Recipe Showdown: Brownies!

Orange rectangular banner that says "Vegan MoFo" and "Vegan Month of Food 2011."

This is the first-ever Recipe Showdown, where I’ll pit three recipes for one food item against one another! Up this week: brownies!

Welcome to the great brownie showdown of 2011! As I’ve mentioned before, I’m always on the hunt for the elusive perfect brownie recipe, so I decided to perform a scientifically sound and rigorous test process to find a recipe that is undeniably the best… by which I mean, I pigged out on brownies, shoved them down the throats of everyone around me, and arbitrarily decided if they passed muster. I did have some criteria, however. In my opinion, a perfect brownie must:

  • Have a thin, crackly top layer, like a gift wrapped in chocolaty tissue paper.
  • Have a deep, rich, chocolate flavor, not just a hint of chocolate or a weaksauce milk chocolate flavor.
  • Be fudgy. For the love of tofu, they must be fudgy. Cake-like brownies are the worst. If I want cake, I’ll make some damn cake! I want chewy, dense squares that taste like fudge’s crumbier half-sister.

With those criteria in mind, let’s meet our contenders! First up, we have…

Wolffie’s Moist and Chocolatey Brownies from La Dolce Vegan

I’ll admit that I was dubious about these brownies; I’d tried a Sarah Kramer brownie recipe in the past and found it horribly disappointing; my notes in the cookbook say simply “boring!” What I should’ve done was cross out the titular “brownies” and replace it with “blandies”. But I didn’t want to write off Sarah’s brownie skillz based on one boring recipe, so I gave a second recipe (from a different book!) a shot. The entire package of silken tofu in the ingredient list didn’t exactly assuage my fears, but I gave Sarah the benefit of the doubt and forged ahead.

Photo of a rectangular brownie with chocolate chips on top. It's sitting on a small plate; in the background is a glass of almond milk and more chocolate chips sprinkled around the plate.

In the right corner…

PROS:

  • Definitely moist.
  • Appropriately chocolaty. I cheated and used some Dutch-processed cocoa powder; I couldn’t resist!
  • Not exactly cake-like.

CONS:

  • Not exactly fudgy.
  • Strangely textured – not what I’d expect in a brownie.
  • Chocolate chips just sat on top, unmelted and sad.
  • No crackly skin.

OVERALL GRADE: B

Despite their non-fudgy texture,  these were not bad. My roommate is a cake-like brownie fan, and she thought they hit the mark in that regard. She was also surprised to discover that they contained tofu, so they definitely didn’t have any lingering soy flavor. At first, I found their texture (sort of spongy and dense) a bit off-putting, but it slowly grew on me, and by the time I finished the batch, I’d converted to a grudging fan. I’d consider making these again, but not when I’m craving brownies – just when I want something chocolaty and moist!

Up next, we have…

Rich, Fudgy Vegan Brownies from Food.com

An underdog contestant, this recipe comes from a user named Pollen over at Food.com. I found the recipe by Googling “best vegan brownies,” which led me to this recipe, which had a comment saying “these are pretty good, but the other vegan brownie recipe I have posted is way better!” So I followed the link to the Rich, Fudgy Vegan Brownie recipe and knew I had to try it. They had five stars and purportedly tasted “soooooo good” – what could possibly go wrong?!

Photo of what is allegedly a brownie on a plate but is actually quite obviously cake.

Something is amiss…

PROS:

  • Undeniably chocolaty.
  • Quite tasty.
  • Perfect cakelike crumb. Wait…

CONS:

  • Not brownies.
  • Actually cake.
  • Not fudgy.
  • No crackly skin.
  • Not @%#*$!^ brownies; what else can I say?!

OVERALL GRADE: F-

That picture says it all. This recipe makes a damn fine chocolate cake, but a pan of chocolate cake is NOT THE SAME as a pan of brownies. As soon as I finished mixing the ingredients and saw just how liquidy the batter was, I knew with a sinking feeling that no brownies were going to come out of my oven. It’s partially my fault – for possibly the first time in my life, I read only the first review on the Web site, and didn’t read any subsequent reviews. Had I done so, I would’ve seen a multitude of comments alerting me to the fact that this is a cake recipe, not a brownie recipe. But it’s not all my fault; the recipe poster marketed these as fudgy brownies, which is a bold-faced lie. On no planet (except perhaps Delusionarius Cakeloverus) could these possibly qualify as brownies; even the cake-like brownie-lovers among you can’t deny that. So, for the purposes of my recipe showdown, I just had to give the recipe a failing grade. That said, if you’re looking for an awesome cake recipe, I highly recommend this one – it came out tender and moist, with a perfect crumb. S and I devoured it whilst watching Gosford Park and had a perfectly lovely cake-eating experience.

