Ever wonder about a 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 mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.
For more than 10 years, No Pudge has pretty much had the corner on the fat-free brownie mix market. But now Trader Joe's has a nearly identical version. Curious as to which has the richest fudgy flavor, I rounded up a group of friends and conducted a blind taste test.
Several years ago I tested the No Pudge ($3.79) mix for this column and gave it a great review: "Thick and chocolaty, with a rich, smooth mouthfeel." But I also noted that they were "a tiny bit sticky" and "wouldn't hold a candle to homemade brownies." Trader Joe's mix ($2.49) is basically a carbon copy of No Pudge. To prepare both, all you do is stir in 2/3 cup non-fat vanilla yogurt and bake in an 8x8-inch pan. Given their similarity, I wondered if there would be a significant difference in flavor.
I made both mixes with the same yogurt (Stonyfield Farms) and baked them in identical pans. The No Pudge batter was thick, smooth, and pale brown in color. By contrast, the Trader Joe's batter was lumpy, very dark--almost black--and there was far less of it in volume. After the brownies came out of the oven and had cooled, I noted some clear differences. The No Pudge brownies were much more difficult to cut out of the pan than Trader Joe's. Even after dipping my knife in hot water, they came out with ragged, torn edges. Additionally, they didn't rise nearly as high. No Pudge filled the baking pan about halfway, while Trader Joe's had risen about two-thirds of the way.
Though the brownies had different flavor profiles, my taste test was pretty much an even split. Three people preferred No Pudge, while two liked Trader Joe's. (I liked Trader Joe's better, too, but I knew which was which.) Those who liked No Pudge noted the brownies' fudgy centers, rich density, and clean chocolate flavor, though one person commented that they were a little bit "gummy and gluey." The people who preferred the Trader Joe's brownies complimented their cakey consistency, delicate crumbs, and their subtle hint of spiciness (cinnamon, perhaps?), although a few people found them "grainy."
While ultimately neither the No Pudge nor the Trader Joe's brownies were as delicious as "real" brownies, for fat-free baked goods they were pretty solid. Both had strong notes of real cocoa, and neither one was cloyingly sweet. It comes down to a matter of preference. If you prefer slightly gooier brownies, go for No Pudge. If you like cakey, fluffier brownies, opt for Trader Joe's.