I've been thinking a lot about brownie sundaes lately. I guess it all started last year, when I went to a restaurant with some friends. It was the sort of place where you would expect to see a brownie sundae—Buffalo wings, fish and chips, steak sandwiches with gravy and cheese—but for some reason, it wasn't on the menu. When our waitress brought our check at the end of the meal, there was a comment card tucked inside. We wrote: Great food, good beer. But you should have a brownie sundae.
A few months ago we went back, and lo and behold, there it was: "our" brownie sundae. Then the conversation turned to what makes a good one: vanilla ice cream or chocolate? Hot fudge or whipped cream? Should the brownie be plain or have walnuts? Is there room for a cherry on top, or should maraschinos be reserved specifically for ice cream sundaes? Everyone had their own opinion.
For this week's Mixed Review, I decided to test Duncan Hines' Signature Desserts Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae Mix ($3.99). In addition to fudge brownies, the mix includes a frozen vanilla mousse and packets of chocolate and caramel sauce.
The first step was to make the mousse. I added 2/3 cup cold milk (I used 2 percent), to the artificial-smelling vanilla powder and whipped them with an electric mixer for three minutes. The instructions said when it was done the mousse would resemble "whipped cream." Mine looked more like mayonnaise, but I transferred it to a airtight plastic container and put it in the freezer anyway.
On to the brownies, which were simple enough: one bowl, an egg, a bit of vegetable oil, and a dash of water. They baked for 35 minutes and turned out decent. The texture was great (it leaned slightly towards fudgy, on the cakey-to-fudgy scale), but the flavor was blah. While some might argue that you can get away with a subpar brownie when making a brownie sundae (since you're just going to smother it with ice cream and toppings anyway), I would strongly disagree. I think the brownie has to be even better—warmer, gooier, chocolatier—to stand up to the other components of the dessert. The Duncan Hines mix dropped the ball. There are far better ones available on supermarket shelves.
To assemble the sundae, I put a brownie in the bottom of a bowl and scooped a spoonful of the now-frozen mousse on top. Then I cut open the packets of chocolate and caramel sauce and squeezed some of each on top. The sauces were pretty viscous, and came out more in blobs than in drizzles, and there definitely wasn't enough of each for the nine servings the instructions said the mix would yield.
I took a bite. The mousse was very creamy and light, and tasted like frozen cool whip. There was little real vanilla flavor, but it was pleasantly sweet and smooth. I found the chocolate sauce cloying, but the caramel was quite good—I even detected a note of salt.
In the end, I would not recommend this mix. Not because it wasn't good—it was perfectly decent. But because it would be far easier (and way more delicious) to bake brownies from a higher quality mix and top them with store-bought ice cream. Cherry or no cherry, you decide.
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