Looking for the perfect glossy-topped, perfectly fudgy or chewy brownie? We tested 13 popular recipes in the same day and tasted them side by side to find the best!
Before this tasting, my all-time favorite brownie was from a box, the remix of my childhood. Since getting into baking, I’ve made more than a few from-scratch recipes that flopped in the face of boxed mix greatness. But in this bake off, we experimented with a bakers’ dozen of the professed “best” brownie recipes on the internet to see if we could find one that would measure up to my beloved thick, gooey, chocolate-laced Ghiradelli brownies.
- All brownies were baked the day of (Supernatural was the only one baked the day before as NYT notes that the flavor is actually better)
- All brownies were baked in a metal pan with a foil sling, except Tartine, which specifically called for a glass pan with a parchment paper sling.
- I omitted any optional add-ins, like nuts.
- Approximately 42 friends tasted and ranked the brownies to get the below scores.
- Each taster ranked each brownie on a scale from 1-10 for flavor, 1-10 for texture, and then ranked whether it fell more into Camp Chewy, Fudgy or Cakey. They also answered the question “would you want to eat this again?”
- Kroger butter
- Gold Medal flour
- Diamond kosher salt
- Kroger sugar
- Ghiradelli baking chocolate
- Ghiradelli natural cocoa powder
- Cacao Barry extra brute Dutch-process cocoa powder
There is a lot of discussion on the internet about baking chocolate. A few different articles underscored the greatness of Ghiradelli’s baking chocolate. Because it’s also well-priced, I standardized chocolate with Ghiradelli.
How I selected the recipes
After I put out a call on instagram for your favorite brownie recipes, I had dozens of recipes on my list to try. It was tough to cull the recipes down to 13, but ultimately here’s the recipes broke down by permutation of fat + chocolate:
- Butter + chocolate (5): Supernatural, Smitten Kitchen, Ina Garten, Tartine, The Kitchn
- Butter + cocoa powder (3): All Recipes, Alice Medrich, King Arthur Flour
- Butter + chocolate + cocoa powder (3): Sally’s Baking Addiction, BraveTart, Baked
- Butter + oil + chocolate + cocoa powder (1): Cook’s Illustrated
- Butter + oil + cocoa powder (1): Handle the Heat
Results: Top Brownie Recipe Rankings
As usual, the order of my favorites deviated slightly from the crowd favorites. I’ll list the crowd favorites first, followed by my opinions. To frame some context, my ideal brownie is very thick with that shiny, super thin and flaky top, deep chocolate flavor and a combination of chewy on the edges and fudgy/gooey on the inside.
Note: I thought it would be fairly straightforward to have people categorize brownies into Camp Chewy, Fudgy or Cakey (perhaps with some confusion between chewy/fudgy). But there was no unanimous agreement for even one brownie and there was a hilariously high amount of mass disagreement across all three categories for each brownie.
Here’s an overall chart of the results:
Now, let’s talk about how the brownies stack up (numbers in parentheses represent the average overall score if you average texture and flavor).
Analysis of the Best Brownie Recipes
#13 Ina Garten
(4.54) In a shocking turn of events, our beloved Ina fell to last place with a floppy, oily brownie that scored a dismal 4.6 for flavor and 4.5 for texture. UPDATE: We re-made these in a second bake off, and they turned out MUCH better. However, while Ina’s brownies made properly are tasty, I still think the effort-to-taste ratio is too high. You are either forced to make a half sheet pan of brownies, or do a lot of math to halve/quarter the recipe to get a manageable amount of brownies.
HOWEVER, we know we made at least one mistake with these brownies (we melted the chocolate chips into the brownie mixture instead of adding them separately). So, take these results with an extra grain of salt–when made properly, they’re probably better than what we ended up with. Anyway. If you put aside the grease slick that seeped through the foil and left a tell-tale mark on everyone’s plates, you can appreciate the fact that these veritably melt in your mouth with nice salty hits that permeate the slightly gritty crumb. To be honest, I actually really liked the flavor of these. Although some tasters approved of the salt level and taste, other tasters decried this brownie for a slightly oily, burnt, coffee flavor with a texture that was too mushy–“almost pudding-like consistency with somewhat grainy texture.” The final nail in the coffin? “I don’t trust anything that falls apart on its way to my mouth,” said one taster. Only a third of tasters would eat this again.
Make these if: you’re a huge Ina fan/you’ve made these before and know they’re way better than what we ended up with.
