Brownie vs. Brownie (cocoa vs. unsweetened chocolate)

The topic is brownies today!  I've had this urge to taste test two particular brownie recipes side-by-side to see which my family and I really like best.  Like all of my whims that keep bugging me until I do it, I finally went ahead with my crazy little taste test recently.  My family and I have a thing for doing little informal taste tests - okay, it's more like I have a thing for it and they go along with me, but we do have fun with it.
My brownie face-off: Cocoa Brownies vs. Unsweetened Chocolate Brownies
Now...for a chocoholic like me, brownies are an indulgence that rarely lets me down.  So I've made - and enjoyed - more than a few brownie recipes.  They're always enjoyable and I can't say I've been particularly loyal to any specific recipe...until I made Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies last year.  Since then, those have become something like our "house" brownies, if you will.  The boys (my husband and the little guy) love them.  And truly, those brownies made from cocoa powder makes for incredibly deep chocolate-flavor, with a great dense, moist, and slightly chewy texture.  Topped with a little vanilla ice cream (because I like ice cream with everything), it is heaven!
That said, every time I make those cocoa brownies, I remind the boys about the other great brownie recipe.  I tell them: "you know, the ones made with unsweetened chocolate...the one I used for the ice cream cake?"  They were not so convinced that the brownies made from a starting base of unsweetened chocolate was better than their favorite cocoa-based ones but for whatever reason, I kept remembering that I personally adored those.  So why not settle this with a fun little taste test?

I may have gotten a little carried away with my experiment once I got started but obviously, this was totally informal and all in good fun!

Brownie A:  Cocoa-based Brownies

So in one corner, we have those cocoa brownies (here for: my original post).  Made on a foundation of unsweetened cocoa powder, you literally add back and control the fat and sugar put back in.  You end up with incredible depth of chocolate flavor - surprisingly so, I think.    
The Cocoa Brownies
And in terms of texture, you have a dense, fudgy brownie with soft centers and a thin crackly, shiny crust.  It has a beautifully dark color.  Interestingly, I make these using natural cocoa powder.  I typically go with Dutch-process most of the time for baking but stock my pantry with natural cocoa powder just for this recipe.  I first made the recipe using Dutch-process (call it another taste test!) but after we tried it with natural, we were really surprised to find that natural cocoa powder made for an even more chocolaty brownie! 
I actually use natural cocoa powder to make these super dark cocoa based brownies
This contender never fails to elicit "mmmm's..." out of the fellas in my house and I love it myself.  I bake some and stock a few in the freezer and it is always a welcomed treat.  In other words, this was the brownie to beat!
Not only do they look chocolaty, they also smell insanely chocolaty

Brownie B:  Unsweetened Chocolate Brownies

Now when I think of chocolate desserts with a serious, deep chocolate flavor, I personally don't think of cocoa powder but of unsweetened chocolate.  Ironically, while I've made this brownie recipe a couple of times, I've never made them the traditional way in a square pan until this taste test.  I've baked it in the round as a cake and used it last year as the base for my son's birthday ice cream cake.
The Brownies made with Unsweetened Chocolate 
These brownies have serious street cred.  They are Deb's (Smitten Kitchen) favorite brownies.  I don't take that lightly and having eaten them a couple of times, I remember how much I liked them.  I remembered the very centers having a unique chocolate flavor that was hard to describe so if I was to pit one brownie recipe against the boys' favorite cocoa ones, these were it!
These brownies made with unsweetened chocolate are lighter colored, have a slightly thicker crust, and are less dense than the cocoa ones.
These brownies do not have any cocoa in them.  They are most definitely moist and have a somewhat lighter, less-dense texture to them than the cocoa version.  I find the upper crust a bit thicker and crunchier than the cocoa version but it's less chewy in comparison.


Both Brownies

Both of these brownies are very easy to make.  I made them both in the same 8-inch square pan, essentially one after the other.  I tried to take them both out around the same parameter of done-ness, meaning they were set but a tad under-cooked to ensure fudginess.  No one wants dry brownies.

