Monday, February 02, 2009

Winningest Brownies

I think I've fallen in love with Superbowls--I like the national anthem performance (even if it's fake), I like the hype surrounding the commercials (even if I'm let down), I like the halftime show (even if I don't recognize the songs), and I end up enjoying the game (even if I don't really understand the rules). Most of all, I love hosting Superbowl parties. I can still smell the Mr. Submarine sub sandwiches. (Who ate all the turkey sandwiches?! I'm mad I only got one little half of one; I even ate the onions!)

For this Superbowl Party, I baked two batches of brownies. Mordecai got me an Edge Pan for Christmas (I die for edges), which came with a recipe for brownies. I've always been a big fan of the Betty Crocker Fudge Brownies box mix and wondered who would win in a battle: brownies-from-scratch or brownies-from-box-mix? Our Superbowl Party became a platform for a taste test.


The Baker's Edge recipe calls for butter, bittersweet chocolate, eggs, sugar, flour, a pinch of salt, and vanilla extract. Pillsbury Milk Chocolate Brownie Mix calls for the mix, eggs, oil, and water.






Joe said he had a dream where the sub platter from Mr. Submarine was marketed as "Kaleidoscope of Taste." I just realized that Joe said "marketed" and not "marked." Anyway, dreams can still come true if you put your mind to it. Notice above that I placed the brownies on two different colored plates, red and white, and asked guests to vote in a Post-It Note covered Club Monaco bag on which brownies they thought were better, the ones from the red or white plate.

The results came in from a total of 14 out of 15 subjects: 9 for the from-scratch-brownies (white plate) and 5 for the box-mix-brownies (red plate). Red was apparently not a good color to sport or root for this past Sunday, I'm sorry Joe.

Here's my analysis of the results.

(1) There must have been multiple psychological factors involved. For one thing, it seemed many people felt that if they didn't pick the from-scratch brownies, they'd offend the baker. Some people asked me which were from scratch and which weren't, and if they guessed, I told them whether they were right or wrong. That was the first unscientific move on my part among others.

The other psychological factor in play is that one might feel the need to "strive" to taste and vote for the brownies from scratch because the ingredients are natural and it's made with the baker's love and is more pure and blah blah blah. The opposite is also possible: one might hold a prejudice towards box-mix-brownies because in the past, they've never failed to please.

For the record, I voted for the box-mix-brownies. It may be the case that I have box-mix prejudices that I was unable to set aside when it came to voting. I just thought it tasted better, no matter how I thought about what went into making the two batches. Pillsbury's version was sweeter, or less bittersweet, and got to the point--chewy, tasty, and made me want more. I was not eager to try another one of the brownies from scratch, edge-y though they were. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I made a devastating decision regarding my experiment, which leads me to my next point of analysis...

(2) How could I do a taste test between a brownie mix that calls for BITTERSWEET chocolate and make everyone compare it to MILK CHOCOLATE Pillsbury brownie mix? Let me explain how this happened, not that it justifies anything. I was initially going to buy Betty Crocker's Fudge Brownie mix. This mix has never let me down, and it is often on sale for about a dollar at Target or Strack and Van Til. But this past weekend, I saw it was not on sale, but all the Pillsbury mixes were cheaper. So I had Pillsbury's Fudge Brownie mix in my hand to place in the shopping cart. Then I came across a large display of the milk chocolate version, on sale, and thought "Ooh, milk chocolate, on sale!" because I prefer milk over dark chocolate, and replaced the fudge with the milk chocolate mix. Looking back, this is exactly why I don't really care about small savings like "Save 20 cents!" unless it's purely convenient. I don't know what came over me, but I think it was the milk chocolate prejudice that I did not set aside for the sake of a scientific experiement. Anyway, gotta redo the taste test with material consistency across the board. But is this really necessary? To my third point.

(3) This is a taste test of brownies. Like I said, the boxes don't fail. Betty Crocker has never failed me, and Pillsbury didn't fail last night. What is the point of going through the effort in gathering and mixing the "natural" materials when you can minimize the effort with a pre-made mix and get just as good, if not better brownies? Brownies from box mixes certainly meet the sufficient standards for good brownies, if not both sufficient and necessary conditions. Why bother fixing what isn't broken, right?

But then again, it's fun to make brownies, distribute them, and think about them. So here are some more experimental possibilities: milk chocolate box mix vs. milk chocolate scratch mix; bittersweet chocolate vs. fudge mix; Betty Crocker vs. Pillsbury; the guests not knowing who made the brownies, me or Mordecai or both; or to get really controversial and compare say brownies to marbled cheesecake brownies. Since all of this has something to do with delicate taste, true or truer judges of baked goods, experiencing and comparing species of things, and clearing oneself of prejudices, I may have to resort to one of the first two options above for my students as we talk about David Hume's "Of The Standard of Taste" this week. To be continued, possibly.


Joseph said...

i had only one turkey and two roast beef
and countless of the low-tier meat medley (are those the mr subs?)

am i the only one who hates edge?
doesnt matter
pastry or lady
i always aim for the middle

bakers edge=fossil trail

i like the mostly centered vertical orientation of your lettering

also apologies for being (overly) harsh on spms brownies
i may have been out of line

warning: irrational hating ahead
f the homemade
ill take years of scientific research and calculation
over fragile fallible ideals such as love and heart
any and every day of the week
too many variables invalidate the vote
people like n-gon over rectangle
people like white over red

on the real though why must we not want to see brownies do well
both are delicious just leave it at that
no need for winners and losers
brownie is not a spectator sport

Jenni said...

Is that a poem, Joe?

Happy Superbowl, Kei! I can't wait to see you guys.


Sean P said...

It was such a difficult decision the first time around, but now I'm rethinking it yet again. Your remark "made me want more" got me thinking about the element of novelty involved with the from-scratch brownies. I voted for them based upon chocolatiness, density, and edginess, though I did also have a box-brownie edge for accurate comparison (I love edge pieces). But now I'm thinking "Could I eat such brownies eternally?" I don't know that I could. I had a couple of them, but there's a way in which I could probably have eaten the box brownies until they were gone. It might have just been that the from-scratch brownies were a little different and that held my attention for the event. I just don't know any more.

I tend to use Betty Crocker dark chocolate, so I'd like a re-run with those involved. I'd also like to try the from-scratch recipe using margarine instead of butter.

I bet Hume liked brownies, ANY brownies.

thetiniestspark said...

fascinating!!! i wish i could have been INVOLVED somehow. ( eating)

kei said...

This is old as hell but in response to Jenni's comment