The 2nd Annual Great Ingredient Brownie Bake-Off

We had so much fun eating brownies for lunch last year that we decided to do it again! This year, five competitors faced off in one of our favorite office contests, a good old-fashioned brownie bake-off.

Because seriously, anytime you have a work-mandated excuse to eat a plateful of brownies in one sitting…now THAT’S a good day.

But first, a little back story on brownies. The earliest printed recipe for brownies appeared in the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook 1896, created by a woman named Fannie Farmer, who was well known cook and lecturer on food and nutrition. (And yes, the inspiration for the Fanny Farmer chocolate brand years later.)

The first recipe called for molasses instead of chocolate, and the brownies were baked in individual molds. In 1906, the recipe was updated with chocolate swapped in for molasses – and Americans discovered a new favorite dessert!

Fudgy brownies have a minimum amount of flour and no leavening (such as baking powder).

Cakelike brownies are just like they sound – like little cakes. With less butter and more flour than fudgy brownies, along with the addition of baking powder, they bake up softer and lighter.

Chewy brownies are made with extra eggs and a combination of different types of chocolate, creating a nice, chewy texture.

Blondies aren’t made with chocolate at all; instead, they’re butterscotch bars made with brown sugar, butter, and eggs.

Brownie bake-off contestants Brownie bake-off selection

The five brownie recipes in our bakeoff definitely fell in the chewy, fudgy category – and not a blondie in sight! After stuffing our faces with delicious, chocolaty goodness, it all came down to a vote.

Emily's browniesIn third place: Emily’s Glossy Fudge Brownies. Made with three (!!!) sticks of butter, six (!!!) eggs, cocoa, and dark chocolate, these brownies were incredibly rich, dense and chocolaty.

 

Marcie's browniesIn second place: Marcie’s Snickers Brownies. These insanely good brownies had gooey chunks of Snickers candy bars mixed right into the batter.

 

And in first place: Lindsey’s aptly-named Best Ever Brownies, from Gemma’s Bigger Bolder Baking. Dark, moist, and studded with plenty of chocolate chips, these extra-rich brownies were a chocolate lover’s dream. Check out the recipe and try it for yourself!

Lindsey's brownies

Best Ever Brownies
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (8oz/227g) butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6¼oz/184g) brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8¼oz/244g) white sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (5oz/150g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (4oz/123g) good quality, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cup (9oz/270g) roughly chopped chocolate or large chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), then line a 7×11 inch baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a large bowl combine melted butter, oil and both sugars.
  • Add the eggs, vanilla and salt, then whisk for about one minute until evenly combined and light in color.
  • Over the same bowl sift in the flour and cocoa powder. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until JUST combined (don’t over mix). Fold in half of the chocolate chunks.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, then smooth the top. Generously top with the remaining chocolate chunks.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the center of the brownies no longer jiggles and is JUST set to the touch.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before removing from the baking tray and slicing into 16 brownies. Enjoy!

Banana Bread Bake-Off!

According to King Arthur Flour, the most searched-for bread recipe online isn’t white sandwich bread or whole wheat bread – or any bread with yeast in it at all! Nope, the most sought-after bread recipe in America is actually…banana bread!

It all makes sense, of course. Nothing conjures up happy memories quite like the smell of banana bread baking, or the satisfying taste of a warm slice fresh from the oven. For many people, banana bread is a family tradition that’s been passed on for generations.

Banana bread first became popular in the United States in the 1930s. During the Depression era, households were unwilling to throw away anything, even “rotten” bananas.

Around the same time, baking powder and baking soda became widely available for the first time, giving families the ability to bake simple “quick breads” without having to use yeast.

The first widely used banana bread recipe appeared in Pillsbury’s 1933 Balanced Recipes cookbook. Over the years, as more versions of this simple recipe appeared, banana bread exploded in popularity among home cooks.

To say we were excited for an office-wide banana bread bake-off is an understatement. (You know we love a good competition.) The office smelled amazing! The eight competitors brought a wide variety of banana bread recipes to the table. Many were tried-and-true recipes that had been in their families for years, but several people tried brand-new recipes, putting their faith in Google’s ability to beat out Grandma. One person even baked his bread right in our studio kitchen that morning (NO FAIR, warm banana bread advantage!) – prompting everyone else to wrap their breads in foil and pop them in the oven to even up the score.

Banana Bread Tasting PlateBanana Bread Tasting Sheet

What surprised us the most was that no two banana breads were alike. Some had nuts, some had chocolate chips, some were plain. One had a chocolate drizzle. One was under-baked (sorry, Steph).

After some pretty delicious taste-testing, we narrowed it down to three winners….

Kelsey's Aloha Banana BreadIn third place: Kelsey’s Aloha Banana Bread, inspired by her recent trip to Hawaii. It was the most unique bread we tasted, featuring pineapple and macadamia nuts baked right inside.

 

 

 

 

Marcie's Traditional Banana Bread with mini chocolate chipsIn second place: Marcie’s Traditional Banana Bread, which had mini chocolate chips. “Because they don’t sink,” she explained.

 

 

 

 

Jasper's Secret Recipe Banana Bread

And the winner: A surprise entry from Matt, the person we didn’t think knew how to bake. Turns out, he does. His delicious Nutmeg Spiced Banana Bread stole the show. And for the record, it was a grandma recipe. We’d love to share it here, but the recipe is a family secret! Looking for a similar recipe? Ask YOUR grandma! (Or Google. We won’t tell.)

