Brownies: Boxed vs. Scratch

The issue that started this

The latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated featured a three-page spread on the author’s love of chewy brownies. She admitted boxed mix brownies are chewy and delicious and she didn’t see the point in making them from scratch. But, this being Cook’s Illustrated, getting it just right with your own ingredients was a challenge she couldn’t overlook.

Cook's Illustrated Recipe

With a weekend dance card full, I knew a brownie challenge was in order. I bought 2 boxed mixes – Ghirardelli is my favorite and made them exactly as the box says. (I am not always one to follow directions, but this time I put on my best scientist hat and tried to minimize my own touches.) Then I made two batches of the recipe listed – “Cracking the Code to Chewy Brownies.”

In a nudge to get more people to appreciate this magazine, I am intentionally NOT listing the recipe. If you love to cook and you aren’t reading CI, you should be. And if you want desperately to make these brownies, find this one issue. March/April 2010. Again, it will be worth your couple of dollars.

Boxed vs. scratch?


The results?

Matty, freshly home from Africa, helped me wrap up each set. Red were out of the box. Pink were homemade. I put them in gift bags with a few other goodies and over the weekend began receiving returned surveys. Which did they like more? Why? I had about 20 people play and 10 or so provided feedback more than the crumbly, “Brownies?! YUM!”

(Always appreciated, but not exactly helpful for this project.)

Sneak peek...

Wrapped and ready

A kitchen in the works...

Matty helps

Red vs. Pink

Brownies, wrapped

For the most part, it was a 50/50 split in who liked homemade vs. boxed. There was one significant problem in my experiment — I accidentally added too much salt to the homemade version. Some folks liked this, others thought it was gross.

I like the fact the $2 box mix is cost effective and takes 45 minutes total. I also like the cakey, beautiful shine and robust flavor to the homemade brownies, although they cost $6 a pan or so. For special occasions, I’ll stick with homemade. For the bulk of baking brownies, I remain a fan of the exceptional Ghirardelli box mix.

Your thoughts?


24 Replies to “Brownies: Boxed vs. Scratch”

  1. What a fun challenge! I always keep Baker’s chocolate squares in my pantry & their “one bowl” recipe is one of my go-to desserts (along with my Mom’s Swedish Brownie recipe). They always turn out very moist – normally I add to them with cinnamon & some coffee leftover from that day’s french press.

  2. I’ll have to try this. Although, my oven struggles with getting brownies right – they seem to be crunchy on the outside edge and undercooked in the middle. I have to admit, I’m a fan of box-mix cakes, because of the lighter texture. But I think the experimenting is the best part. For both baker and taster.

  3. My all-time favorite brownies are the homemade ones from the Alton Brown recipe. But, boxes mixes are pretty darn good and a lot easier. I found substituting apple sauce for the oil and 2 egg whites for each egg called for resulted in a pretty good low-fat brownie from a mix. Yum!

  4. LOL!!!! Kelli, you are awesome. I read this post and was giggling through the whole thing. I LOVE Ghiradelli brownie mix–it is the best (although, surprisingly, I found that the plain old jane old Pillsbury fudgy box mix almost measures up for sometimes half the price!). I so admire you–the things that others just ponder doing, you do. Love the “taste test” idea. So awesome. Oh, and the whole ‘not following directions’ completely thing…LOL–guilty here too!!!! (giggle). I usually do follow directions very carefully though when I’m feeding my office or a party, etc., because I’m afraid of screwing it up–I have much to learn about being a domestic diva. Anyway, sweet wonderful girl–happy belated Valentine’s, and I’ll have to check out the article…brownies….YUMMAYUMAYUMAYUMMAYUM! Hugs, Kat

  5. What fun! I have to admit that I am probably a boxed brownie girl for the two reasons you mentioned – time and budget. If I have a little extra time and the occasion is really special I might give the from scratch version a whirl just for fun. And I totally agree with your magazine recommendation – I get really excited when my Pops gets a new issue.

  6. I make my brownies from a mix, but I only use a specific brand, and then what I do is this: I use two boxes for one batch of brownies. This makes them really chewy and everyone loves my brownies.

  7. Brownies are what I make when I don’t have time for something else. Everybody raves about my brownies and I buy the store brand box. I do make them in mini muffin tins so they all are edge pieces. I think that is what people like. Maybe brownies are the comfort food of desserts? So for me, it’s a no brainer- not gonna reinvent the wheel.

  8. I’ve always been a boxed mix fan when it comes to brownies. Like someone else mentioned, I use two boxes in a 9×13 pan for thick and chewy brownies. But when I moved to Austria I had to find a recipe because they don’t have boxed mixes here. The best recipe I’ve found is Brooke’s Best Bombshell Brownies on ( I’m really curious about the ingredients in CI. $6 a pan is pretty costly.

  9. I also love the Ghiradelli brownie mix, I can get a big box at Costco, add chopped walnuts and everyone loves them. Easy! Brownies are pretty much the only thing I ever bake from a mix. Every time I try brownies from scratch they are sub par…too soggy in the middle, burnt on the edges, a lot of work and $ for pure disappointment. I love the idea of homemade, but have never taken the time to get the perfect brownie recipe down. I have my eyes on this one though:

  10. Boxed brownie mixes were my go-to until I found that recipe in Shape a few years back that uses Greek yogurt in place of butter and is, how shall I say it, EROTICALLY DELICIOUS.

    I was tempted to try this recipe in my own issue of CI, but went for the boring “Pan Seared Chicken Breasts”. What’s wrong with me?

    They look lovely – I like the idea of a brownie-off. Fun 🙂

  11. When cooking brownies I always use boxed mix, but we don’t have the same brands as you have in the states, so I guess my reply is useless…..but I’m glad your roomate is back!

  12. Your brownie project is fun, delicious, and offers a challenge. Great job! By the way, I do indeed love that magazine; each issue offers new skills to learn and some outstanding recipes.

  13. I love box brownies for their cake-yness, but I can’t have them anymore because of my corn allergy. I’ll have to add the CI version to add to my list of recipes to try.

  14. What a fun idea, Kel (and a yummy Valentine’s treat!). (My opinion doesn’t count here, because with the good selection of boxed cakes and brownies, I don’t find the need to make them from scratch. hehee)

  15. I always go with boxed. Always. I think my brain has permanently marked brownies from the mix in the “why mess with a good thing?” category. (That having been said, I usually doctor up my brownies. So much for not messing with ’em!)

  16. I am TERRIBLE at making brownies from scratch. So much so that my little girls, 10 and 5, have asked me not to make them! So I stick with the box mixes and they’re delicious. My favorite are Ghirardelli with walnuts brownie mix (made some heart shaped ones this weekend) and the Betty Crocker Hershey’s Peanut Butter supreme brownie mix. Delish! I use 3 eggs instead of 2 to make them more fluffy. I don’t like them dense and fudgey.

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