[If the Cooking Light Fudgy Brownies recipe (review here) had been published, I would have tried it in this taste test. It's a good recipe that would have been worth comparing. I also highly recommend Fudge Brownies if you want something really rich and decadent.]
As promised, I held a brownie taste test! I couldn't decide between Alton Brown's brownies, Hershey's brownies, or Best Cocoa Brownies. Who better than my friends to help me decide? My friends are both scientists and food lovers - they like to eat, and they generally like to analyze things. Thanks to the willingness of my friends to sample and analyze brownies (much more analytically than I expected), I can.
I used the same ingredients in all of these recipes unless otherwise noted. A few comments on each brownie recipe:
Alton Brown's Brownies: I actually used sea salt in these instead of regular iodized salt, because it called for kosher salt. Obviously, this is a mistake, because it made the final product a little salty. [This was interesting, making it a bit like a salted caramel.] These were made in the stand mixer. I lined the 8x8inch pan with parchment paper to hopefully cut down on edge browning. I coated the paper with regular cooking spray, rather than spray with flour.
Hershey's Brownies: no change from the methods described. I may have mixed them a little more than I usually do. I also think I had to bake it a little longer than I thought I should.
Best Cocoa Brownies: No parchment paper for these. I melted the butter in the microwave to mix with the cocoa. These were baked 30 minutes.
I labeled the brownies A, B, and C, and I was the only one who knew what they were until the end. I didn't give any particular instructions on how to rate them, but luckily my friends do analysis for a living and devised criteria to use to evaluate them. A few chose a clear, overall winner, while others thought that certain brownies would be good for specific purposes. I've compiled the feedback I got:
little chewy, rich
A is more cakey, chocolatey
A is best for a snack
more cakey and less sweet - very un-me
least chocolatey, best mouth-feel
I like the texture the best - very fudgy. Reminds me of a much-better, yummier Krusteaz brownie mix
Best as a dessert
Best texture and crispy edges
Darker and rich, not as much as A
C is really chocolatey, the best chocolatey flavor, but I like the texture of B best
Best as a treat for coffee
Best taste (rich and chocolatey)
Dark and rich - great texture, dense
Someone also made a chart (thanks, Brian!), which I thought was awesome:
|How much like a brownie I’ve had before
|1st = moist and cakeyC was a little too fudgy
|Want more!*indicates desire to consume brownie in the future, not necessarily a “best/worst”
If I give you the differences between the brownies, can you guess which is which? Alton Brown's recipe has no leavening, but has a lot of air incorporated into it, much like a cake; Hershey's [which has leavening] and Best Brownies [which doesn't] are stirred by hand. Best Brownies has a slight bit more margarine proportionately when compared to the other brownies.
Cocoa to flour ratio:
AB's [over-stuffed 8x8 pan]: 1 ⅓ cup cocoa to ⅔ cup flour
Hershey's [9x13 pan]: ¾ cup cocoa to 1 cup flour
Best [8x8 pan]: ¾ cup cocoa to ½ cup flour
The general consensus was that C was the superior brownie, with 2 people [of 8] preferring B.
This means that most people preferred the Best Brownies, while 2 people preferred the Hershey's Brownies. Not surprisingly, the Hershey's Brownies were rated as typical [Alex has fed everyone M&M brownies made from this recipe, more than once!], and I think that some people liked that. I do think of them as prototypical brownies. The Best Brownies seemed to satisfy a desire for rich, intense chocolatey flavor.
Alton Brown's Brownies had their advantages too, and weren't unsatisfying - the recipe received positive feedback.
I think that ultimately which recipe you want depends on what you want out of your brownie. Intense flavor? Best Brownies. Good, typical, no-fail brownie that'll please most people (including people who don't like dark chocolate)? Hershey's Brownies. Cakey brownies? Go for Alton Brown's Brownies.
Overall, I decided that I liked the Best Brownies best as well. I enjoyed their rich chocolate flavor and density. These are the ones that I saved to take to work for my snack.
Runner-up: I still like the Hershey's Brownies - they're still satisfying, and the recipe yields enough to share with a crowd. The Hershey's Brownies recipe is versatile as well - Alex adds M&Ms to them, and I've converted them to cheesecake brownies before as well.
I don't think I'll make Alton Brown's Brownies again, unless I get a metal 8x8 pan. The edges still burned on these, even though I used parchment paper with them. I didn't have problems with the edges tasting cake-like, at least. In general, though, I don't want to have to use my stand mixer to make brownies. I think making brownies should be a low-intensity activity, and I don't want to have to use kitchen appliances other than a microwave and my oven to do it. Using my stand mixer to make brownies just feels fussy.
I'll go back and forth between making Hershey's Brownies and Best Brownies. It'll mostly just depend on how I feel and how much I really, really want chocolate 🙂
I want to thank all my friends for eating so many brownies for me! I couldn't have done it without you!