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grid of brownies with one laying on top
grid of brownies with one laying on top
Photo by Jillian Rioux

Finding My Ideal Brownie: From Box Mix to The New York Times

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

When I’m not endlessly typing on my computer or flipping through books, I’m most likely in the kitchen. Though I don’t bake as often as I would like, especially not during the height of classes, I have seemingly endless recipes saved, bookmarked, and tabbed in cookbooks. And while I feel I’m pretty well versed in the canons of baking, there is one ubiquitous, inescapable treat that I have long struggled to find the best possible recipe for.

The brownie.

As a kid, I faithfully followed the instructions on the side of that quintessential bright, American red box. When I visited my grandparents in the summer, my sister and I gleefully scattered M&M’s on top of the batter before it went in the oven. Since my mom was never big on baking, I looked forward to these candy-studded brownies every summer. With that picturesque crackly crunchy top, and a fudgy, almost molten interior, these brownies were the stuff of dreams.

When I picked up a box at the store on a whim one weekend almost 10 years later, I realized that the brownies of my dreams were now an unattainable childhood fantasy. Though they looked (and probably tasted) the same — minus the M&M’s — they didn’t fulfill my craving the way they had when I was growing up. In the 10 or so years since I had last made a box brownie, I had surprisingly never made them from scratch. I had eaten those cute little two-bite ones from the grocery store and ones made by other people, but I had somehow out-grown my devotion to brownies.

Over the past few years, I’ve made a couple of brownies, usually by request, but they have never really satisfied my old craving. For the most part, they’ve been too cakey, too sweet, or not chocolatey enough. That is, until a few weeks ago.

Let me set the scene for you. I was having a few friends over for dinner one night, but I had a meeting in the afternoon and some items on my to-do list I was itching to cross off. I wanted to make dessert, but even cookies, with their necessary creaming, scraping, and shaping, felt too involved. Cue: the brownie.

While I know there are hundreds of thousands of brownie recipes available online, I gratefully escaped scrolling through those overwhelming search results by turning to one of my most faithful cooking companions: The New York Times (NYT) Cooking app. As of February 2024, there are 49 results for “brownie” in the app, each one accompanied by an eye-catching shot of a bright, textured, chocolatey treat. Though I’ll admit that some of the brownie recipes I had found lackluster over the years had also come from NYT Cooking, this time I had found one from a recipe developer I knew would never disappoint: Melissa Clark.

A prolific cookbook writer and longtime columnist and recipe developer for the Times, Clark’s recipes, to me, are the best of the best. So, when I spotted her “Olive Oil Brownies with Sea Salt,” it was a no brainer. And when I finally dug into those brownies with friends that night, I knew that I had somehow stumbled upon my ideal brownie. Without being oily, cakey, or overly sweet, these brownies were rich, decadent, and with the help of a little flakey sea salt on top, perfectly balanced.

Based on how quickly the pan was polished off, it seems that I wasn’t the only one who found their new favourite brownie that night. So if you’re wondering whether you should make these (or your own favourite) brownies this week, the answer is most definitely yes. They might even be better than the ones you remember dreaming of as a kid. (Maybe).

Catherine Marcotte holds a BAH in English Literature and Language, with a minor in French Studies, from Queen's University. An avid reader and curious home cook, Catherine is passionate about used (and local) bookstores, collecting cookbooks, and perfecting her at home matcha latté. She is pursuing her MA in English at Queen's where she is writing about intersectional feminism, eco-criticism, and cultural studies in modern and contemporary literatures.