February 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: Eric's 2-box brownies, and how are you modifying baking mixes?

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 Ive also kinda been wanting to throw Erics side baking endeavors a little business, I asked him if he could whip up a batch for me.

To my surprise, it turns out Erics 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 Lets Talk Food in an only slightly less busy week.

In Erics own words:

Ive 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 Im largely happy with the box.

To enhance flavor and fudginess (I dont 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 dont 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 thats 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 Im a chocolate snob and prefer dark chocolate) and Triple Fudge (Double Chocolate is good as a second, too). Ive been eyeing the Ultimate Fudge as a second, but Id 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-laws gooey butter cake (you can find tons of these enhanced-mix recipes online) to my mother-in-laws chocolate cupcakes with pumpkin puree I wrote about in a previous Lets Talk Food.

This isnt to knock from-scratch cooking Kate has an awesome story in that vein headed your way Thursday. But Id love to hear about your ideas for enhancing boxed baking mixes, whether they be super creative or a happy accident.

Meanwhile, if I hadnt been planning to write about them, I might just have kept silent at church about Erics brownies and soaked up all the credit for the happy noises and people going back for seconds. Good thing I have Lets Talk Food to keep me honest.

How are you messing with mixes? Wed love to hear about them in the comments below. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but theyre 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!