Anyone can make from-scratch brownies. Photographer: Courtney Mcatee Photography via Getty Images

Brownie Mix Is for Eskimos and Fraidy-Cats

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Longtime reader BronxCobra has requested foodie posts. And since I’m all about reader service, I’m delivering. Today is the day that I finally lecture you about brownie mix.

It’s not that brownie mix is terrible. Indeed, compared with cake mix, which I have never been able to stand, brownie mix can be relatively OK. If you need a brownie mix, buy the Ghirardelli kind, use melted butter instead of vegetable oil, and toss 1/4 cup Kahlua into the mix. You will get something very acceptable.

But here’s the thing: You never need to use a brownie mix. If you are competent to measure the ingredients for brownie mix, you are competent to make brownies from scratch, right in your very own kitchen. It takes barely longer than making it from a mix, uses no more bowls and produces a superior product, because you are using fresh ingredients instead of things that have to be made shelf-stable. There is absolutely no reason to make brownies from a mix rather than from scratch. And yet you need only tour the aisles of the PTA bake sale or the church potluck to see how thoroughly American cooks have forgotten this most basic of basic recipes.

Seriously, let me show you how easy this is. Here is the recipe for Baker’s Chocolate one-bowl brownies, which should take you five minutes or less to mix up. It does not need to be made with Baker’s chocolate, although it makes a completely fine chocolate product.

4 (1 oz. each) squares Baker's unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup chopped nuts, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, or 325°F if you are using a glass baking dish.

2. Put the chocolate and butter in a glass or plastic mixing bowl and microwave on high 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted.

3. Measure sugar using the dip and sweep method, which is what you should use for all dry ingredients. See how easy that was? Dump the sugar into the chocolate, followed by the eggs and the vanilla. Stir everything until well blended.

4. Now measure the flour, also using the dip and sweep method. Stir in along with the nuts, if you're using them.

5. Grease a 13-by-9-inch pan. I use Baker’s Joy or Pam Baking spray rather than buttering the pan; it’s faster and more even. But if you don't have one of these helpful kitchen aids, just take a stick of butter and cover the pan with a fine layer of butter. It’s rather like coloring.

6. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. Cool in pan; cut into squares. Makes 24 fudgy brownies.

Options and additions:

  • For cakelike brownies, use 1 1/2 cups flour, and stir in 1/2 cup milk in Step 3.
  • For a brownie with an almost caramel flavor rather than a deep chocolate one, use bittersweet chocolate rather than baking chocolate. My sister made this mistake one day, and it turns out this is really delicious.
  • If you make cakelike brownies, you can push bite-size candy bars into the brownie mix with fun results. Distribute in a grid, one candy at the center of each brownie you plan to cut.
  • For a very sophisticated brownie, add 1 Tbs. espresso powder and 1 tsp. milk or Kahlua to the cakelike brownie recipe, along with some fresh raspberries.
  • If you want extra chocolate, toss in some mini chocolate chips. Any other flavor of baking chip will also work; I do mint chips or peppermint candy at Christmas.

But these are just starters; you are intelligent adults, and you can think of obvious stuff to add to your own brownies.

The point is, you never need to use a brownie mix unless you are, I dunno, stranded in an igloo with only an oven and a box of brownie mix. It takes almost no more time, no more skill, no more mess, and only a few more ingredients. Yet it delivers superior results. If you are a tentative, fearful cook, or a trepid baker, this is where you should start.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at

To contact the editor on this story:
James Gibney at