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Box brownies deliver what you're craving.

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

Back before girls rode skateboards and boys played with dolls. Back when toys were purely gender specific, Food Dude remembers badly wanting a "girl toy." It was one of the few toys for girls that actually did something and if it hadn't been so verboten, I probably would have asked for one for Christmas.

I'm talking, of course, about the Easy Bake Oven, a product so beautifully simple it still impresses me.

At least it did until recently.

Countless cooks have pointed to this toy as the thing that inspired them to go into the kitchen. In case you don't remember, it was a safe oven that cooked cakes with a light bulb and gave little girls the chance to pretend they were using a real stove.

It's a classic toy that never really needed updating, but just as they ruined Legos and destroyed Erector Sets you knew they had to mess this one up. The Easy Bake recently became the subject of a voluntary 1 million-unit recall after 249 kids got their hands stuck in the newly redesigned ovens. Of those claims, 77 cases resulted in burns and one case required the partial amputation of a 5-year-old's finger.

Food Dude will not be buying an Easy Bake Oven for his little girl (or boy if he should happen to have one).

If you've got a question about toys, kitchen related or not, write to the address at the end of the article.

Dear Food Dude: Is it worth the trouble to make brownies from scratch?

- Sweet Tooth

Dear Mr. T: If you had asked me whether brownies from the box were as good as brownies from scratch, Food Dude would have asked you if perhaps you've been smoking too much powdered brownie mix. Of course homemade is better than scratch. Recently Mrs. Food Dude baked up a batch of chocolate chip brownies that would have slayed any of those restaurant desserts with stupid names like Triple Chocolate Decadence the way Uma Thurman took down Lucy Liu in "Kill Bill."

Few things in the dessert world can compete with a fresh baked brownie, especially not that wimpy tray of Betty Crocker you just baked in 35 to 40 minutes.

But that's not how you phrased the question, so to answer your quandary, no, it's never worth the extra trouble to make brownies from scratch. While everyone loves a homemade brownie, everyone also loves those cheap, gooey brownies from the box.

Say what you will about that killer family recipe that requires two sticks of butter and a half-hour of stirring over a double burner, but Food Dude would argue that I can get almost the same wow factor with an egg, a wooden spoon and a box of Duncan Hines - in half the time and at a fraction of the price.

Recently, I realized the power of non-homemade brownies when I showed up at a dinner party with a tray of Pillsbury. Now these weren't even Pillsbury brownies in a box, they were Pillsbury in a tube. I did nothing but squeeze pre-made batter into a pan and get the temperature and time right on the oven, but when I unveiled that tray of warm yumminess ... well, you can guess what kind of a reception I got.

No matter which brownie mix you choose, you really can't go wrong. Even the generic brands will produce a passable brownie. The only drawback to the generics that I could determine in my recent non-scientific taste test of every brownie mix I could get my hands on, is that they have a tendency to turn to rubber if you leave them overnight.

But if, like me, you tend to eat most of your brownies the night they're baked, you're probably OK going with that lesser known brand that's on sale for $2. The first rule of brownies is that there really is no such thing as a bad brownie.

The second rule of brownies is that they should never be eaten for breakfast. No matter how much you love brownies, they will only make you sick. During my taste tests, I tried (on several different occasions) to find a way around this rule - I so wanted to be able to enjoy a brownie every day with my morning coffee - but I was never quite able to stomach this particular baked good that early in the a.m.

Pillsbury and Betty Crocker scored about the same in my brownie taste tests and Duncan Hines came in a notch above. I tried all the different varieties of each label - in case you're wondering, the 18th Avenue Safeway has the best brownie selection in town - and came up with similar results. In general, I preferred the chocolate chunk varieties to the classic fudge or turtle styles and I always added one egg for more fudge-like brownies instead of two eggs for more cake-like brownies.

I wish I could say the best mix was also the cheapest, but I can't. If we're being picky about it, the best brand I tasted was also the most expensive. Ghirardelli Double Chocolate created the finest pan of brownies from a mix I've ever eaten. They were rich and chocolatey without being too much like a fine dessert cake, and although they cost a dollar more than the other name brands and twice as much as the generics, they were worth it.

There's one more rule of brownies worth mentioning: Although they're fine by themselves, brownies should ideally be eaten warm with vanilla ice cream. Food Dude likes to let his brownies set for about 45 minutes before eating, and I believe H<212>agen-Dazs is your best choice for vanilla, but I'll leave that taste test up to you.

Talk to the Food Dude at www.registerguard.com/fooddude. Or, send mail to Food Dude, The Register Guard, P.O. Box 10188, Eugene, OR 97440-2168.

CAPTION(S):

A bad brownie just isn't possible.
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Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 1, 2007
Words:998
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