Five thousand people have told All Recipes they made the site’s Best Brownies. The cocoa brownie with frosting has over 7,200 reviews, over 9,100 ratings, and 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. The headnote says, straight to the point: “These brownies always turn out!”
The recipe also happens to be the top hit when you search “best brownie recipe” on Google.
So they must be good—right? (You know where this is going.)
The most helpful positive review, according to All Recipes’s aggregator, is from CRBOWLES and explains:
These brownies are magnificent!!! I mean "melt in your mouth" and I didn't even make the frosting. I doubled the recipe and it still won't be enough. There are a few tips that will ensure your brownies are not cakey. I do not use a mixer because you can overmix your batter and whip too much air into the eggs. This makes your brownies have a cakey texture. Mix everything by hand in a bowl and lightly beat your eggs before adding them to the mixture. Gently stirring everything together makes them turn out better as opposed to franticly beating the mixture. Hope this helps, because I will NEVER buy brownie mix again.
Which doesn’t sound to me like they actually made the recipe. Dig deeper or, heck, make it yourself, and you learn what you already knew: that you can’t trust the aggregation of the internet or reviews. Our two professional recipe testers, Anna and Kate, made them independently, and neither found them the best, or even that good.
The most helpful critical review on All recipes, from NOVACAT2003, put it a little more bluntly:
Brownies... What comes to mind? Hard...chewy... These brownies... What comes to mind? Soft...cakelike... These were baaaaad.......why must all these brownie recipes result in cake squares? I wish I could say different for this supposedly "best brownie" recipe, but I can't. If you are looking for the traditional delicious brownie Grandma used to make, run, run away and never come back! These were just like a cake. Be aware: These are not the BEST brownies...these are the BEST cake squares.
Alice Medrich taught us with her brownie recipe that using cocoa powder instead of chocolate is wise in brownie-making. And All Recipes's recipe does use cocoa powder. But when we compared it side by side to Alice's recipe, which really is one of the best we know (we can’t say it’s the best because there is team cake brownie and team fudgy brownie), we noticed a few differences. Few in number, but not in impact.
- Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies recipe has more butter (2/3 cup versus 1/2 cup) and more cocoa powder (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons versus 1/3 cup).
- Alice’s recipe has you combining all the ingredients over heat.
- Alice’s recipe bakes in an oven that’s 5 degrees lower and for 5 fewer minutes.
- Alice’s recipe is very specific about beating the mixture (40 times, vigorously, with a wooden spoon or spatula).
And just in those shifts, the brownie changes character. What is fudgy, luxe, and deeply chocolatey in Alice’s recipe becomes cakey, lackluster, sometimes hard, and just okay in All Recipe's.
Problem Moment #1: Butter and Cocoa
Alice, who, as she says, has 50 years of brownie-making experience, explained:
In baking, every small change in a recipe makes a difference. Then consider that you are changing the amount of fat (via butter) and the amount of a very strong flavor ingredient (the cocoa). More butter and more cocoa means more fat altogether (there’s fat in the cocoa as well as in the butter) and more fat can make a brownie more melt-in-the-mouth and less cake-y AND give it more chocolate flavor.
But another point a baking pro or anyone who reads Alice’s posts would pick up on is that baking is hard to standardize if you’re not weighing your ingredients. All Recipes’s post doesn’t include metrics, and cocoa is notoriously hard to measure with measuring cups. It’s such a strong flavor in the recipe that a shift in the quantity will affect the end result.
Problem Moment #2: The Mixing
Alice didn’t think the difference of mixing over heat or off heat would make too much of a difference—only in letting the flavors mingle a bit more when heated. But there’s a chance you might mix the batter in All Recipes’s too much—the recipe just says “stir in sugar, eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in 1/3 cup cocoa, 1/2 cup flour, salt, and baking powder.” There aren’t any time or visual cues to let you know when to stop stirring and beating. And the fact that there is less fat and an overall higher proportion of flour means there’s a good change you’ll over-mix the batter, which could result in a hard brownie depending on what happens in the oven (see Moment #3).
Problem Moment #3: The Baking
Alice said it best:
With less fat, a higher ratio of flour, and possibly too much mixing, a higher baking time and temperature is certainly going to add up to a dryer and harder brownie! How could it not?
While we won’t tell you what the best brownie is—it’s so subjective!—know that the one on All Recipes doesn’t seem to be it. If you’re a fudgy brownie kind of person, though, please try these.
Do you prefer cakey or fudgey brownies? Tell us in the comments.