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.
To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to test out Chuao Chocolatier's Spicy Maya Brownies made with artisanal dark chocolate, pasilla chile, cayenne, and cinnamon. At $12.95 it's one pricey mix, so I decided to compare it to a regular supermarket mix (Duncan Hines, $2.99) with a few extra spices stirred in. Would the gourmet mix be worth the splurge?
The Chuao Chocolatier mix called for 2 eggs and 1 stick of melted butter. The batter was thick and lumpy, in part due to nuggets of pure dark chocolate. It was quite hard to spread in an 8x8-inch pan, and I wondered what the surface of the brownies would be like when baked. From the look of things, I didn't have high hopes for a smooth, shiny crust.
I was right. The Chuao brownies emerged from the oven with an unattractive, dull, bumpy surface. But what they lacked in looks they made up for in flavor. Moist, dense, and seriously fudgy, they packed an intense bittersweet chocolate flavor and just enough heat to tickle the back of my throat. Each bite had a whisper of cinnamon and was studded with bits of melted chocolate. While the mix came with a packet of powdered decorative topping (sugar, cocoa, cayenne, and cinnamon) it was merely an afterthought. These brownies needed no extra adornment.
Still, were they worth a whopping $12.95? A few years ago at the annual Serious Eats cookie swap, Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff of The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck brought a batch of spicy brownies. I was amazed to learn they were made from a boxed mix! I decided to prepare a similar batch to test against the Chuao brownies.
I used Duncan Hines Premium Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix ($2.99). Normally the Duncan Hines brownies are prepared with 2 eggs, 1/3 cup of water, and 1/3 cup oil, and baked in a 9x13-inch pan. To ensure a level playing field, I swapped the oil for melted butter (it yields a richer, better flavor) and baked them in the same 8x8-inch pan. To spice them up, I added 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon of chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.
The Duncan Hines brownies had a nice, cakey texture and a smooth (if a bit mild) chocolate taste. The spices I added certainly imparted an exciting, vibrant flavor, but it wasn't as complex as the flavor of the pasilla-infused Chuao brownies. There was no afterburn when I swallowed and I wasn't lunging for my glass of milk.
Ultimately, the Chauo brownies were vastly superior—in texture, chocolate flavor, and heat. If you are a fan of Mexican chocolate, this mix is definitely worth seeking out. That said, the doctored-up Duncan Hines mix was pretty darn good, too. If you are planning a Cinco de Mayo party, they would definitely make for a festive (and inexpensive) dessert.