.


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**Dr. Oetker Simple Organics Chocolate Brownie Mix
(purchased from local market). $2.99 (13.1 ounces, package indicates 9 brownies from 8 inch square pan). Fat used: butter.

*General description: simplest mix as far as ingredients were concerned; of 5 ingredients, 3 were organic. A very thick, smooth batter of a dark chocolate color. No test for doneness given; directions merely state “bake 35 minutes”, but brownies tested done in 30 minutes. Baked brownies had more chocolate flavor than most, but there was an undercurrent of saltiness and brownies tasted as though they were sweetened with fruit juice.

*What I Liked: minimalist and organic ingredients.

*What I Disliked: no test for doneness or range for baking time given, salty undercurrent in baked brownies, fruit-juice taste in baked brownies, mix expensive.


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**Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate Fudge Brownie Mix
(purchased at local market). $1.99 (19.9 ounces, package indicates 20 brownies from 13 by 9 pan). Fat used: oil.

*General description: dark-chocolate-color batter. Many tiny lumps when ingredients were “well blended”, but this is not unexpected in brownie batter. Batter formed a thin layer in pan. Brownies baked within time frame on package. Baked brownies primarily salty with some sweet taste; almost no chocolate flavor.

*What I Liked: nothing stands out.

*What I Disliked: contains ingredients people don’t need to consume, salty-sweet taste of baked brownies, lack of chocolate flavor in brownies.


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**ShopRite Family Style Chocolate Fudge Brownie Mix
(purchased at local ShopRite). $0.99 (19.8 ounces, package indicates “about 21” brownies from 13 by 9 pan). Fat used: oil.

*General description: moderately dark chocolate batter with some small lumps. Batter formed thin layer in pan. Brownies baked within time frame on package, but package claims brownies will pull away from side of pan when done—difficult to judge. Baked brownies had some chocolate flavor with a mostly sweet taste; also a bit salty.

*What I Liked: cost.

*What I Disliked: contains ingredients people don’t need to consume, difficult to judge doneness of brownies, brownies a bit too sweet and too salty, brownies somewhat lacking in chocolate flavor.


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**Rabbit Creek Killer Mudd Brownie Mix
(purchased at www.chesapeakecity.com/gift-n-gourmet). $5.95, not including shipping (approximate weight of mix 19.5 ounces, package indicates 24 brownies from 13 by 9 pan). Fat used: butter.

*General description: Mix contains a separate packet of miniature chocolate chips, which I did not use. Directions state, “Combine packages in a mixing bowl.”, but since I wasn’t using the chips, I blended the brownie mix with a spoon until it was of an even color. Batter a medium chocolate color with a good number of moderate-sized lumps of dry mix that didn’t dissolve during the mixing process. Undissolved lumps of mix showed up in one or two places on top of baked brownies. Directions state to “bake 20-25 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan.” After 25 minutes of baking, brownies weren’t pulling away from sides of pan; center still very underdone. After 27 minutes of baking, brownies still not pulling away from sides of pan, but toothpick inserted near center emerged almost clean—brownies removed from oven. Brownies pulled away from sides of pan noticeably only after pan removed from oven. Taste of baked brownies reminiscent of those I grew up on, with some chocolate flavor but too sweet. Brownies quite fudgy.

*What I Liked: simple ingredient list, fudgy texture of brownies, nostalgic aspect of brownies.

*What I Disliked: undissolved lumps of brownie mix on top of baked brownies, difficulty in judging doneness of brownies, must remember to order mix, brownies too sweet and somewhat lacking in chocolate flavor, mix expensive.


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**Wegman’s Fudge Brownie Mix
(purchased at local Wegman’s). $1.19 (19.8 ounces, package indicates “about 19” brownies from 13 by 9 pan). Fat used: oil.

*General description: batter of a medium chocolate color with some moderate-sized lumps. Directions call for stirring batter “until smooth”, but would require a whisk or electric mixer to do so, and that would most likely result in overmixing. Batter formed a thin layer in pan. Brownies baked within time frame specified on package but doneness difficult to judge, as “Brownies will pull away from the sides of pan when done”. Baked brownies had a mild chocolate flavor and a slightly salty taste.

*What I Liked: cost.

*What I Disliked: contains ingredients people don’t need to consume, questionable package directions, difficulty in judging doneness of brownies, brownies lacking in chocolate flavor, brownies somewhat too salty.


