Eric's brownies are two box mixes, one big hit. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Pulling triple duty at work with a husband and a toddler fighting colds at home, I was way too busy to bake last week for a church get-together this weekend. Fortunately, I remembered a coworker recently paid my copy-editor friend Eric — he of the microwave stir-fry and cookie-decorating tips — to make these certain brownies she loves. Since I’ve also kinda been wanting to throw Eric’s side baking endeavors a little business, I asked him if he could whip up a batch for me.
To my surprise, it turns out Eric’s semi-famous brownies are semi-homemade — which can be my favorite way to make things, allowing for some of the joy of cooking without all the work.
But last week, even semi-homemade was semi-impossible, so I turned to Eric. Not only did I end up with delectable-looking brownies — which would prove to be a hit at church — but his story as well, and an easy topic for keeping a hand in Let’s Talk Food in an only slightly less busy week.
In Eric’s own words:
I’ve tried making several from-scratch brownies over the years from the likes of gourmet chocolatiers Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger or otherwise highly recommended, and I hate to admit I still prefer the box mixes. And the reaction these get significantly lessens my guilt. Even when I try brownies at bakeries, I often like box better. I remember one presumably from-scratch brownie in New York that was amazing, and there have been a couple others over the years, but I’m largely happy with the box.
To enhance flavor and fudginess (I don’t like my brownies too cake-like), I used to use maple syrup as a secret ingredient to replace some of the water in the directions. (I don’t remember what made me think of trying that beyond a “Hmm, I wonder …” thought that worked.) But then Ghirardelli started doing box mixes, and my brownie world was changed forever.
Since each box only does and 8- by 8-inch pan, and since that’s never enough, I have to get two boxes to do a 9- by 13-inch pan. On a whim, I decided to mix boxes. I doubt you could go wrong mixing any two, but I use Dark Chocolate (because I’m a chocolate snob and prefer dark chocolate) and Triple Fudge (Double Chocolate is good as a second, too). I’ve been eyeing the Ultimate Fudge as a second, but I’d have to leave the frosting off because brownies are brownies, not cake.
I just follow the combined package directions for mixing and bake in a 9- by 13-inch metal pan for 45 minutes at 325. That leaves the center ones still nice and gooey but fairly solid. Brownies are always best when slightly underbaked.
Go, Eric! I love ideas for using a brownie or cake mix as a base and messing with it; in fact, some of my favorite goodies are semi-homemade, from my silly “man-catching” cupcakes (where pudding, coffee liquor and other ingredients enhance a chocolate cake mix), to my sister-in-law’s gooey butter cake (you can find tons of these enhanced-mix recipes online) to my mother-in-law’s chocolate cupcakes with pumpkin puree I wrote about in a previous Let’s Talk Food.
This isn’t to knock from-scratch cooking — Kate has an awesome story in that vein headed your way Thursday. But I’d love to hear about your ideas for enhancing boxed baking mixes, whether they be super creative or a happy accident.
Meanwhile, if I hadn’t been planning to write about them, I might just have kept silent at church about Eric’s brownies and soaked up all the credit for the happy noises and people going back for seconds. Good thing I have Let’s Talk Food to keep me honest.
How are you messing with mixes? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!