Recipe Review

We Tested 4 Famous Brownie Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

updated Aug 9, 2020
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Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani

Sometimes the easiest recipes are the hardest to get right, and homemade brownies are the perfect example. More often than not, homemade brownies turn out dry and cakey and are no better than ones made from a boxed mix.

In an effort to never make a disappointing batch of brownies again, I went on a mission to find the perfect recipe. To me, that meant brownies that are simple to make and yet so intensely chocolatey that they can satisfy any chocolate craving. They had to be fudgy, thick, and decadent, and with so many quality brownie mixes on the market, they had to taste better than anything from a box. I decided to test the four most-searched-for recipes online — from Alton Brown, Martha Stewart, the Pioneer Woman, and Ina Garten — in hopes of finding the ultimate homemade brownie recipe.

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani

I’ve been an obsessive baker my whole life. I take recipe testing very seriously and I refuse to settle for mediocrity. I spent a weekend baking these recipes back-to-back, putting them up against each other in the ultimate brownie showdown. I judged them on taste, texture, appearance, and difficulty. From super-chewy brownies to over-the-top walnut-studded brownies to everything in between, here’s my honest review of each one.

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani

Meet Our Four Brownie Contenders

1. The Homemade Brownies That Weren’t Actually Worth the Effort: The Pioneer Woman’s Dark Chocolate Brownies

This recipe claims to be the perfect brownie for dark chocolate lovers. It uses both unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder to give it a double hit of chocolate flavor, and is made entirely in one pot so cleanup is a breeze. The recipe itself is pretty simple and uses standard ingredients, and Ree Drummond is a pro at creating easy recipes that taste surprisingly complex, so I had high hopes for them. But were they actually any better than boxed brownies?

To be honest, no. There was nothing special about these brownies at all. They tasted like the cheapest boxed brownie mix you could find and had no qualities that would make you think they were homemade. The recipe uses two cups of granulated sugar that completely overpowers any richness the double dose of chocolate added — and the powdered sugar on top only adds to the sweetness overload (and also made them a mess to eat). The recipe also didn’t call for any salt, so the flavor was dull and unbalanced. The only memorable thing these had going for them was their texture. Because this recipe doesn’t use any leavening agent (like baking powder or baking soda), they were dense and more fudge-like compared to the other recipes, which I enjoyed. But other than that, these brownies were remarkably forgettable. If you’re aiming for average, pick up a boxed brownie mix and save yourself some time.

  • Difficulty to Make: 4/10
  • Taste/Texture: 4/10
  • Appearance: 5/10
  • Overall Rating: 4.5/10

2. The Over-the-Top Brownies: Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies

Out of all the brownie recipes I tested, this one was the most elaborate. It uses a whole pound of butter, more than two pounds of chocolate, and three cups of chopped walnuts in the batter. They’re thick, full of texture, and more like a sheet cake than a standard brownie. They also use a special technique called rapping — a fancy word for tapping the brownies against the counter halfway through baking, which forces the air out of the batter and causes them to deflate and become denser and more fudge-like. In a classic Ina move, the brownies also call for a special ingredient to intensify the flavor of the chocolate: instant coffee. At first glance the recipe seemed a bit excessive, given all the mix-ins and the sheer volume of ingredients; after baking the brownies, my gut feeling proved true.

The recipe makes a lot of batter, and even in a large baking pan they came out very thick. The brownies are also aggressively rich, and after just a few bites I found myself reaching for a cold glass of milk to wash them down. They’re like eating a slab of fudge loaded with nuts, so definitely not bad, just not what I want for my brownies. If you’re searching for a classic go-to brownie recipe, this isn’t it — but if you want something that’s over-the-top and perfect for a special occasion, this recipe could come in handy.

  • Difficulty to Make: 7/10
  • Taste/Texture: 6/10
  • Appearance: 7/10
  • Overall Rating: 7/10

3. The Classic Brownie Recipe You Should Keep in Your Back Pocket: Martha Stewart’s Chewy Brownies

This is a simple brownie recipe with a few clever tricks that elevate a classic. It calls for a splash of oil to keep them chewy, and uses brown sugar to give them a rich caramel-like flavor. The recipe also has you vigorously whisk the batter until glossy to give them a shiny, crackly top similar to a macaron shell — a quality I associate with good brownies. These were just tiny tweaks to an otherwise standard brownie recipe, but were they enough to elevate them beyond boxed mix status?

Yes! They were definitely better than boxed brownies! These were an upgraded version of the classic, and that’s exactly what I was searching for. There were no unexpected flavors or textures, and no complicated techniques required to make them. The flavor was intensely chocolatey without being bitter or too rich. If you’re looking for a classic brownie recipe that isn’t too difficult to make, this is a great one to keep in your back pocket. It’s safe, crowd-pleasing, and fairly simple to whip up with ingredients you probably already have on hand. It’s not a showstopper, but it has potential to be. Think of it as your blank brownie canvas: feel free to add nuts or chopped toffee, or to swirl in some peanut butter.

  • Difficulty to Make: 5/10
  • Taste/Texture: 6/10
  • Appearance: 8/10
  • Overall Rating: 8/10

4. The Clear Winner: Alton Brown’s Cocoa Brownies

This brownie recipe was the most unassuming of all. It calls for only 10 ingredients and relies entirely on cocoa powder to give them their flavor — no actual chocolate required. The only real effort this recipe requires is schlepping out a stand mixer to whip the eggs until they’re ribbony, but other than that it’s super simple and can be made in about 15 minutes and all in one bowl. There’s no secret ingredient, no unexpected technique, and no messing with a double boiler to melt butter and chocolate. Not only were these brownies the easiest to make, but they were also the most delicious.

The texture was dense, fudgy, and rich. I was worried that relying solely on cocoa powder to give them their flavor would leave me wanting more, but this wasn’t the case. They had a strong chocolate flavor that was indulgent and perfectly sweet without being sickly. The edges were crispy but the center stayed moist and fudge-like. They cut into clean squares and stayed moist several days after baking. There was nothing fancy about these brownies at all, but they were absolutely wonderful — perfectly simple and just what I was looking for. If you’re searching for a classic brownie recipe that you can pull off with ingredients you probably have on hand, this is for you. It’s quick, decadent, and proof that simple is best. A perfect, fuss-free brownie recipe.

  • Difficulty to Make: 3/10
  • Taste/Texture: 9/10
  • Appearance: 7/10
  • Overall Rating: 9/10
Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani

Your turn! What’s your go-to brownie recipe? Any special techniques you swear by?