Mixed Review

We bake from the box.

Mixed Review: No Pudge! Brownies

20090604-nopudge-package.jpgSince their debut in 1995, fat-free No Pudge! Brownies have been a dieting staple, right up there with Special K and Skinny Cow. Over the years they've garnered much media praise, but it's been mostly from health magazines like Self, Fitness, and Weight Watchers, which called No Pudge! "the brownie of your dreams" in a 1999 article.

I wasn't convinced. After all, the foundations of these magazines are built around calorie counting and pound-dropping. Sometimes they make bogus arguments that veggie burgers taste just like hamburgers, or that 1/2 cup of nonfat frozen yogurt will satisfy your craving for a hot fudge sundae. Yeah, right. But when I read that Chocolatier had pronounced No Pudge! Brownies "thick, moist, and truly delicious," I finally sat up and took notice.

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The No Pudge! mixes ($3.35) are available in four flavors: original fudge, cappuccino, mint, and raspberry. Once prepared, each two-inch brownie contains 120 calories and zero grams of fat. In order to make them all you have to do is add 2/3 cup of nonfat vanilla yogurt, stir, and bake at 350°F for about half an hour.

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The box warns that the batter will be very thick, and indeed it required quite a bit of arm strength to stir the yogurt and mix together smoothly. (I wondered how many calories I had burned doing so, and if I could subtract them from the brownie I was going to eat later.) Once the yogurt was fully incorporated, I spread the batter into an 8-inch square pan and popped it in the oven.

As I quickly cleaned up the kitchen—there really wasn't that much aside from a single bowl and a measuring cup—I couldn't resist licking the leftover batter off my wooden spoon. It tasted surprisingly yummy. True, there was no hint of butter (as there often is in homemade, full-fat brownie batter) but the No Pudge! mix was exceptionally fudgy and thick.

A few minutes later when I took my brownies out of the oven I was disappointed with their appearance. I think the best brownies are dense and gooey, with glossy tops and pudding-like interiors. The No Pudge! brownies looked more like dull, springy chocolate cake. I cast them aside to cool and briefly considered going out for ice cream for dessert instead.

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It's a good thing I didn't. When I cut the brownies out of the pan, their insides proved to be everything I was hoping for, consistency-wise. They were moist and dark and a just a tiny bit sticky. Instead of cutting them into 12 small squares I opted for a heftier nine, and I would recommend that you do the same. It only raises the calorie count to 160, and each brownie is much more satisfying.

I took a still-warm bite and was, if not delighted, happily contented. The brownie was thick and chocolaty, with a rich, smooth mouthfeel. While they wouldn't hold a candle to homemade brownies, No Pudge! would certainly stand up against any supermarket mix—even those that require a stick of butter.

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