(Additional Reporting by Elise Stern)
EATS eats: we stuff ourselves, so you don’t have to.
The classic American brownie is in mortal peril—lone cowboys trying to
stand tall amongst the elaborate, fluffy confections looming around
them—but EATS knew they were still out there. So dodging over-frosted
cupcakes and couture cookies, we set out to find them. There were more
around than we thought—there is hope after all!—so we picked a
neighborhood (Union Square), wrangled up a few, and brought them to the
EATS office. Few things can brighten a dull afternoon like an impromptu
blind brownie tasting...
To throw a final twist in the knot, we also made some
brownies: one from a Pillsbury mix and two from scratch. We compared
all of them to the store-brought specimens to see if the efforts of a
store can compete with the efforts of an individual—they rarely can—but
don't disdain! Check out the featured recipe at the bottom of our
survey: truly the only brownie recipe you'll ever need, as easy-as-123
and EATS' hands-down favorite from the entire bunch!
Anything we purchased for this survey had to be called a brownie, not
some variation of the term (melted chocolate chip cookie, anyone?)
It could not have any obvious extraneous toppings, aside from the
basics (we accepted: a few nuts, a chocolate chip or two, and even some
frosting, but no peanut butter, Oreos, etc.).
• Round brownies were okay as long they were still labeled "brownie."
tastes vary widely. Some EATers like more of a crumby cake-y texture,
while others live for the dense dark fudge brownie (take note: the
authors vie for the latter). Some of the brownies we had the highest
hopes for failed us completely, while others that had weak prospects
surprised us quite pleasantly.
• The Bread Alone stand located in the Union Square Greenmarket
brownie from the Greenmarket got mixed reviews. Some thought it was
dry, but most called it moist (?), and one even called it the best of
the day (!). Overall it was a little too cakey, and lacked what we deem
“chocolatey-ness.” It was also oddly sticky on the hands and in the
mouth but we were willing to overlook that.
250 E. 14th St. (2nd Ave. & 3rd Ave.)
brownie was adorned with frosting and a walnut (though the brownie
itself was actually plain). The frosting was good but in an artificial
way, and the brownie itself was reminiscent of Duncan Hines (not that
that’s a complaint, but we were looking for legit flavor here). It was
dense and moist, yet lacked a true chocolate flavor.
• Muffin Madness located in the Union Square Greenmarket
Madness' brownie tasted a lot like a muffin, but we didn't want a
muffin, we wanted a brownie, so alas, it was no good. It just didn't
hold up in terms of taste, relying on too much sugar and not enough
chocolate. It seemed like it was all cocoa; and though some of us
enjoyed the crispy crust, most found it unpleasant.
• Tisserie 857 Broadway (17th St.)
(Venezuelan Chocolate Brownie)
Tisserie's deeply fudgy confection wowed us, and we're not alone in this sentiment.
This organic Venezuelan 57% cacao monster melts on your tongue like the
perfect piece of fudge. Frosting can mask a bad brownie, but the
chocolate ganache on this one made it all the more otherworldly. Alas,
some of us still didn't like it, but they obviously were wrong (all the
editors adored it).
also has a mini brownie in a teeny cupcake shape, but that didn't do a
whole lot for us. It had a nice nutty flavor, but contained no nuts.
It's crust was a little too crunchy for our tastes.
• Stone Arch Farm located in the Union Square Greenmarket
Arch Farm's specimen was deemed far too cakey with a too-mild chocolate
flavor. Reviewers commented on its fluffy airiness that left the palate
wanting quite a lot more.
• Café Medina 9 E. 17th St. (5th Ave. & Broadway)
brownie at Café Medina received some chilly reviews. Some liked the
rich taste augmented by a few scattered chocolate chips, but most found
it dry and somewhat salty.
• Moishe's 115 2nd Ave. (6th St. & 7th St.)
we had at Moishe's was good, whether it was a brownie or not is another
question entirely. It had a strong cinnamon flavor, and with its flavor
and texture, it seemed more along the lines of a cocoa-y spice cake;
one EATer even described some banana flavor in there. It should be
noted that the woman behind the counter sliced off the brownie's hard
edges before serving it to us-always an appreciated touch.
• Le Pain Quotidien 124 7th Ave. (17th St. & 18th St.)
Pain's brownie was rich and round. The edges were a little burnt, but
then some of our crazy EATS reviewers thought that was the best part
("spectaculous crust," one was even heard saying...spectaculous?)
Anyways, all agreed it was a better than average specimen with a good
texture and some intense chocolate.
On to the homemade ones:
made some Pillsbury brownies, while Liz tackled a couple homemade
versions, including the somewhat famous recipe from Katharine
Hepburn–it's her family's recipe that she shared with the public in an
interview many years ago.
All of these
home-baked goodies received a better reaction than the store-bought
ones, which seemed stale (aside from perhaps Tisserie's luscious
ganache-coated version), even the Pillsbury seemed richer and
pleasingly moist in comparison. Yes, it tasted like it came from a box,
but that was no complaint. That distinctive made-from-a-mix flavor was
a hallmark in most all our childhoods, and we could hardly badmouth it.
However, the from-scratch
brownies were by far the favorite, most impressing the fickle EATS office, showing that some fresh ingredients and a little extra
love really do make a difference. The Hepburn version in particular
ruled the day, packing a punch with both an intense chocolate flavor
and the ideal consistency, finding a delectable medium between both
fudge and cake (the other from-scratch brownie was very good, but could
not trump Ms. Katharine's noble version).
good news: the Hepburn brownie is a cinch to make, and never ceases to
impress. Your friends will be amazed at your baked goods prowess.
The Katharine Hepburn Brownie:
Preheat oven to 325º
Butter an 8x8 baking dish
Melt 1 stick of butter with 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan
Remove from heat, mix in one cup of sugar, then 2 eggs, and a 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.
Finish by mixing in a quarter cup of flour, pop into the oven for forty minutes or so
Let cool, then cut and enjoy!
The Final Verdict:
off, let us reiterate that few people agree when it comes to brownies;
some folks are fudge fans while others prefer a cake-y consistency.
Though the true connoisseurs of the office fell in love with Tisserie's
divine Venezuelan brownie (a true fudge example), some of the less
gastronomically inclined among us instead preferred Le Pain Quotidien's
cake-ier, less messy version. So it seems there are good brownies about
in our fair city after all, but perhaps the best come from our very own
Written by Liz Norton
Photography by Christian Jensen