Mixed Review: Vosges Caramel Toffee Chocolate Chunk Brownies
Ever wonder about a boxed mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting boxed mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.
The last time I prepared a Vosges mix (for bacon-chocolate chip pancakes) my boyfriend proposed to me the next day. Coincidence? Perhaps. Nevertheless, I was excited to hear that Vosges has recently expanded their line of baking mixes. Now, in addition to pancakes so delicious they just might bring a man to his knee, there are sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, a dark chocolate triple layer cake, and—wait for it—caramel toffee chocolate chunk brownies.
Let me say right up front that this mix is not cheap. In fact, at $18, it ties Bouchon Bakery's chocolate chip cookie mix as the most expensive one I've ever reviewed. Is some of that cost hype-induced inflation? Sure. But you're also paying for top-quality ingredients like 62% cacao dark chocolate chunks, organic sugar, and toffee kissed with French sea salt.
And you're shelling out for Katrina Markoff's expertise: the Vosges founder graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in France and apprenticed under Ferran Adria. You can't say that about Betty Crocker.
Preparing the mix is simple, but in addition to what's in the box (a bag of sugar, a bag of chocolate discs and cocoa powder, and a pouch of toffee pieces) you do have to add 1 1/2 sticks of melted butter, three eggs, and two teaspoons of vanilla. Most baking mixes call for eggs and either butter or oil, but I'm always a bit skeptical of those that require vanilla. Sure, I have it on hand, but I just wrote a baking cookbook. The whole point of a good baking mix is to bring a just-shy-of-homemade dessert to people who might otherwise use their oven as a storage locker. To me,breaking out the extracts and measuring spoons feels a bit too much like baking from scratch.
The Vosges mix makes a lot of batter. To eyeball it, you would think you were supposed to bake it in a 13x9-inch pan. But in fact, Katrina calls for an 8x8. After baking my brownies for fifteen minutes at 350°, I removed the pan from the oven and scattered the toffee pieces over the jiggling top, where they instantly began to melt into a luscious caramely sauce. Per the package instructions, I slid the pan back in the oven for another fifteen minutes. They weren't anywhere near done, so I put them back for another ten. Then another ten. By the time my toothpick came out with a few moist crumbs instead a slick of wet batter the toffee pieces had completely dissolved and disappeared.
I was disappointed, to say the least, as they cooled. The brownie on the box was topped with a pool of toffee that pulled away in strings. My brownies looked nothing like that. But my disappointment vanished as soon as I made my first cut. The toffee hadn't evaporated, it had melted down inside the brownies and was rippling through the middle like lava before it erupts through the top of a volcano.
In developing her brownie mix, Katrina sought to "unite the great brownie divide" between those who love cake-like brownies and those who prefer a denser consistency. She definitely arrives somewhere in between, but certainly not smack in the middle. While they do have a good crumb, the Vosges brownies are heavy, gooey, and fudgy. If you crave the sort of light, airy brownie that makes a good foil for frosting then I suggest you look elsewhere.
To my mind, though, they were pretty terrific. In fact, I'll come right out and say these are some of the best brownies I've ever eaten. In addition to the toffee, there are pockets of pure melted chocolate, and you can definitely taste the tang of sea salt--not in every bite, but here and there it sort of jumps out surprises you. Even if I don't run right out for another box of mix, the next time I bake brownies I'm going to try Katrina's trick of putting more batter in a smaller pan. Despite the density of the Vosges brownies, they had a lot of height, which helped to keep their interiors fudgy.
At $18, these are not the sort of brownies to throw together as an after school snack for your kids. Rather, I would suggest serving them for dessert at a dinner party, paired with a nice port. They would also make a terrific gift for any serious eater who knows and appreciates the Vosges name.