Everyone loves the smell of fresh-baked brownies coming from the oven. But some of the best can pop out of your mailbox too, if you know where to look.
The tasters at America's Test Kitchen just tested brownies from 8 leading mail-order gourmet bakers. They ordered brownie assortments and rated the basic brownie from each company. In addition, tasters sampled the more unusual flavors in each assortment. Some of the brownies were a revelation, others merely good. Here are the results, in order of preference (prices do not include shipping, which will add $7 to $20):
Price: $38.00 for 8 individually wrapped brownies
Tasters rated this Brooklyn bakery's Original Deep Dark the top basic brownie. Unique varieties, such as Spicy (with chiles and cinnamon) and Sweet and Salty (with caramel and fleur de sel), were also a hit. Brown matte box with white ribbon is simple but hip. Expensive, but these brownies rock.
New York BrowniesPrice: $36.00 for 12 individually wrapped brownies
The Original brownie from this Long Islandcompany finished a strong second. Tasters thought other varieties (such as Toffee and Peanut Butter) were good, if a bit pedestrian. Brownies come in an elegant white box with a sleek silver ribbon. Good value, with a dozen oversized brownies.
Price: $50.00 for 10 individually wrapped brownies
The assortment from this well-known gourmet store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, didn't feature a plain brownie (the Magic brownies have walnuts), but tasters didn't seem to mind. Buenos Aires brownies (with dulce de leche) were a big hit, as were brownies flavored with orange and almond. Huge cardboard box with whimsical print was filled with just 10 medium-sized brownies-a bit of a letdown given the size of the box and high price tag.
Mary Louise Butter's Brownies
Price: $44.00 for 12 individually wrapped brownies, plus 2 packages of brownie butts (crusty brownie edges)
This baker based in Austin, Texas, wins points for originality. Unusual flavorings (including rose oil, port, and stout) and playful names - such as Aztec God (with chipotle chiles) and Seriously Stout (with beer) - were more intriguing than the brownies themselves. However, the mint-flavored Mental Julep brownies did live up to billing. Retro art deco packaging complete with sheer red organza bag makes this an elegant gift.
Dancing Deer Baking Co.
Price: $34.50 for 4 bags each containing 4 brownies
Sturdy, reusable wooden box from this well-known Boston baked goods company is filled with four retail-style packages that look like something you might pick up at the grocery store. Pretty standard flavors and brownies were slightly dry and crumbly. Decent brownies at a decent price but hard to get excited about this assortment.
Price: $59.95 for 12 individually wrapped brownies, plus 2 dessert sauces
This Phoenix-based company describes itself as the "nation's largest mail-order gourmet brownie company." Faux suede box with leather trim and stylish purple satin bow make this an especially attractive gift option. "Original" brownie fared just so-so in tasting, but our panel was more excited by the decadentRaspberry Swirl brownies.
Price: $30.00 for 2 sleeves each containing 6 brownies
High-end brown and pink box with embossed logo looks like it might contain truffles. Instead, each box (one order contains two boxes) protects a single sleeve with six brownies. This small confectioner calls their basic brownies, Marquis Bars, and they were more like a cross between a flourless chocolate cake and a truffle. Too rich for most tasters who didn't think they were true brownies.
Price: $40.00 for 16 individually wrapped brownies
Cute name and logo, but the metallic cardboard box the brownies arrived in seemed rather cheap and flimsy. We ordered the brownies a la carte and had eight interesting varieties to choose from. We liked that each one was individually wrapped and had creative names (such as Red Witch made with dried cherries), but ultimately these brownies were just average.
Interested in making your own brownies? Check out the following recipes from Giada De Laurentiis, Nigella Lawson and Ellen Carroll that are sure to satisty your sweet tooth:
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- Cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring bourbon to a boil in a small saucepan; remove from heat. Add chocolate chips, stirring until smooth. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add vanilla and eggs; beat well. Add flour mixture and bourbon mixture to sugar mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Spread batter into a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.NUTRITIONAL INFORMATIONCalories 148 (30 percent from fat)Fat 5g (sat 2.9g, mono 1.5g, poly 0.2g)Protein 2.2gCarb 23.2gFiber 1gChol 31mgIron 1.5mgSodium 121mgCalc 20mg
If you don’t want to use bourbon, use hot milk in its place.
- 3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 13 ounces best-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups superfine sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 9 ounces white-chocolate buttons, preferably Montgomery Moore, or good white chocolate, chopped
- Approximately 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the sides and base of a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan with aluminum foil or baking parchment.Melt the butter and dark chocolate together in a large heavy-based pan over a low heat. In a bowl or large measuring cup, beat the eggs together with the superfine sugar and vanilla extract.Allow the chocolate mixture to cool a little, then add the egg and sugar mixture and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt. Then stir in the white-chocolate buttons or chopped white chocolate. Beat to combine, then scrape and pour the brownie mixture into the prepared pan.Bake for about 25 minutes. You can see when the brownies are ready because the top fries to a slightly paler brown speckle, while the middle remains dark, dense, and gooey. Even with such a big batch you do need to keep checking on it: the difference between gungey brownies and dry ones is only a few minutes. Remember, too, that they will continue to cook as they cool.To serve, cut into squares while still warm and pile up on a large plate, sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar pushed with a teaspoon through a small sieve, and dotting with birthday candles, as you go. Set alight and enjoy the festive scene.
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons espresso powder
- 1 19.8-ounce box brownie mix (such as Duncan Hines)
- 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x9-inch baking pan.Whisk together 1/3 cup of the water, the oil, eggs and 2 tablespoons of the espresso powder in a large bowl. Add the brownie mix and stir until well blended. Stir in the chocolate chips. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.When the brownies are cool, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons of espresso powder in the remaining 2 tablespoons of water in a medium bowl. Whisk in the vanilla. Add the confectioners' sugar and the butter and whisk until smooth. With the brownies still in the pan, pour the glaze over the brownies. Refrigerate until the glaze is set.
Cut into bite-size pieces, arrange the brownies on a platter, and serve.