Brownies (…that beat the Ghirardelli box)

by Feb 17, 2016


Ask my kids about their favorite brownie and they’ll say it comes from a box.  (The fact that my children even know about boxed brownie mixes makes me cringe, and I’m blaming my mom.  To their credit, the box must be Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix.)


Because I am A Baker, every now and then I’ll bake a batch of brownies and hope to finally hear that mine beat the box.  But usually I end up pummeling my kids with questions.  All I get is,  “Yours are more like candy.”  (…and I thought kids liked candy…?)


Lots of high quality bittersweet chocolate goes into my usual brownies – what is a brownie if not chocolate in ooey gooey baked form?  How can my kids not appreciate this?  Am I out of touch with classic brownies?  I bought a box of Ghirardelli and let my daughter bake them.  We let them cool and then tasted.  Not too cakey, but not too fudgy either.  Chocolatey but not too much.  A bit too sweet for me, but overall, pretty good.  This set me off on Brownie Research.


Brownie ingredients are fairly standard, but amount of sugar and type of chocolate stand out as key variables.  Baking temperature and time are two other factors that make for “cakey” or “fudgy” and everything in between.  I got serious and taped a two-page wide grid in my notebook, ingredients down the left and recipe sources across the columns:  Giada’s, Alice Medrich’s, my riff on Alice Medrich’s, “Hepburn Brownies”, Robert Steinberg’s, Rocky Road brownies from Gourmet magazine, and “Fudgy Brownies”, a magazine recipe stripped from its source.  So mediocre was my last test back in Fall, that I had abandoned brownies, and their testing.  But over the weekend, I found yet another recipe I had ripped out of Cooks Illustrated,  “Developing a Brownie to Please Everyone:  Classic Brownies.”  “Too Cakey, Too Fudgy, Just Right,” was the photo caption and it captured my attention.  I added another column to my grid and melted the chocolate.


Bingo!  This was the winner.  The homemade brownie that beats the box in my house.  Hallelujah!  Adapted slightly and thank you, Cooks Illustrated.


Amy’s Kitchen Coach Tips:

  • Pay close attention to near the end of the baking time – even a minute extra in the oven will make these lean to “cakey”.  The toothpick test is your best bet for accurate baking time in your oven.
  • I use Tcho 99% Unsweetened “critters” (quite cute!  made from antique molds), but any high-quality unsweetened chocolate should be fine.  As with all ingredients, give it a taste.  Yes, even unsweetened chocolate can be creamy and nicely flavored.  If it’s chalky and bitter, your brownies are not going to be the best they can be.


Brownies (…that beat the Ghirardelli box)

Yield: one 8x12 (or 9x13) pan of brownies (24, 2x2-inch servings)


  • 12 Tablespoons unsalted butter (6 oz.)
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted in oven until fragrant (5 - 8 minutes), cooled then chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line 8x12 (or 9x13) baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a slight overhang. Spray foil-lined pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Place butter and chocolate in a medium-sized metal bowl and float in a skillet of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat, whisk in sugar, vanilla, and set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, to the chocolate-sugar mixture, mixing thoroughly with wooden spoon after each egg until thoroughly combined. Add the flour mixture and mix until batter is completely smooth. Spread into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into center of brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Lift by foil edges to remove brownie rectangle from the pan, transfer to cutting surface, and cut into serving size brownies.


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