Note: I thought about eliminating these from the discussion given our mistake, but if you look at photos of other versions of Ina brownies, they vary widely: Oh Sweet Basil depicts them with a gorgeous shiny top, Smitten Kitchen shows a dull top and bready-looking interior, Refinery29’s experiment looks like middle ground between the two. Honestly, I think our results look pretty close to the Food Network picture, just slightly goopier (which makes sense considering the extra chocolate that was added)–which makes me think the flavor probably isn’t that far off.
#12 Tartine (5.69)
This was one of the few recipes that called for using a stand mixer in the recipe, which is used to whip the eggs and sugar for a full 4-5 minutes. This helps ensure the sugar is completely dissolved, and I think this is what led to the almost souffled-looking, crackly top that we determined tastes exactly like a macaron shell. This shell hugs a dense, mousse-like interior that is deliciously chocolatey, but also a far cry from a traditional brownie.
This brownie definitely grew on me over time, and when Dan took the remains to work, multiple coworkers asked for the recipe, once again cementing the notion that all of these brownies would taste flawless on their own–but simply fared less well in a side-by-side tasting, hence Tartine’s low 5.5 score for flavor and 5.9 score for texture. This brownie also greatly benefitted from an overnight rest, which helped firm up its texture. Most tasters liked the crunchy exterior, but some commented that it tasted “like sugar not chocolate” or that it had a “weird outside” and didn’t love the fudge-like interior. Still, nearly 50% of tasters voted that they would eat this again.
Make these if: you want a fancy, fudgy brownie to please a crowd. I would try making these a day before you plan to serve them (and yes, I would definitely make these again despite the low overall ranking).
#11 All Recipes (5.73)
Given the unattractive, porous appearance of this brownie, it did edge out Tartine with a 5.61 score for flavor but scored a low 5.86 for texture. To me, this brownie was the epitome of a cakey brownie with a light, fluffy, almost spongey texture that had a very light (some called bland) cocoa flavor that was strangely addictive, even if the texture was a bit dry. More than one taster likened it to chocolate cake. “HOW IS THIS A BROWNIE???” One taster raged. To be fair, All Recipes lists a frosting recipe that is supposed to be paired with this brownie. Still…for me, this is a brownie you might make for someone who asks for a brownie but really just wants cake.
Special note: my friend Sarah swears by a recipe made by the ladies of the Yale cafeteria that is very similar to this recipe, except it uses half large-grain sugar, which Sarah notes is essential for mouthfeel. Let me know if you try this variation!
Make these if: you need a quick, easy recipe and don’t like overly dense or rich brownies.
#10 Cook’s Illustrated (5.91)
Jacqueline and I both agreed that this brownie was more work than it was worth. It was a very smooth and fudgy brownie with beautifully crinkly top, earning an overall texture score of 6.23. But there was something about the taste that seemed off, dropping the flavor rating down to a 5.60.
Some tasters liked the “fudgy, nutty, rich flavor” and the ooey-gooey texture. However, a lot of others noted that it was either bland or had a “weird taste” or aftertaste. I suspect the addition of vegetable oil took away from the flavor. Even though this brownie is advertised as CI’s “chewy brownie,” the majority of tasters categorized this brownie as fudgy. Overall, the crowd’s opinion could be summed up by this taster’s “slightly underwhelmed” comment.
I probably wouldn’t make these again given the high level of effort!
#9 Handle the Heat (6.29)
With her science-backed recipes, Handle the Heat’s recipe came loaded with high expectations. Ultimately, it landed in the lower middle of the pack despite a beautifully dense, fudgy texture with a super dark and rich color. While tasters praised it for the thickness and chocolate chip-studded texture, many agreed that it had a weird aftertaste and overall “meh” flavor.
Personally, I liked the depth of chocolate flavor. We used Dutch-process cocoa as Tessa noted that using Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder gives the brownies an “ultra dark chocolaty appearance with a little less sweetness.” But I agreed the aftertaste was a bit off in comparison to the rest of the brownies. One taster summed it up best with this comment: “love the texture, hate the flavor.”
Make these if: you want a chewy brownie with a lot of chocolate chips and a deep chocolate flavor. It’s possible that our vegetable oil was a bit old, which could have thrown off the flavor of the aftertaste.
#8 Alice Medrich (6.38)
Sitting at #8 overall and the fourth favorite fudgy brownie, this brownie is indeed fudgy and rich, small and dense. It’s a slim thing that doesn’t look as impressive against the taller, glossy-topped brownies. But I still think this is a very solid brownie for lovers of small portions of rich, not-too-sweet things.
Tasters noted that it had a silky, melt-in-your-mouth quality that was “semi-airy with a hint of an earthy flavor.” Points were deducted for lack of chew, a weird aftertaste, and a consistency that was almost too fudgy. For me personally, a lack of a shiny top also detracted from the overall appearance and texture.
