In today’s experiment, I tested four different methods of making brownies from a box. I’ve heard of many ways you can substitute other healthier things for the oil (typical brownie ingredients from a box are the brownie mix, eggs and vegetable oil), but with this experiment, I tested three.
What difference do different substitutions make to the brownies?
For this test, I had a whopping 14 people help me out (asking for taste testers at a party, especially when it is about testing brownies, is a crowd-pleaser, surprisingly).
Do you want a low-fat, healthier brownie?
Personally, I don’t. But many people do.
Honestly, when it comes to dessert, I want to enjoy the richness of the sweets. Enjoying dessert is more of an emotional experience for me. It’s a pleasurable experience, so why mess with that too much?
But, speaking of emotions, people are conflicted: they want the pleasure of the dessert, but they feel guilty for indulging in so much richness (fun fact: did you know that humans are the only creatures that experience the emotion of guilt?).
The solution is to create healthier versions of desserts. It’s rare, in my opinion, that you can take a traditionally “unhealthy” food item (say, brownies) and turn them into something healthy. There will still be tons of sugar, or fat, or something else not considered healthy.
That’s not to say there are no healthy desserts out there; there totally are. It’s about making modifications and tampering with a dessert recipe in the name of healthiness that the true essence of the original dessert is lost.
Which brings us to brownies…
First, I’m not talking about brownies from scratch today. Those are awesome, but brownies from a box are sometimes just as awesome, if not more so. My mom’s secret recipe for brownies (hailed across the land as a majestic wonder of the world, converting non-believers on the spot once they have tasted the nectar of the gods) was, in fact, from a typical brand-name box you can get at any store.
I wanted to test different healthy versions of simple boxed brownie recipes, and see if the “healthier” versions were any good.
And let’s be honest, how healthy can you really make brownies from a box? Who knows what is in that mix.
I went to the store and picked a random brand of brownies from a box. Each brand is very similar to me anyway. Again, most boxed brownies contain the same ingredients and instructions:
(brownie mix + eggs + oil) x baking = good brownies
After some research, I’ve decided to test three healthy modifications one would make to boxed brownies. They are:
1. Substitute the oil with applesauce.
2. Substitute the oil with pureed prunes.
3. Substitute the oil AND THE EGGS with pureed black beans.
I would also make one of the brownies normally.
For the applesauce, it was recommended that I use 1/2 cup applesauce, plus some water when substituting it for the oil. For the pureed prunes, I added some boiling water to about 1/2 cup prunes, pureed it in my food processor, stirred up the mixture, and then simply added it in.
All baking times were the same (29 minutes) and all of the brownie pan sizes were the same (13in x 9in), since cooking time changes when the pan size changes.
Once cooled, I put the brownies in groups on one big serving plate, numbered them accordingly (only I knew how the numbers corresponded) and served them at my Labor Day party. I told everyone that we were testing 4 versions of brownies from a box. I did not say how each one was different. I asked everyone to write down their general reactions and preferences.
I passed around this plate to my guests. They were not told what the substitutions were. They were asked to write down their notes on paper, and if possible, to rank their preferences.
Below are how the numbers corresponded (which will help you read the data more easily).
#1 was the prune brownies.
#2 was the applesauce brownies.
#3 was the normal brownies.
#4 was the black bean brownies.
#1 = too dry (last preference)
#2 = not crumbly (third preference)
#3 = moist and awesome (first preference)
# 4 = lacking taste, not great (second preference)
In order from most awesome to “meh”:
2 – 3 – 1 – 4
“I loved the consistency of #2”
#1 = spongy, cakey
#2 = super moist, fudgy
#3 = smooth, mildly sweet, normal (not overbearing), distinct flavor
#4 = dense, soft, nicer, subtle flavor
Ranking: 2, 4, 3, 1 (but after further reflection, changed her favorite to 4)
#1 = underwhelming
#2 = loved the moisture on the top
#3 = tasted like box brownies to me, kind of boring, though classic deliciousness
#4 = great overall, moisture and rich flavor, two thumbs up
Adam (who helped with the garlic press olive oil test):
#1 = hint of fruit, chewier
#2 = forgettable, good but flavor there at first but then gone
#3 = yummy
#4 = is that a brown fig newton?
#1 = not worth it, eh
#2 = better than 1
#3 = moist, sweet, yummy
#4 = good, I liked the “frosting” on the top, my favorite
Monica (who previously helped with the guac and onion test):
#1 = tastes a little stale
#2 = is fudgy and tastes like a brownie
#3 = tastes like a brownie
#4 = tastes like a brownie (Author’s note: brilliant notes, Monica, just brilliant)
Meg (who helped with the eggplant and grilling test):
#1 = too dense
#2 = meh – spongy
#3 = tastes like a brownie
#4 = delicious, a brownie plus
#1 = ok
#2 = the best
#3 = solid
#4 = did not enjoy
#1 = blech!
#2 = a bit dry
#3 = Yay! The best!
#4 = chewy, but not great
#1 = OK
#2 = dry
#3 = (actually, there were no more at this point…that’s what happens when you arrive late to my brownie party)
#4 = bean-y, but better than 1 and 2
#1 = moist, spongy
#2= cake-y, bland (but the next day it was actually better!)
#3 = flaky on top
#4 = super fudgy, soft, think, more chocolaty, richer
And finally, me (who did not go into this blind):
#1, the prune brownies = chewy, moist, sweet taste, but a different sweetness than one would find in brownies. It wasn’t a strong sweetness. It tasted more like cake.
#2, the applesauce brownies = pleasant, apple taste, not fudgy, not too spongy, and definitely more like cake in consistency
#3, the normal brownies = good, not too moist, but not too cakey
#4, the black bean brownies = really fudgy, no hint of the bean taste, very chocolatey
The prune brownies (the ones labeled #1 for the blind taste testers), were the least favorite. While it shared similar consistency with the applesauce brownies as being more cake-like, it lacked a sweetness and taste that made it stand out. It also didn’t help that the group of taste testers preferred fudgier brownies than cake-y brownies (isn’t that what brownies are all about?)
The applesauce brownies (#2) had mixed reactions. Some of the testers found it to be too dry. Cake-y like the prune brownies, but not as dry. When some tasters referred to liking the “frosting” on the top, they were referring to the moist, fudge-like layer that was created on the top of that batch. I added no frosting at all. Some really liked this batch too. I noticed something interesting with the applesauce brownies: first, they tasted better on the second day, and two, the center was way more moist than the sides. If you look closely at the following picture, you’ll see how the applesauce brownies “shrunk” slightly, moving away from the edge of the pan:
I’m not sure what that means.
A few really liked these brownies, so maybe they preferred the cake-like consistency. The applesauce brownies did not seem to scream strong apple taste to anyone. When I announced the ingredients being tested, people were mostly surprised by this one.
The normal brownies (#3) were a general favorite, or the least offensive to most. Some were able to tell that these were the “normal” brownies. If there had to be a crowd favorite, it would be this one.
The black bean brownies (#4) were a surprise hit. It helped that a) they were the fudgiest by far, b) the richest ones by far and c) there was ZERO hint of black bean taste. None. For those that were unfamiliar with this recipe, they were shocked when I announced what the secret ingredient it.
Therefore, based on this sample of friends, the preferences of brownies goes like this:
Black bean brownies and normal brownies > applesauce brownies > prune brownies
Yogurt as a substitution for oil.
Homemade brownies with these substitutions vs. boxed brownies with these substitutions.
What else can one use as a substitution for eggs and/or oil?