Finally, I tried…

Joanna Vaught’s All-Time Very Best Vegan Brownie Recipe

That’s quite the title, eh? At this point in my recipe showdown, I was weary of disappointing brownies and wary of overhyped brownie recipes. But then I stumbled across Joanna’s recipe and read her description of her ideal brownie: “When I think of what makes my ideal brownie, two qualities are essential: 1) fudgy, not cakey and 2) that crispy-crunchy top layer. ” Sounds familiar, eh? With renewed enthusiasm, I set out to test Joanna’s bold claim.

A photo of three brownies stacked on a plate; they're obviously fudgy and have a crackly top layer!

Could it be?

PROS:

  • Perfectly fudgy right out of the oven
  • Rich chocolate flavor
  • Crackly top layer

CONS:

  • Slightly too-strong coconut flavor
  • Very crumbly after just one day
  • Difficult to remove from pan

OVERALL GRADE: A

Hallelujah! Finally, a brownie that met all my specifications. Joanna’s boastful title, as it turns out, is a well-deserved one. When I pulled these brownies from the oven, I knew that goodness awaited me beneath their crackly surface. Somehow I restrained myself from prematurely cutting into the pan, but when I did, those first bites were heavenly. I couldn’t resist sneaking piece after piece as I slice them up in preparation for their photo session; they were just so rich and satisfying!

They weren’t perfect, however. I’m generally not opposed to using coconut oil in recipes, but I thought that the coconut undertones were fairly noticeable here, and they detracted slightly from the chocolaty goodness. And they became hard and crumbly quite quickly; maybe I should have wrapped them tightly in foil, but I suspect they’re just meant to be devoured immediately (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Finally, they were quite difficult to remove from the pan; brownie bottom bits kept sticking no matter how delicately I tried to maneuver my spatula beneath them. But this is my fault; I blatantly ignored Joanna’s recommendation to cook them on a layer of aluminum foil for easy removal.

Overall, though, these were the clear winners of this recipe showdown, and their few cons were really minor. So cheers to you, Joanna, for creating such a marvelous recipe!

In other brownie news, the recipe that I tried out here is also pretty solid (probably an A-), so I’d recommend that one along with Joanna’s recipe. And they’re pretty, too!

Photo of three thin, fudgy-looking brownies stacked on a small white plate with decorative brown edges.

Brownie nomz.

Do you have a go-to brownie recipe? What’re your criteria for excellent brownies?

And don’t forget – today’s the last day to enter my giveaway! You have until 7:00 PM CST.

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22 thoughts on “Recipe Showdown: Brownies!

  1. My ideal brownies line up with yours, so I am delighted by this post! Joanna’s ones LOOK right… you can see the crackly top, which is so vital. Gotta try that one out.

    There was a user submitted (I think?) brownie recipe on the old PPK which I loved but I can’t find it now. Most other vegan brownies have left me disappointed!

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  2. hooray! i’m so excited that you like them!

    suggestions re: the coconut: use refined coconut oil, which has no coconut flavor, but make sure you get a quality brand which has no trans fats, like spectrum. or do the earth balance option. there is only a slight reduction in quality with earth balance, and since the coconut flavor is such a minus for you, you might prefer it!

    to keep them from being crumbly after the first day, i wrapped them tightly and then froze them, taking out one brownie at a time and microwaving it for a few seconds. but really, between me and my husband and my son and my son’s best friend and his parents… they don’t last longer than a day.

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  3. i really like the brownies from vive le vegan by dreena burton. i prefer the recipe doubled but in the original pan size. they are fudgy, not cakey, and the ingredient list is all super common pantry staples.

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  4. I’ll have to try these! I have consistent brownie fail most of the time, so who knows how they’ll turn out. Have you tried the Fudgy Wudgy Blueberry Brownies in Veganomicon? Those are my favorites. Fudgy and just a little bit fruity. Sometimes I make them with raspberries instead of the blueberries and it’s just as good.

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  5. I love this post! I gave up on my search for perfect vegan brownies a long time ago, so I totally appreciate that you conducted this scientific study. I’ve been wanting to try Joanna’s brownies since she posted the recipe, so I’m glad to hear they were a success!

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  6. Great reviews, and I had totally forgotten about crackly brownie-top skin; it’s been that long since I’ve had a decent brownie. Thank you for this selfless research. Now I just have to figure out how to make these gluten-free!

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  8. I’ve been on the hunt for the best vegan brownies for quite awhile now. Joanna’s look like they might be up my alley…I’ll have to try them and find out! Thanks for the link and enticing photos.

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  10. I will have to try those Joanna brownies, I have that book. Brownies weren’t really part of my past, it’s really only since I’ve been vegan that I make them because so many of my cookbooks are American. I do love them to be fudgy. I really like a recipe from one of Dreena Burton’s books (maybe Viva le Vegan?) where you grind up chocolate chips and put them into the mix. Makes them very yummy.

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