Taste Test

Maya, Chips Delight, Magnolia, Celebrations by Sharon, or White King: our Local Brownie Mix Taste Test

February 11, 2019

Brownies exemplify minimum effort, maximum results like no other baked good—they’re often very easy to make and, when done right, result in decadent chocolatey treats that may be cakey, chewy, and/or fudgy. For the truly time-pressed, brownie mixes take it a notch further with pre-measured, pre-mixed parts that you can generally expect to produce reliable, delicious results. Of the five brands of brownie mix we’ve seen locally, which one should you go for?

NOTE: We narrowed down the selection to the most basic brownie mix from each brand (i.e., not premium or “deluxe”; no add-ons) and prepared each mix according to package instructions, carefully following the quantities and types of ingredients (by default we used medium eggs, Anchor unsalted butter, and canola oil where applicable, unless stated otherwise), baking pan size, oven temperature, mixing techniques (where none is specified, we opted to mix using a wooden spoon), and other prescribed conditions. For baking time, we start checking at the lower end and every minute until the higher end of the time frame specified on the box, removing the brownies as soon as they pass the so-called “toothpick test” (for us this means still having a few moist crumbs attached, rather than it being completely clean).

Celebrations by Sharon

PREPARATION: Blend ¼ cup oil, 1 medium egg, 1 tbsp water, ¼ cup chopped nuts (we skipped this), 1 pack brownie mix in a bowl. Mix until smooth, about 30 strokes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl. Pour batter into greased 9×5-inch rectangular pan (note that unlike the other brands, which come in 400-500g packs, this comes as a smaller, 230g portion). Bake at 375 F (190 C) for 15 minutes or until done. Cool then cut into 3×5-inch squares.

Coming as a smaller, 230g box, Celebrations by Sharon’s version works great for when you only need a small batch of brownies at a time. It calls for a higher baking temperature compared to the other brands—but doing so gave our brownies an overly-browned top (though miraculously it did not taste burnt). The brownies underneath fall toward the cakey end of the spectrum, possessing a tender crumb and clear lift, but nonetheless deliver the satisfying chewy, dense sensation distinct to brownies as you chew. Flavor-wise it brings to mind the nostalgic oil- and cocoa-based chocolate cakes that childhood birthday cakes are made of; it’s nothing particularly mind-blowing, but it does the job nonetheless.

Sweetness: 3.5/5 | Darkness: 3.5/5

Chips Delight

PREPARATION: Cream ½ cup of softened butter. Add 2 beaten eggs slowly while mixing. Mix in brownie mix until well-blended and pour batter into greased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350 F (175 C) for 25-30 minutes using bottom heat only.

Two points in the instructions initially had us skeptical: 1) the creaming of the butter (most other brownie recipes will either have you cream butter but with sugar as well for aeration, or, more commonly, employ melted butter for a fudgy texture), and 2) the specification for using only bottom heat in the baking (other recipes for brownies, or other baked goods for that matter, call for a more even distribution of heat)—but we followed them anyway. The resulting brownies turned out with a crusty bottom as expected; and though the top does not brown quite as much, it develops a dry, dusky quality that gives way to a dense, fudgy interior. Admittedly it ends with a slightly starchy feel, but this is barely noticeable—especially if you’re washing these down with cold milk (highly recommended). Surprisingly not too sweet, each bite delivers a buttery boost and the sort of chocolatey thrum we associate with Dutch-process (as opposed to natural) cocoa, being less on the acidic and more on the deep, rounded end of the spectrum; and well-supported by a distinctive milky finish that pleases our inner child.

Sweetness: 3/5 | Darkness: 3/5

Magnolia

PREPARATION: Combine brownie mix, ¼ cup water, ¼ cup + 1 tbsp oil, and 1 egg in a bowl. Using rubber spatula, mix for 1 minute or until batter becomes smooth. Spread in greased 8.5-inch square pan lined with wax paper. Bake at 175 C for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.

Magnolia’s stands out from the crowd with its distinctly shiny, crackly top that’s highly reminiscent of that of many American brands of brownie mix (e.g., Ghirardelli). It also falls under the dense sort, but feels more chewy than fudgy in consistency, with a peculiar (but not unpleasant) slightly waxy feel against the teeth as you chew. It exhibits a somewhat fruity, chocolate syrup-y flavor that isn’t supremely dark or complex but hits the spot nonetheless, ending with a slightly milky, malty tinge (which helps make up for the lack of buttery flavor) and a fake-vanilla roundness (think Oreos) that ties everything together. With its chewiness and simple but soothing, milky cocoa-y profile, the overall sensation brings to mind the chocolate-flavored candies of our childhood—in particular, Tootsie Rolls and Chubby Chocolate.

Sweetness: 3.5/5 | Darkness: 3/5

Maya

PREPARATION: Stir ½ cup softened butter or margarine (we used the former), 1 tbsp water, 2 eggs, and brownie mix until well blended. Spread into greased 9-inch square pan. Bake at 350 F (177 C) for 30-35 minutes. Cool completely and cut.

The instructions of “stirring” the butter, water, eggs, and brownie mix “until well blended” is vague at best; their inclusions in one single step suggests that they all be combined at once, but doing so makes it difficult to mix as the fat in the butter and the water tend to stay separate (the egg should work to emulsify this, that is, if it were incorporated gradually—which is why most other brownie recipes have you mix in the egg one at a time). Still, it eventually comes together into a thick (and fragrant) batter we could not resist licking off our spatulas. It took us closer to 33 minutes to get moist (but not wet) crumbs on our tester toothpicks, but this box mix yields brownies with a dusky-colored, somewhat mottled but crusty top, which also fall on the dense and fudgy side (just a touch fluffier than Chips Delight’s, but very close). Its natural cocoa-y bitterness and buttery backdrop best evokes the homemade (specifically, cocoa-based) sort most bakers would be familiar with—and despite the slight chemical note toward the end, you get a mildly salty finish that helps bring out the chocolate.

Sweetness: 3/5 | Darkness: 4/5

White King

PREPARATION: Combine brownie mix, ½ cup softened Selecta Butterfresh Margarine (we couldn’t find this brand, so we subbed in Magnolia Buttercup margarine), and 2 eggs in a medium bowl until well-blended. Spread batter evenly in greased 9-inch pan. Bake at 350 F (177 C) for 25-30 minutes. Cool and cut.

As with Maya, the instructions suffer a tad from vagueness as it has you combining the margarine, eggs, and brownie mix all in one go; we found that this is easier to do with a whisk. It specifically calls for margarine and not butter and, well, you can definitely taste it in the results. Though you still get a decent cocoa-y hit and just-right sweetness, the peculiar flavor of margarine pervades every bite and, much as we appreciate the few pesos saved going the margarine route over butter, we’re not fans of the result. Either way, it also lands you a good dense, chewy consistency that’s just a tad firmer than the others, but nonetheless proves to be a hit with the crowd.

Sweetness: 3/5 | Darkness: 3.5/5

The Verdict: Maya

Maya’s close-to-homemade taste and consistency lands it at the top spot; you could throw in a few good-quality chocolate chips to the mix and just about pass it off as your own. Coming close is Magnolia, which stands out with its cracklier top and simpler, more candy-like (but in its own way appealing) chocolate profile. Those looking for a more child (or inner child)-pleasing mix will do well to check out Chips Delight’s milkier, maltier mix.

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes

Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.

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