Heavyweight Brownie Champs

If you don’t have an aversion to chocolate, you like brownies.  That’s just nutritional science.  If you are like most American families, your brownies come from a box.  Have you ever tried homemade brownies?  The difference is incredible.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not dislike box brownies but homemade brownies pack more chocolate punch.

On top of that, brownies are super easy to make from scratch.  You dump stuff together in one bowl, mix it, pour it into a pan and cook it.

There are some things you should know about brownies up front:
1.  They are allergic to nuts.  If you want a healthy snack, eat a handful of pecans or walnuts.  Leave them off brownies.  You are ruining them.
2.  They like to be a flat chewy black shingle of barely-cooked batter.  You cakesters can take your pan and go home.  If we wanted a fluffy chocolate dessert we would have made chocolate cake.
3.  Like any sane person, they will never turn away frosting.  However, the non-frosted recipes below lack nothing.

After years of personal tasting and trying different recipes, here are the three ways I’d recommend that you go depending on your objective:

Best Box – Fastest

Best Box Mix

Most box recipes are really quite bland.  You’ll wolf them down and like them, but to get a close-to-homemade flavor, I recommend Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate with Chocolate Chips.  They take about 2-3 minutes to prepare.  Cooking and cooling time is the same as homemade.

My one suggestion is to use a cooking-sprayed aluminum foil sling in your pan for easy removal.  If you don’t know how to make one, check out the video or read the recipe for Chewy Brownies below.

Ultimate Fudgy Brownies (Also Titled Chewy, Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies Sometimes) – Most Chocolate Flavor

I believe these brownies pack the most chocolate flavor, but that is up for debate in our household.  My wife contends that they offer nothing more than the Chewy Brownies discussed below.  Whoever is right, these brownies and the Chewy Brownies are a close #1 and #2.

The only issue is that these are drier than box mixes, which can be a bonus for brownies n’ ice cream.

You can find the recipe here.  I’m sorry it is behind America’s Test Kitchen’s pay wall (14 days for free).

Chewy Brownies – The Winner

Chewy Brownies

These brownies are the best all-around brownies you can make.  They have great chocolate taste and great texture.  There are chunks of chocolate hidden inside and if you really pay attention there is a complementary shot of espresso flavor.

The secret to the texture is a mixture of saturated fat (butter) and unsaturated fat (veggie oil).  The unsaturated fat stays liquid at room temp giving the brownies a more gooey fudgy texture that has been the hallmark of box brownies since time began.

The biggest disadvantages of these brownies are that they take more time to prepare (not much – maybe 15 minutes?) and are the most expensive because they use lots of different kinds of chocolate.  One thing to keep in mind price-wise is that these make about 1/3 more brownies than the Ghirardelli boxed version.

You can find the recipe for free here where you can watch an instructional video or download the recipe.  To get the written recipe you do have to provide an email address.

NOTE:  For whatever reason they make two measurement errors in the video (written recipe is correct).  Use 4 tablespoons of melted butter and 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil NOT 4-1/2 tablespoons of melted butter and 1-1/2 cups vegetable oil.  1-1/2 cups of oil would have these things swimming.  Yuk!

Taste Test

Last night at a Super Bowl party I decided to put the Chewy Brownies to the test.  We pitted them against the Ghirardelli brownies and results were unanimous.  Chewy Brownies are better.  One attendee described the difference between them best when he said that they were “Sweeter, more chocolaty and also more bitter all at the same time”.

If you think you can beat these recipes, please post your thoughts in the comments below.

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Cookie Quest Part II

A long time ago in a post this far away, I discussed the joy of finding and using Williams-Sonoma Star Wars cookie cutters.  I also reviewed three sugar cookie recipes.  Well, you wrote to me letting me know that there were better recipe options available.  I think you can see where we are headed – another cookie test and me feeling a little guilty about eating dozens of cookies.

Once again the cutters performed flawlessly.  They are not up for debate so let’s move on to the dough.

Up first, we have an emailed recipe.  Once you have started studying these things, you see that most sugar cookie recipes are nearly identical.  This one is radically different in that it uses sour cream and nutmeg.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup soft butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

1.  sift flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg; set aside

2.  In a large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter, sugar, and egg until light and fluffy

3.  At low speed beat in sour cream and vanilla until smooth

4.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well combined

5.  Form dough into balls and wrap in waxed paper or foil.  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

6.  On a lightly floured surface roll out dough about 1/4″ inch thick and cut into shapes.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes or until light golden brown.

Next up is an oldie that was stuffed in our recipe drawer.  Why didn’t I look here before?  It too was unusual in that it used vegetable oil.  That doesn’t sound appetizing, but the total fat count for this one is roughly double the other recipes.  Maybe that will save the flavor.

Very Best Sugar Cookies

1 cup vegetable oil
2 sticks butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 beaten eggs
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a large bowl, cream together oil, butter and both sugars.

Mix in vanilla and eggs.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, salt and baking soda.

Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture blending well.

Divide dough into two balls.

Flatten dough balls into ½” thickness, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

On floured surface roll dough to ¼” thickness (dough may need to warm for 5 minutes first).

Cut dough into shapes, place on parchment lined cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Once I’d made a ½ recipe of each of these and the official Williams-Sonoma recipe, I tried each of the doughs.  Of course all of the usual warnings apply about eating raw eggs.  I cannot suggest that you try that step at home.  The W-S dough was tough but tasty.  The old-fashioned dough was extremely smooth because of the sour creme and quite tasty but the nutmeg made them seem like something other than sugar cookies.  It reminded me of the America’s Test Kitchen recipe from our first go at this – a very tasty dough that really wasn’t a sugar cookie flavor.  The very best dough was extremely light, greasy and delicious.

Forming and baking the cookies revealed variations too.  W-S performed flawlessly again.  It was the easiest to work with and maintained crisp shapes when cooked.  The old-fashioned was a little more sticky and puffed up into more of a biscuit than the W-S but details were still easily readable.  Very best was a challenge.  Clearly this recipe is designed for round cookies only.  The dough was extremely sticky and lightweight which allowed it to tear if a liberal amount of flour and a spatula wasn’t used.  Cooked cookies turned into puffy blobs.  Not good.

Boba = Williams-Sonoma Recipe. Vader = Old-Fashioned Recipe.
Stormtroopers = Very Best Recipe.

Finally, it was on to taste.  Our panel of three judges was in agreement.  W-S came to the plate with a dense and sweet cookie.  It had a very good standard sugar cookie flavor.  Old-fashioned had the best texture of any straddling the line between standard cookie and thin biscuit.  Strangely the nutmeg flavor was gone and, with a lower sugar content, these were the blandest of the bunch.  Finally, very best was still slightly greasy (like a chocolate chip cookie) but had the best flavor.  Sweet and delicious.  Even better than our taste-winner from round one.

As stated in the other article, there must be a balance between shape-holding ability and taste.  Unlike other cookies, no one makes sugar cookies for the taste alone.  They make them to cut into interesting shapes.  So based on this, here is my officially-endorsed ranked list:

1  Williams-Sonoma Sugar Cookies – included with SW cutters
2  Very Best Sugar Cookies – blobby but tasty
3  America’s Test Kitchen Sugar Cookies – blobby but tasty but not a sugar cookie flavor
4  Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies – best texture but bland
5  Best Rolled Sugar Cookies – almost no flavor

I also tried the frosting recipe included with the cutters.  It is just a standard royal icing that obscures all of the details below it.  It would probably be much easier and better to use some sort of pour on glaze that was thin enough to let the details show through.

W-S Frosting Recipe Obscures All Details