Make these if: you want petite, rich, super-fudgy brownies.
#7 Baked (6.50)
This brownie has been crowned with many accolades. It’s “been featured on the pages of O Magazine as a favorite thing, and won best brownie by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen and the Today Show,” according to Grub Street. It was also nominated by the original mastermind of these bake offs, Skyler. I was excited to see how they would do!
We found this brownie to have a great chocolate flavor with a great thickness and a perfectly fudgy texture with the slightest bit of chew. Tasters were split between enjoying the moist, soft texture and dubbing it “mush.” Several commented that it was “not super unique” or even “forgettable.” To be honest, it was kind of forgettable for me as well.
Make these if: you like thick, fudgy, chewy brownies that are not at all cakey, and also if you are making brownies for a crowd, since this recipes uses 5 eggs (and makes a hefty 9×13 pan), so the recipe is not easy to cut in half.
#6 Bravetart (6.74)
As usual, Serious Eats’ brownie recipe required among the most work. But the recipe turned out a beautifully thick, not-too-sweet brownie with a picture perfect crinkle top! It slid into a close 6th place with a 6.67 for flavor and a 6.81 for texture. Overall, it had a very smooth mouthfeel that verged between cakey and fudgy and kind of melts in your mouth. One taster noted this brown had a “perfect fudge level” and “good bitter flavor,” kind of like “a lighter version of fudge that I could eat more of.”
A surprising number of tasters said that this brownie was not very memorable. “Generic,” “average,” “basic,” “boxed school lunch brownie womp,” “childhood,” and “grocery store brownies,” were all descriptors used for this brownie. Well, Stella’s book is all about capturing classic American desserts so I guess this means she nailed it! Based purely on aesthetic, the beauty of this brownie came pretty close to my prized Ghiradelli brownies. Based on taste, they were pretty close as well.
Make this if: you don’t mind bringing out the stand mixer (and browning butter and sifting flour and cocoa, etc.) to earn some dramatically thick, childhood-worthy brownies. If you have the time, the work is worth the payoff.
#5 “My Favorite Brownies” Smitten Kitchen (6.76)
I almost removed this recipe from the bake off because of how similar it is to the Supernatural recipe by Nick Malgieri. It has just 1/3 cup more flour, 2 oz less chocolate–and where Nick uses bitter/semisweet chocolate, Deb uses unsweetened chocolate and compensates with 2/3 cup more sugar. Everything else (butter, eggs, salt, vanilla, sugar) is nearly the same, although Supernatural uses both white and brown sugar. It was fascinating to watch how these changes caused SK to fall a few notches below Supernatural taste-wise (6.65 vs. 7.2), while they scored nearly identical scores on texture (6.85 vs. 6.88).
Smitten’s had a nice chew when biting into it but middle is just cakey. Quite a few tasters noted this brownie was “too sweet” with an almost “nutty flavor” with a texture that was a little spongy. In comparison to some of the alarmingly heavy/thick batches we baked up, these brownies make a fairly modest pan of more “everyday” brownies–and the recipe is a breeze to double.
Make these if: you’re looking for a super fast and easy, not over-the-top brownie recipe and have unsweetened chocolate to use up.
#4 The Kitchn (6.85)
This was my personal favorite brownie when I did the tasting. Its super fudgy texture was balanced with an aggressive level of salt, earning a 7.02 rating for flavor. Tasters described this brownie as very buttery and rich, with a balanced texture that captures the “essence of molten chocolate.” However, several tasters noted that the espresso flavor was too strong (with notes of dirt/bitterness) and that the brownies were too gooey or undercooked, with a fairly low texture score of 6.67 (interestingly, these brownies are advertised as “chewy” brownies, but tasters overwhelmingly categorized them as fudgy).
Although I find it annoying that this recipe uses both brown and white sugar, both unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate, 10 tablespoons of butter instead of a round 8, and an extra egg yolk, I still loved them and will definitely be making them again.
Make these if: you don’t mind going the extra mile for rich, fudgy, espresso- and chocolate chip-laced brownies.
#3 Supernatural (7.02)
Despite this recipe’s similarities to Smitten Kitchen, it ended up with a much glossier top than Smitten Kitchen and barely any chew–60% of tasters agreed this was a fudgy brownie. This texture was almost silky and melt-in-your-mouth. Although the texture was gooey to the point of being “undercooked in a good way,” most tasters enjoyed this sweet, dark brownie that had tons of flavor. “BEST FOR LAST, brownie dreams are made of this, cannot get enough, where are the seconds?” exclaimed one taster.
Make these if: you are a die-hard fudge lover.
