Taste test: packaged brownies
Last year, the National Retail Federation estimated Americans spent more than $18.6 billion on Valentine's Day. Of that, $448 million was spent on candy, with an emphasis on the 58 million pounds of chocolate consumed in the name of romance. This year, we wanted to find something to make Cupid himself swoon with chocolaty delight, without breaking the bank. We sampled packaged brownies — perfect treats for busy classrooms, a quick gift to hand to a friend in the hallway or even a romantic fondue date. Judges were pretty harsh about some of the samples, but they couldn't resist the lure of the top three picks.
Lena Schwallenberg, tb-two*
© 2016 Tampa Bay Times
(out of 140)
|Atlanta Bread Chocolate Brownie Bites 98||Entenmann's Little Bites Fudge Brownies 90||Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies with Chocolate Chip Candies 78|
|Described by one judge as "dry and dark, like a weird chocolate cave," these brownies were dubbed the most authentic tasting treats sampled. A majority of panelists pointed out that the crunchy outside gave way to a "moist, chocolaty center," which pleased judges who said this made them "fit for royalty" and the "perfect combination between richness and lightness." Though one judge said they had a "chocolate powder aftertaste," another commented, "no chemically artificial chocolate here!"||This popular brand produced rich, creamy brownies that left the judges satisfied. "Nice size. You think you're getting something," one judge said, also commenting that "the chocolate taste tripped my taste buds immediately." The brownies had an undercooked, batterlike consistency that didn't offend the judges. "I can already tell it's going to be gooey," one judge remarked before the tasting. After? "Great texture."||Calling these at first a reminder of brown-bag school lunches and embarrassing bangs, judges were struck with a strong sense of neon-cocoa-infused nostalgia upon consumption. They related them to "friends at summer camp" and "waiting in line at the cafeteria in the third grade." A majority agreed that the gooeyness of the brownie combined with the crunch of the sugar-coated chocolate chips left them greedy for more. "A great gift for a valentine . . . or myself!" one judge said. Another summed the cosmic delights up in one sentence: "Happiness, but a kind of really artificial happiness — a manufactured dream."|
|Five of seven judges said yes.||Five of seven judges said yes.||Four of seven judges said yes.|
|Shopping information||$2.98 for 9.6 ounces at Walmart.||$2.98 for 8.5 ounces at Walmart.||$1.79 for 13.1 ounces at Walmart.|
Original Two-Bite Brownies ($3.89 for 10.5 ounces from Publix, 77 points); Hostess Brownie Bites Mini Brownies ($2.50 for 8.8 ounces from Walmart, 55 points); and Great Value Fudge Brownies ($1.38 for 10.5 ounces from Walmart, 50 points).
Panelists: Lena Schwallenberg, Palm Harbor University High senior; Joey Hager, Palm Harbor University High senior; Lillian Skye Noble, St. Petersburg Collegiate/SPC senior; Heather Finster, St. Petersburg Catholic High junior; Gabrielle Calise, Palm Harbor University High senior; all staffers for the Times' high school weekly, tb-two*; and Gretchen Letterman, tb-two* editor, and Tara McCarty, tb-two* designer.
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|Serving size||2 brownie bites||4 brownie bites||1 brownie|