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**It’s Material, Inc. Brownie Mix
(purchased from www.itsmaterial.com). $12.00, not including shipping (approximate weight of mix 23 ounces, package indicates only that 13 by 9 pan of brownies should be “cut into 2 inch squares). Fat used: butter.

*General description: Mix contains a separate packet of very finely chopped pecans, which I did not use. A very thick, dark-chocolate-colored batter with few, if any, lumps. Batter formed a much thicker layer in pan than most. Directions call for baking “for 30 minutes”; no test for doneness given. My batch tested done (via toothpick in center method) at 32 minutes. Baked brownies had a very crunchy top crust, which disappeared after they sat overnight. Brownies much too sweet, with a somewhat fudgy texture and an odd aftertaste reminscent of brownies made with matzo meal.

*What I Liked: simple ingredient list, thicker layer of batter.

*What I Disliked: must remember to order mix, no test for doneness given, excessive sweetness of brownies, odd aftertaste, mix very expensive.


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**The Original Brownie Mix
(purchased from www.bangorcvb.com). $8.50, including shipping (shipping is built into the $8.50 cost) but not ME sales tax (15 ounces, package indicates 18 servings from 9 inch square pan). Fat used: butter.

*General description: A dark-chocolate-colored batter so thick it was more like a soft dough. Might be difficult for a child to mix unaided. Directions state, “Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until brownie begins to pull away from edge of pan”, but my batch tested done via the toothpick-in-the-center method after 26 minutes. Baked brownies higher at edges of pan than in center. Brownies had an overwhelmingly salty taste, with some sweetness and some degree of chocolatiness. Texture of brownies somewhat fudgy.

*What I Liked: When I ordered the brownies, the woman at the Bangor CVB warned me to use butter, not margarine, to make them.

*What I Disliked: must remember to order mix, batter more difficult to mix by hand than others, excessive baking time listed on package, overwhelming saltiness of brownies, mix expensive.


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**My Brownie Mix
, about $2.10 (approximately 21 ounces, 24 brownies from a 13 by 9 pan)

Tips: This contains no partially hydrogenated fats or preservatives or artificial flavors or colors. It’s a mix for a basic, rather fudgy brownie that’s a bit less sweet than most. As with the cake mix, I’d suggest making up several batches of this mix at one time. Store it in an airtight container (or a doubled airtight plastic bag) in a cool, dry place (not the refrigerator) for up to several months. You’ll need unsweetened alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder to make this; I have used both Hershey and Droste successfully. The batter will be on the thick side, of a dark chocolate color, and not entirely smooth. If you wish, throw some chopped nuts or chocolate chunks or chips into the batter, adding them toward the end of the mixing process and stirring only until evenly distributed.

These brownies can be stored airtight at room temperature for up to two days. For longer storage, freeze them.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened, alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, stirred with a fork before measuring
  • Pinch of salt
Method:

Sift or strain all ingredients into large bowl. With large spoon, blend well until of an even color. Carefully pour or spoon into airtight storage container. Seal; store at cool, dry room temperature for up to several months.

To make a batch:

Yield: 24 brownies

Ingredients:

  • One package or container of your brownie mix
  • 4 eggs, graded “large”, beaten to combine
  • 14 Tbsp. (2 sticks minus 2 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • Optional (but good): 2 tsp. vanilla
Method:

Adjust rack to center of oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place one empty 13 by 9 inch foil baking pan inside another (you will bake the brownies in this doubled pan).

Pour brownie mix into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients. With large spoon, beat about 50 strokes, stopping halfway through to scrape spoon and bowl with rubber spatula. Scrape batter into doubled baking pan and spread evenly, making sure batter is well-pushed into corners.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 32 minutes, turning pan(s) back-to-front once about halfway during baking time. Brownies are done when toothpick inserted in center emerges with a few moist crumbs still clinging to it. Do not overbake!

Remove pan to cooling rack. Allow brownies to cool completely before cutting. Store airtight at room temperature for up to two days; freeze for longer storage.


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Stephanie Zonis provides the above information to anyone, but retains copyright on all text. This means that you MAY not: distribute the text to others without the express written permission of Stephanie Zonis; "mirror" or include this information on your own server or documents without my permission; modify or re-use the text on this system. You MAY: print copies of the information for your own personal use; store the files on your own computer for your personal use only; reference hypertext documents on this server from your own documents.

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