Brownie Tasteoff, Round 1: Classic Brownies

A few months ago, a colleague of mine at work mentioned that his teenage daughter is looking for the best brownie recipe.  I have a lot of great brownie recipes, but it's difficult to say which one is the "best," since it's hard to rank different foods if you don't taste them side by side.  I thought that trying to identify the best brownie would be a great summer project, and the idea for the brownie tasteoff was born.

I tossed around a lot of options for how to organize the tasteoff.  How many brownies should compete?  How many brownies should people taste at a time?  What scoring system should I use?  Should it be single elimination?  I also had to take into account practical considerations -- I didn't want the tasteoff to drag on for months on end, and I wanted to avoid both brownie-tasting and brownie-baking exhaustion.  In the end, I limited the tasteoff to 16 different brownie recipes.  I decided to have four preliminary rounds, each of which will have four brownies to be tasted head-to-head.  The winner of of each preliminary round will advance to the final.  Having one tasteoff round every other week means I can give everyone (including myself) a break from brownies during off weeks, but I should be able to complete the tasteoff in only nine weeks.

I decided to group like brownies into categories so that they would be easier for tasters to compare.  The first round of the tasteoff was "Classic Brownies," comprised of moderately fudgy brownies with only basic mix-ins (nothing more elaborate than chocolate or nuts).  The entire lineup is pictured above.  I cut the brownies into taste-size slices, and asked my pool of tasters to try all four and fill out a brownie ballot.  The ballot asked for a ranking of the brownies from 1 to 4, as well as a numerical score for each brownie between 1 and 10.  I also asked for comments explaining the rankings and scores. 

Brownie A was Andrew's Brownie from  I have been making this as my standard classic brownie for years, and it makes a great brownie sundae. I usually make this brownie without nuts, but for purposes of the tasteoff, I decided that I should make each brownie recipe exactly as written, so I included the walnuts.  Tasters who favored this brownie were few and far between.  It was commonly described as "basic," "light," or generally lacking chocolate flavor and intensity ("unremarkable," "pretty good, but I wanted more").  Others complained about the walnuts or commented that it was the most cakey of the four choices.  I think the light color also made it seem less appealing.  This is the only of the four "classic" brownies that doesn't contain any cocoa powder, and the double-dutch dark cocoa I use from King Arthur Flour gave the other brownies a rich dark color.

Brownie B was the King Arthur Flour Fudge Brownie.  The folks at King Arthur claim that this is "the absolute fudgiest, tastiest, best brownie[] in the world."  Many tasters commented favorably on the chocolate chips in this brownie ("you had me at chocolate chips!," "fudge and chocolate chips make any dessert the best") and several said it was the richest and most chocolately overall.  Others complained that it was a little on the sweet side and was actually too rich or too fudgy. 

Brownie C was Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownie with Browned Butter and Walnuts.  This recipe was featured on the cover of the February 2011 issue of Bon Appetit with the sensational tagline, "BEST-EVER BROWNIES... WARNING: YOU WILL EAT THE ENTIRE TRAY."  This brownie won over several tasters who generally dislike nuts in their brownies ("I thought this was delicious and I don’t normally like nuts in a brownie," " I am generally not a fan of nuts in my brownies, but this one has something special to it -- I assume the browned butter -- that made it sooo good").  Tasters liked this brownie's smooth texture, its level of sweetness, and its depth of flavor. 

Brownie D is "the Baked Brownie" from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.  Oprah has declared this brownie to be one of her favorite things.  Many tasters specifically liked the fact that the brownie had no chips or nuts (although others opined it would be better with the addition of chocolate chips); many praised it as being the quintessential "classic" brownie.  Several commented that it had a nice touch of salt, and many liked its fudgy, creamy texture.  In addition, some tasters who preferred this brownie commented that the flavor was something special ("had some kind of extra oomph"). 

After all of the ballots (over 50!) were counted, the clear winner was... Brownie D, the Baked Brownie.  More than half of the tasters ranked the Baked Brownie as their favorite among the four, and it received an average score of 8.01 out of 10.  The Cocoa Brownie with Browned Butter and Walnuts came in second (average score 7.80), followed by the King Arthur Fudge Brownie (average score 7.25), with Andrew's Brownies coming in last (average score 6.52).

I am really enjoying the tasteoff so far.  I think that the diversity of opinions and strength of convictions among tasters is truly remarkable.  And I can't wait to see which brownies are winners in upcoming weeks!

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Louise said…
Fun. I've never run across Andrew's Brownies, but have a vivid taste memory of the other three. Will your Tasteoff include variations like Goat Cheese Brownies and Legal Vice Brownies (Bacon Bourbon Brownies)?
Anonymous said…
Fabulous idea...I'm following this for sure!