How To Make Boxed Brownies Taste Homemade

No one will ever know they're not from scratch.

How did it happen this time? Did your child mention, on his way out the door, that it's your turn to bring goodies to the class party this afternoon? Or is it late at night, and you suddenly remember the office potluck is tomorrow? You may not have time to make cupcakes or a layer cake from scratch, but you can still whip up a delicious plate of almost homemade chocolate brownies.

Growing up, our moms relied on boxed mix cakes for a reason—they are budget-friendly, quick, easy to make, and if you choose a good brand, mighty tasty. So, don't panic. Grab that boxed brownie mix (that you bought for an occasion like this) and read on for a few suggestions on making a boxed brownie mix taste homemade. Substituting or adding just one extra ingredient (and there are many to choose from) can take a brownie mix from good to oh-so-great. Nobody will ever suspect those chocolatey treats came from a box. Shhh…we won't tell!

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Add Extra Favor

Another way to make a boxed brownie mix taste homemade is to use an extract, adding a hint of additional flavor to your brownies without undermining the chocolate flavor. Vanilla (the most commonly used extract), almond, peppermint, lemon, and orange are just a few used extensively in baking with chocolate. Regular alcohol is also a great addition to brownie recipes (as long as you aren't serving the baked item to minors). Adding amaretto, rum, Kahlua, Cointreau, or bourbon will elevate your brownies from a dessert just for kids to a cocktail party treat.

Add Candy Bar Pieces

Enhance the ooey-gooey texture of your brownies by chopping bite-sized pieces of your favorite candy—peppermint patties, peanut butter and chocolate cups, coconut and nut chocolate bars. The choices are endless and will add texture but also change the flavor profile of a basic chocolate brownie to a decidedly homemade one. If you don't want to change the classic chocolate flavoring of a brownie but still want to add something extra, use semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks for an exceptionally sweet treat.

Flourless Bourbon Brownies
Photographer: Antonis Achilleos, Prop Stylist: Christine Kelly, Food Stylist: Ali Ramee

Add Strong Coffee

The water called for in the recipe instructions will not give you any additional flavor, but using the same amount of strong coffee instead of water will intensify the chocolate flavor without making the brownies taste like coffee. If you don't have brewed coffee on hand, add just a teaspoon of espresso powder to the water to bring out the deeper chocolate flavor—Using more than a teaspoon will start to bring out coffee flavors (which is fine if you are a coffee lover). Instant coffee is also a substitute for espresso powder.

Check Your Pantry

Have a look through your pantry at what is available. You can add more chocolate by mixing in a cup of your favorite morsels, be it dark, semi-sweet, mint, or peanut butter. Stir in some shredded coconut or chopped dried cranberries, cherries, or other fruits. For a crunch, chop up some nuts in your food processor and mix them in too. Or, toast the nuts, mix them with the dried fruit and chocolate morsels, and sprinkle the mixture across the pan of hot brownies right as it comes out of the oven, which makes them taste and look delicious.

Add a Swirl of Sauce

Your favorite ice cream topping can make a boxed brownie mix taste homemade. Pour the brownie batter into the pan, drizzle caramel sauce over the batter, and use a knife to swirl the sauce throughout the batter. Top baked brownies with additional caramel sauce and toasted pecans to make turtle brownies. You can follow the same technique to swirl Nutella, peanut butter, jam, or anything else throughout the brownie batter.

Add Sweet Toppings

Stir a cup or two of mini marshmallows into the brownie mixture and let them melt into the brownies as they bake. Or sprinkle marshmallows across the top of the brownies a few minutes before they are done and allow them to melt and brown during the last few minutes of bake time. Drizzle the finished product with chocolate sauce, sprinkle with chopped pecans, and you have Mississippi Mud Brownies!

You can also frost the brownies when they cool completely. In a pinch, use store-bought frosting here too, but add something extra like sprinkles or chopped nuts to make it memorable. Top brownies with whatever you prefer, including different flavored frostings, sprinkles, marshmallows, or shredded coconut.

Add Some Salt

Salt enhances the sweetness in your brownies. You might think that adding salt would make brownies, or any chocolate, salter, but it actually brings out the sweet quality in these types of desserts. Sprinkle it in the batter or add flaky sea salt to the top of the brownies after removing them from the oven.

Substitute Core Ingredients

You can make several substitutions to help improve a boxed brownie mix and make it taste homemade. One change is to use milk or heavy cream instead of water. This change will make brownies more moist and gooey since milk is more fatty and flavorful than water. A second change is to use butter instead of oil. For similar reasons to using milk, butter adds a rich and more decadent quality to the batter. Finally, try substituting egg yolks instead of using the whole egg listed in the ingredients of your box brownie mix. Egg yolk has a higher fat content, so this will make your brownies fudgier.

Make Better Baking Decisions

Make boxed brownies seem more homemade by changing how you bake them, including not overmixing or overbaking your batter. When you can stick a toothpick in the center, remove it, and it is moist with only a few crumbs, the brownies are ready.

Let Brownies Cool

It might be difficult to resist slicing into your warm, fudgy brownies—especially when making them on a busy weekday night—but you will be happy you do. If you cut into your brownies too early, they will crumble and fall apart. Try placing your pan in the refrigerator to allow enough time for them to cool.

Bake Low and Slow

Instead of baking brownies according to the temperature and times on the back of the box, try switching things up. Bake your brownies at a lower temperature for a longer time—This creates fudge-like brownies while maintaining a good consistency throughout.

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