The Brownie Tasteoff Finals: a Brownie Champion is Crowned

A few months ago, I embarked on a little project to try to identify the best brownie recipe.  The result was the Brownie Tasteoff, an organized way to have people taste brownies head-to-head and cast votes for their favorites.  I divided brownies into different categories for four preliminary rounds: Classic, SuperFudgy, Fruity, and Salty.  The winner of each preliminary round advanced to the final round to compete for the overall Tasteoff title.  The lineup for the final round is pictured below.

As with each of the preliminary rounds, I provided small slices of each brownie to tasters and asked them to try all five.  Tasters filled out ballots ranking the five brownies in order from 1-5 (with one being best) and also scored them on a scale of 1-10 (with ten being best).

Brownie A was the winner of the Classic round, The Baked Brownie.  This brownie has nothing added to it (no nuts, no chocolate chips), and many praised its exemplary "classic" brownie taste.  However, several tasters commented that in comparison to the other contenders in this round, the brownie seemed "plain" or "underwhelming."  Several tasters mentioned how hard it was to decide between Brownie A and Brownie B.

Brownie B was the winner of the SuperFudgy round, the Recchiuti Fudgy Brownie.  This is an ultra fudgy brownie with chocolate chunks, and many complimented its fudgy texture and deep chocolate flavor.  Several tasters specifically mentioned that the chocolate chunks helped this brownie pull ahead of Brownie A.  Others felt that the chocolate chunks made it too rich or that the chunky texture detracted from the brownie.

Brownie C was one of the co-winners of the Fruity round, the Chocolate Fudge Brownie with Toffee and Dried Cherries.  Studded with Heath Bar bits, dried cherries, and chocolate chunks, this brownie's dark color comes from the 50-50 mixture of black cocoa and dutch cocoa that I used (this brownie batter calls for cocoa powder only and no chocolate; the other brownies in this round are either made with chocolate alone, or mostly chocolate and only a small quantity of cocoa powder).  A few tasters commented that this brownie was a little dry, and others had various complaints about the ratio of mix-ins (e.g. too much toffee, not enough toffee, etc.), or opined there were too many competing flavors in this brownie.  Several tasters expressed a dislike for fruit and chocolate together in general. 

Brownie D was the other co-winner of the Fruity round, the Mint Brownie.  This brownie has mint in the brownie itself, as well as in the white layer between the brownie and chocolate topping.  Several tasters commented that this brownie was too sweet, to the point where it was more like a candy bar than a brownie.  Mostly, tasters seemed to rank this brownie based on their personal preference for the combination of mint and chocolate, with some remarking that it was one of their favorite flavor pairings, and others expressing general dislike for the chocolate and mint together.

Brownie E was the winner of the Salty round, the Sweet and Salty Brownie.  Like Brownie A, this brownie comes from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the guys behind Baked Bakery in Brooklyn.  It has a layer of salted caramel in the middle and is sprinkled with coarse sugar and fleur de sel.  A few tasters commented that this brownie was too salty, or that the caramel overshadowed the chocolate.  However, most loved its salty-sweet-caramel-y flavor and deeply fudgy texture. 

And the overall Brownie Tasteoff Champion is... Brownie E, the Sweet and Salty Brownie.  This brownie had an average rank of 2.16 (a lower rank is better) and an average score of 8.63 out of 10 (a higher score is better); 27 out of 50 tasters picked it as their favorite in the final round.  Brownies A (The Baked Brownie) and B (the Recchiuti Fudgy Brownie) came in what I'm calling a tie for second place.  Their average ranks were only two-hundredths of a point apart (2.88 and 2.86, respectively), and their average scores were separated by only twelve-hundredths of a point (8.20 and 8.32, respectively).  Out of the 50 tasters, 24 preferred A over B, 25 preferred B over A, and one ranked them as tied.  It's close enough that I feel the two brownies should share second place.  Brownie D, the Mint Brownie, came in fourth with an average rank of 3.30 and an average score of 7.94.  And coming in last was Brownie C, the Chocolate Fudge Brownie with Toffee and Dried Cherries, with an average rank of 3.78 and an average score of 7.19 out of 10.

I'm very glad that I went through the exercise of holding this Tasteoff.  Not only was it pretty entertaining, but it's been a real learning experience.  First, I was surprised to discover how difficult it is to rank foods, even when you taste them side-by-side.  Even though brownies are hypothetically all pretty similar, many of the flavor combinations in the Tasteoff were quite different, and at times, I felt like I was trying to compare apples and oranges.  I often had great difficulty assigning brownie ranks and scores.  I have a new-found appreciation for how difficult it must be to serve as a judge in a food competition.

Second, I was genuinely surprised at how subjective tasters' preferences were.  I often received narrative comments from different people that were completely contradictory, and everyone was equally adamant in their convictions.  My husband Tom and I disagreed in our rankings for every round.  I mentioned before that the idea for the Tasteoff was born after a colleague mentioned that his teenage daughter was looking for the best brownie recipe.  Well, both father and daughter tasted every round, and they violently disagree as to which brownie deserved to win.  My colleague backed the Sweet and Salty Brownie, and he believes that the final voting results delivered "brownie justice."  His daughter fiercely insists that the Recchiuti Fudgy Brownie is the paragon of brownie-ness (incidentally, her father ranked the Recchiuti Brownie dead last in the SuperFudgy round, so if he had his way, it wouldn't have even made it to the finals) and refuses to accept that it didn't win the overall title. 

On a related point, the Tasteoff also made me seriously question how representative my own tastes are and why anyone should give credence to my opinion as to whether something tastes good or not.  My own votes failed to correctly pick the winner of any of the preliminary Tasteoff rounds.  However, I can say that from the instant I conceived of the idea for the Tasteoff, I had the expectation that the Sweet and Salty Brownie would win the ultimate title.  I have lost count of how many times I have heard people have tell me that it is the best brownie/dessert/thing they have ever eaten in their entire lives.  I'm thrilled to be able give the Sweet and Salty Brownie the Brownie Tasteoff crown.
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Anonymous said…
Great job on this! SO interesting to follow the different rounds!! I haven't tried the overall winner, but I plan to! I love your salted fudge brownie (my favorite over any brownie I've ever had) snd I love caramel so I think this one will be great also!
Venus de Hilo said…
Chiming in to say thanks for all the vicarious thrills. It's been a virtual treat to read up on the rounds and results.

BTW: I do not like salt with my sweets, love dried cherries and chocolate, and am not a fan of mint at all... except when it's paired with chocolate. Impossible to say without doing some baking myself, but most likely I'd like the 4th and 5th place finishers best!
Louise said…
I totally agree with the results. With the exception of Andrew's Brownies, I've eaten all of the competition, some many times.

Great job on the trials and tasteoff final, plus reporting it for the rest of us. Thank you.