When I think about it, I suppose it makes sense that I personally like both of these brownies and thought of one with the other.  Both of them take you to a purer form of chocolate as a starting point.  With unsweetened cocoa, you literally control and add back the fat (butter) and sugar yourself.  There is cocoa butter in unsweetened chocolate but it definitely still gives you a deeper chocolate essence and more control than using semi or bittersweet.

The Taste Test

To sum it up, we tasted the two brownies!  The small informal group of taste-testers included two 8 year old boys (my son and a friend of his who was here for a playdate), my husband, and myself.  This is hardly scientific, folks.


So what do you think?  Have you had these brownies, or do you have a particular favorite or a "house brownie" recipe of your own?  For us, there was a clear, decisive winner in this little taste test and it was...


The Cocoa Brownies!

In our house, this brownie issue has now been thoroughly settled.  The cocoa brownies were the clear favorite, the winner of our informal taste test. 
The deep, dark brownies made with cocoa powder wins!
The kids - they resoundingly favored the cocoa brownies.  In case they were being swayed by the color of the brownies during the first taste test (since I let them see what they were eating the first time around), we even tried it again in a truly "blind" taste-test and still, the cocoa ones were the clear winner for them.

The adults - that would be my husband and I.  We did a blind test (particularly since the baker, which would be me, clearly knew which was which).  But even without looking, I have to tell you that the two are different enough to be clearly distinct so it's easy to have a preference.  The cocoa one just has a deeper chocolate flavor.  It's got a heavier, denser, what I would call a 'more-satisfying' mouth feel, to them.  They're also a bit chewier than the ones made with unsweetened chocolate, which we obviously like.

I think the unsweetened chocolate brownies are great but in comparison, we clearly prefer the cocoa ones.
The "winning" cocoa brownies and the really very-good Smitten Kitchen brownies living harmoniously side-by-side
Well, call me crazy but now that this little internal debate has been resolved, I can sleep easier at night!  : ) 


Recipes:
Both recipes follow, so you can decide for yourself!


Cocoa Brownies
From Alice Medrich via food52 (my original post: here)

- Makes one 8-inch square pan of brownies -

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed or natural cocoa; I prefer natural)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. (I butter the pan before lining it with parchment.) 

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and slightly hot to the touch.  It will look grainy at this point.  (You could just use the typical double-boiler method; I've also seen a video where Ms. Medrich first melts the butter in a saucepan and them immediately adds the sugar, cocoa, and salt in to mix.)  Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is warm instead of hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40-50 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.  Spread the batter evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes.  Let cool completely on a rack.

Remove the brownie from the pan using the parchment or foil overhang.  Transfer to a cutting board and cut into desired-size pieces.  I find that aside from chilling the brownie first, a hot but dry knife cleaned in between slices works well.


Smitten Kitchen's Favorite Brownies
From Smitten Kitchen (I made it as a brownie cake here and used it as an ice cream cake base here)

- Makes one 8-inch square pan of brownies -

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick of butter, plus more for the pan
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of just simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter together.  Remove the bowl from the pan and whisk in the sugar.  Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla and salt.  Stir in the flour using a rubber spatula.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan, spread evenly and smoothing the top.  Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.  Avoid over-baking; a bit of moist crumbs is fine.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.  Remove the brownie using the parchment or foil overhang and slice into desired-size pieces.  I find that aside from chilling the brownie first, a hot but dry knife cleaned in between slices works well.



58 comments:

  1. Nothing better than a brownie taste test! I definitely wouldn't complain about having either in front of me... even at 8:00 a.m. :)

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    1. Both are good but just don't serve one beside the other in my house - they all dive for the cocoa one. : )

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  2. What a great thing to do together as a family Monica. I'm sure your boys will never forget. Both recipes sound delicious!

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    1. My son and I like to do quizzes in food magazines and these little taste tests get him more interested in food than he normally would be. : )

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  3. Can I join the brownie test next time :-) ? They both look perfectly moist and beautiful...I would have a hard time to choose a favorite.

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    1. lol...I totally need more taste testers but don't let me fill you up with too much sugar now. ; ) They are both great brownies in my view. I'd take either any day.

