Brownies are an impressively versatile treat; they take well to a variety of different fillings, but never lose their brownie identity. So why is it that the choices are always so...underwhelming at bakeries? Sure, you'll see the standards: fudge brownies, brownies with walnuts, and the occasional peanut butter, or perhaps mint "novelty" brownies, but nothing that really excites the palate. Luckily, we've got your back at Cakespy: recently we put brownies to the test by trying out a variety of very unexpected fillings, ranging from sweet to savory, from bitter to the completely shocking, to see what might work, what might not, and what might perhaps spawn a Brownie Great Awakening. Here are the details of our experiment:
Who tasted them?: Me and members of Seattle rock band Speaker Speaker.
What were the flavors?: We elected to make them in a variety of unexpected tastes and textures, and so finally settled on the following: bacon (in our case we used Morningstar farms veggie bacon), Monterey Jack Cheese, Saltines, salted peanuts, Jaffas, mint malt balls, Starburst, and Sour Patch Kids.
How did we make 'em? The recipe was a basic brownie recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. They were made using a mini scone pan from Williams-Sonoma to yield little triangles; the dividers formed a nice barrier between the different types of brownies, thus making it possible to mix in the different fillings by brownie within the same batch. While we worried that perhaps the stronger flavors or smells might infuse the others another while baking, once we began tasting, this did not seem to be a problem.
And as for our expert thoughts?
First, the savories:
(Veggie) Bacon Brownies (above): There have been a lot of bacon-and-sweets recipes going around, and while curious, we suspected that perhaps the recent popularity was largely based on shock value rather than intense tastiness. And while there is no denying that bacon in pastries provides a certain "Omigod" factor, the flavor was surprisingly good; smoky, salty, sweet, and savory, all at the same time. As taster Danny said, "It's like brownie...and then a wave of bacon". Overall, a sweet and salty success!
Saltines (above): These ones elicited the largest amount of taste associations, reminding us alternately of chocolate covered pretzels, Nestle crunch bars, and various other chocolate-with-a-crunch sweets. Overall, these went over well, probably the most "normal" tasting of the unusual flavors.
Salted Peanuts (above): You'll see peanut butter brownies, or walnut brownies...but very rarely whole peanuts. The peanuts provided the familiar flavor of peanut butter, but with a satisfying crunch. The saltiness was rich and gave a very pleasing mouthfeel; a nice variation on an "expected" flavor.
And now, moving on to the sweet styles:
Jaffas (above): They're all the rage in New Zealand (a soft-chocolate covered orange lolly candy), but we'd never heard of them until we interviewed City Down, the Cupcake Queen of New Zealand. Now we're addicted, and they're a very pleasant addition to brownies, a slightly unexpected variation on the now-ubiquitous orange and chocolate pairing.
Starburst (above): We placed a Starburst candy jauntily on top of the batter on this one, and guess what: It burned a hole through the brownie! You'd think we might be warned by this unholy-seeming sign but no: we ate that sucker. Our reactions were mixed: some thought they tasted very wrong, but to others, they tasted so right. Go figure.
Mint Malt Balls (above): We tried this to put a new spin on the chocolate-mint thing; while they were pleasant, they weren't really that different than your basic mint brownie, the malt being broken up and covered with batter to the point of having lost its crunch.
Sour Patch Kids (above): What a surprise these were. None of us expected them to be delicious, but overall the sourness seemed to mix nicely with the brownies, perhaps lending a tartness that cut through the richness a little bit. A little went a long way with this flavor, but it was certainly a worthwhile experiment. Plus, baking them made the coating melt off, so that the candies resembled little jewels, making these the "prettiest" ones by far.
So, to sum it up? Brownies are delicious, no doubt about it. But as a treat with such an incredible range, why should we become content with so few choices? As we found in our tasting, some of the most unexpected flavors were very rewarding and surprisingly delicious. So don't be afraid to "mix it up" in your own kitchen; you might just stumble upon a happy accident!
Have you tried out something unexpected with your brownies that turned out well? Let us know!
Cakespy Note: Our apologies for not responding to your comments right away this week; we are out spying in NYC til February 7!
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