#2 Sally’s Baking Addiction (7.04)
This super dense, extraordinarily chewy, chocolate chip-studded brownie was crowned a flavor winner by our tasters with a 7.30 rating and a great balance of dark chocolate flavor. However, despite a super chewy texture that many tasters adored, it only scored a 6.8 for overall texture. Tasters liked the classic, traditional flavor of this brownie, and many noted that this brownie had crisp edges in addition to being deeply chewy.
The perfect balance of flavor and texture is likely due to Sally’s use of both semisweet chocolate and cocoa powder. The only annoying thing I found with this recipe is that it calls specifically for a chopped semisweet chocolate bar (which I rarely have on hand) in addition to chocolate chips–but if you love chewy, textured brownies, don’t let that stop you from making these ASAP.
Make these if: you loooove chewy brownies.
#1 King Arthur Flour (7.39)
This brownie was hot on Sally’s heels with a 7.26 point rating for flavor and an exemplary overall texture rating of 7.5! Despite a slightly cakey appearance on their site, KAF promises that “these brownies combine a fudge brownie’s ultra-moist texture with a subtle cake-like rise, for the best of both worlds…they’ll be ultra-moist without crossing the line into gooey/underbaked.” And indeed, they were not only perfectly chewy with great flavor, this brownie had one of the most picturesque appearances with a perfect glossy top.
“Perfect, what a brownie should be,” praised one taster. Many described this brownie as classic, with a good balance between cakey and fudgy and a dark chocolate-y flavor. Critiques of this brownie being too dense, stiff, or without an interesting flavor profile were few and far between. 83% said they would want to eat this brownie again.
Make these if: you want the perfect brownie 😉
Takeaways on how to make the best brownies
Interestingly, our top 2 winners were categorized as “chewy” while third and fourth place were “fudgy” brownies. So, there was no clear preference between chewy or fudgy. I was surprised that a cakey brownie took 5th place, but then again the vote was nearly evenly split on whether Smitten Kitchen was actually cakey or fudgy. In any case, most tasters generally did not prefer cakey brownies.
Before this bake off, I felt sure that recipes with similar ratios (like Supernatural/Smitten Kitchen or All Recipes/King Arthur/Alice Medrich) would result in similar brownies. For example, King Athur uses slightly more cocoa powder and less flour than All Recipes with nearly identical quantities of everything else, but…I was wrong. Seems obvious, but the technique really matters!
Here are a few takeaways from testing all 13 brownie recipes in the same day
- Avoid using oil: brownie recipes that incorporated oil (Cook’s Illustrated and Handle the Heat) did not fare as well taste-wise. For something as rich as a brownie, using vegetable oil runs the risk of a weaker flavor vs. using the richness of butter.
- Use Dutch-process cocoa for deeper, dark chocolatey brownies: Dutch-process cocoa is washed with a solution to neutralize its acidity, which gives it a darker color (and less bitter taste). I personally prefer the deeper, richer color that Dutch-process cocoa lends over the tawny-brown color produced by natural cocoa. Dutch-process also tends to provide a deeper, smoother chocolate flavor!
- Both cocoa and melted chocolate will yield a great brownie: Although I would have hypothesized that a combination of cocoa and chocolate would yield the best brownie, our winning recipe used 100% cocoa! King Arthur stands out as an exception thanks to great technique (blooming the cocoa, adding espresso powder, heating the sugar until dissolved). However, using cocoa and chocolate in combination is a great way to ensure an excellent brownie. The cocoa contributes to a moist, rich texture while melted chocolate and exponentially highlight the flavor.
- Use espresso powder to highlight the chocolate flavor: It’s hardly a secret that espresso powder helps heighten chocolate flavor. In this bake off, the recipes that used a pinch of espresso powder tended to score well on flavor. (King Arthur as a key example!)
- Brownie are done when a few moist crumbs cling to a tester: Don’t wait until the tester comes out completely clean! By then, your brownies will likely be overcooked by the time they are done cooling in the pan.
Best Brownie Recommendations
Erika’s picks: The Kitchn, King Arthur Flour and Tartine
If you only have cocoa powder: King Arthur Flour or Alice Medrich
If you only have 1 hour: King Arthur Flour, Supernatural, Smitten Kitchen, or All Recipes
If you want a super chewy brownie: Sally’s Baking Addiction
If you want a cakey brownie: All Recipes
If you want a fancy brownie: Tartine
If you want a fudgy brownie: Supernatural or Handle the Heat
If you want a fudgy AND chewy brownie: King Arthur Flour or The Kitchn
If you want a nostalgic brownie: BraveTart or King Arthur Flour