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  4. Ha, what a great project, Monica! I'm not a brownie expert so thanks very much for all the insight and research. Looks like you all were having so much fun :))

    ela h.
    Gray Apron

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    1. I'm no brownie (or anything) expert either, Ela. It's just fun stuff. : )

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  5. I love this post! How incredible and smart Monica. Everybody was happy! I go with the darker chocolate brownies by sight - but would eat either one if you put them in front of me. I tried making a miso brownie this weekend - but wasn't totally pleased with the recipe so I'll be working on it. I wonder how these would be with both chocolate and cocoa? Yum!

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    1. It's amazing how dark that comes out and how rich and chocolaty the cocoa brownies are using natural cocoa powder. There are so many varieties of brownies and I'm glad for each and every one! I have made brownies with cocoa and chocolate...they're all good but the pure cocoa ones really surprised us!

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  6. A brownie taste test sounds like something I'd love to participate in! :) And thank you for this analysis, something I've never thought about but will have to consider next time i make brownies.

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  7. Can I tell you how much I love that you did this?? How fun! I was very excited to see which was the winner for you guys : ) I keep meaning to do something similar to see which chocolate chip cookie is actually our favorite (they're all good whenever I make them but I would love to try them side by side!)

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    1. We are thinking so very much along the same lines there, Ashley. I just kept thinking about these 2 brownies! My fellas love the cocoa but I kept insisting the SK ones are really good. Had to try it and now we know for sure. ; )

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  8. Now this is an experiment I can really get behind :-) Both look delicious!!

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    1. We do love ourselves some taste testing. We are great pretend critics. :)

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  9. I've tried a variation on the Alice Medrich brownie and agree that it was amazing. I'm also a cocoa brownie girl and have made both types. Keep it up with the experiments!

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    1. Right?! The cocoa brownies amazed me the first time I tried it and it seems to get better each time. It's kind of good to narrow it down to one easy, amazing brownie recipe.

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  10. These baking experiments are my favorite and I love hearing which one your family thought was best :) I would definitely not be complaining if I got to sample all these yummy brownies and bet all the fellas loved being the taste testers. They both look incredibly delicious - we love cocoa brownies too :)

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    1. They certainly don't mind being my taste testers! It's kind of fun and silly - the way I like things most of the time. : ) Glad you guys like cocoa brownies too. I'm happy to be in on the secret.

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  11. Such an interesting experiment and riveting post Monica!! I seem a complete novice but have only typically made brownie with chocolate. I must try the cocoa version!! So clearly different in colour and texture. They are indeed perfect as well :-)

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    1. You're so sweet, Jo! I never tried all-cocoa brownies until I hit that recipe and I hope you try it. It is amazingly chocolaty and the texture is great - dense, moist, chewy...

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  12. This was such a great post, Monica! I love the idea of baking experiments... will have to try that out myself. :) Oh, and both brownies look GREAT!

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    1. haha...thanks, Marie. We love taste tests...sometimes we do these comparisons on the road - like cheese steaks in Philly, macarons from a few shops, etc. It's fun because we always feel surprised.

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  13. This is such a fun post and I was too excited to find out that I scrolled down first to see the result (I'm bad!). :D Both do look good, but now I know which one to pick if I was offered both. ;)

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    1. haha - I don't expect anyone to read through all my dribble. Scroll away...I can never resist a quick reveal either. : )

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  14. Goodness me, now I am desperate for a brownie! :D

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  15. This post is making me HUNGRY!!!!!!!!!!!!! I loveeeeeeeee brownies and I love this family activity that you did! Such a fun way to spend some quality time ! :)

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    1. Brownies are a beautiful thing, aren't they...

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  16. That is not what I would have guessed! My favorite brownies are from Baked and I think they are an unsweetened chocolate brownie. But now I must try these cocoa ones!!

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    1. I love those brownies from Baked! I've made those beauties before: http://www.playingwithflour.com/2011/09/brownies-from-baked.html
      They have a little cocoa and bittersweet choc in them. I adore the texture most of all...but maybe it's the larger scale recipe but they always seem a bit more high maintenance to make. These 2 recipes are bare bones simple and I don't really need to think! The cocoa one is really our fave.

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  17. What a great baking experiment!! I always love reading posts like this!

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    1. Thanks, Ashley. It was fun once I got past baking them one after the other!

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  18. Hehe, love your brownie face-off! From the looks of it, I think I would prefer the cocoa version too, although both look so dense and moist and delicious :) I might have to do a taste test of my own!

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    1. Very serious stuff going on here, Amy. ; ) The cocoa ones really are supreme in my house...but you never know what other brownie greatness remains to be discovered. haha

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  19. Ah, brownie tasting, that is just a recipe for a perfect day, I've did a testing with 12 chocolate mousses once... it made quite an evening :)

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    1. Oh my word! We did a chocolate-from-around-the-world taste test around Christmas...I hope you did not have to make all 12 mousses!

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  20. I never tested the difference like you have done but I have always made brownies with cocoa powder. Thanks for testing this and providing the recipes.

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    1. Looks like you've been doing it well then, Balvinder. I always used a Martha Stewart recipe with a bit of cocoa and dark chocolate. Then I started trying a bunch of recipes when I started the blog. These cocoa ones have risen above the crowd for a few reason.

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  21. Ha ha...I am loving this little test of yours. I think all bakers debate before baking brownies (since there are so many great recipes out there) which recipe to use but you clearly found a winner. I have a personal favourite that uses chocolate and cream cheese (on the blog) and ever since I made that I've never gone back to using any other recipe.
    Both the brownies look decadent and delicious...I so want to eat brownie now:-)

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    1. Oh man, now that sounds like another brownie recipe to try! I bet those brownies you are talking about have great texture...I have to go check it out! Thanks...and hope you have a fresh brownie real soon.

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  22. Seriously, can you please invite me next time you do a taste test like this one?! I'll be one happy tester! These both look delicious!

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    1. haha - I have a feeling you would be a great, opinionated (in a very good way!) taste tester! It would be great!

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  23. Awesome taste test! Both brownies look super chocolatey and moist. It is amazing the colors look so different. I will need to try the cocoa recipe for sure.

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    1. The deep dark color of the cocoa one always amazes me, too! Definitely check it out since it is so easy to make!

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  24. What a cool test tasting and experimenting! I am a fan of the first one more than the second one based on the photos, but generally end up preferring brownies with melted chocolate in them! Thanks for sharing Monica!

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    1. Yes, I think that dark color really appeals to everyone - that's why I had the kiddos try it again without looking. : ) I sometimes add chocolate chips into the cocoa brownies...can never have too much chocolate and that bit of extra meltiness inside makes it all the better.

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  25. What brand of cocoa powder did you use? Did you mention it and I missed it?
    Thanks!

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    1. First time I made this, I used dutch-processed cocoa and the brand, Pernigotti (it's my favorite and the cocoa I use most of the time). Then I wanted to try the brownies with natural cocoa and I just picked up a box of Hershey's natural and the taste was so good, I've been using that ever since. Inexpensive and totally delicious. However, I would not hesitate to try any brand of natural cocoa (and plan to). Thanks, Kate.

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  26. What a great experiment! seriously, everyone has their "house brownie" and their "house chocolate chip cookie," etc (or they should) but it's always fun to seek out possible competitors. i absolutely love your pitting the cocoa against the unsweetened chocolate! i've made brownies that have one, or the other, or both (my own "house brownie contains both cocoa powder AND several levels of chocolate ranging from 100% to 60%), and definitely if i had to pick between the two, it would be cocoa every time. cocoa has such depth of flavor and is so easy to customize in brownies that it's my favorite. loved this post!

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    1. I really did not know that about cocoa until now...I'm glad to be enlightened. :)

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  27. I love that you did a comparison! :)

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  28. Ooh you're so right, Monica! I definitely like cocoa-based brownies more than melted chocolate based. The tastes are distinctly delicious each in its own right, but you really gotta go for the cocoa powder (: Fantastic post!

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    1. Now I know, Monica...now I know for sure. : ) I will never be home without natural cocoa powder. ; )

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  29. Monica. Just made the cocoa version of the above brownies. Divine!! Thank you for the inspiration! :-)

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    1. Thanks so much for telling me! So glad you liked it! : )

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