 


White Mountain Layer Cake with Marshmallow Buttercream

Before Ingredient, I didn’t bake. The precision and patience required to complete a bake drives me mad. And then there’s the chance you won’t know something is a disaster until the end. Hard pass. I’ll stick to cooking thankyouverymuch.

Not baking at Ingredient was a non-option. The remedy: I started a pie club with a couple of friends outside of work, and at work, baked through recipes like this and this and this.

My pre-bake routine

  1. Playlist on
  2. Recipe read fully. Twice.
  3. All ingredients prepped exactly as listed, both weight and temperature

My latest adventure in baking was to tackle BraveTart’s (aka. Stella Parks) White Mountain Layer Cake with Marshmallow Buttercream. *gulp* Three layers. Okay. Homemade frosting. I can do this. Oh, you have to make homemade marshmallows for the frosting first?! *gulp*

The reviews made it worth it…

“It tastes like wedding cake.”

“It’s so light.”

“The frosting is delicious. I was expecting it to be sweeter, but I like that it isn’t.”

“It reminds me of angel’s food cake.”

White Mountain Layer Cake with Marshmallow Buttercream slice

White Mountain Layer Cake with Marshmallow Buttercream

Ingredients:

The buttercream

  • 1 packet (2 14 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin powder
  • 14 cup (2 ounces) cool tap water to bloom the gelatin
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract and/or 
1 vanilla bean
  • 34 cup (6 ounces) water for the sugar syrup
  • 34 cup plus 2 tablespoons (10 ounces) light corn syrup
  • 2 cups (14 12 ounces) sugar
  • 12 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
  • 5 sticks (20 ounces) unsalted butter, soft but cool–about 65°F

The cake

  • 4 cups (16 ounces) bleached cake flour such as Swans Down
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, pliable but cool—about 65°F
  • 23 cup (4 ounces) virgin coconut oil, solid but cream–about 70°F
  • 14 cups (16 ounces) sugar
  • 12 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 34 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
  • 1 cup (8 12 ounces) egg whites (from 8 large eggs), brought to about 70°F
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) cultured low-fat buttermilk, brought to about 70°F

Directions:

  • To better synchronize the downtime in both recipes, start the Marshmallow Buttercream before the cake. First, make the marshmallow base: In a small bowl, mix the gelatin with 2 ounces (14 cup) cool tap water and vanilla extract, if using. If using a vanilla bean, split lengthwise with a paring knife, run the flat of the blade down each half to scrape out the seeds, and add to the gelatin without stirring. (Reserve the pod for another project.)
  • Combine remaining 6 ounces (34 cup) water, corn syrup, sugar, and salt in a 3-quart stainless steel pot and set over medium heat. Stir mixture with a fork until bubbling, about 5 minutes, then increase heat to medium-high. Clip on a digital thermometer and cook, without stirring, until the clear syrup registers 250°F, about 8 minutes.
  • Transfer thermometer to the bowl of a stand mixer and pour in the hot syrup all at once, scraping the pot with a heat-resistant spatula. Cool to exactly 212°F, about 8 minutes, then add gelatin. With the whisk attachment, mix on low speed until the gelatin is melted, then increase to medium-high and whip until thick, snowy white, roughly tripled in volume, and beginning to ball up around the whisk, about 10 minutes. Scrape into a greased 4-cup container, cover tightly, and let stand at cool room temperature until thick and firm, at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week.
  • While the marshmallow cream is resting, start the cake: Adjust an oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 325°F. Line three 8-by-3-inch anodized aluminum cake pans with parchment and grease with pan spray; if you don’t have three pans, the remaining batter can be held at room temperature for up to 3 hours. (The cakes will brown more and rise less in 2-inch pans.) Sift the flour (if using cup measures, spoon into the cups and level with a knife before sifting) and set aside. Combine butter, coconut oil, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to moisten, then increase to medium and cream until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes, pausing to scrape the bowl and beater halfway through. With the mixer running, add the egg whites one at a time, followed by vanilla and almond extracts.Reduce speed to low and sprinkle in one-third of the flour, followed by one-third of the buttermilk. Alternate between the two, allowing each addition to be roughly incorporated before adding the next. Once smooth, fold with a flexible spatula to ensure it’s well mixed from the bottom up. Divide among the prepared cake pans, about 22 ounces each.
  • Bake until the cakes are firm but pale, browned only around the very edges, about 40 minutes (or 210°F). A toothpick inserted into the center will emerge with a few crumbs still attached, and your fingertip will leave a slight indentation in the puffy crust. Cool until no trace of warmth remains, about 90 minutes.
  • While the cakes are cooling, finish the buttercream. Transfer marshmallow base to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whipping on medium speed, begin adding the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting for about 5 seconds after each addition. The fluffy creme will cling to the whisk at first but loosen as the butter is incorporated. Once combined, scrape the bowl with a flexible spatula and whip a minute more. The buttercream should be light and creamy but thick enough to hang upside down from a spoon. If it seems stiff or dense (feeling greasy rather than melting on your tongue), scoop a cup into a small bowl and microwave until completely melted, about 30 seconds. Return the melted buttercream to the bowl and whip 15 seconds on medium-high. Conversely, if it seems loose or gooey, refrigerate the entire bowl 15 minutes, then whip 3 minutes on medium-high.
  • Loosen the cakes from their pans with a knife. Invert onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, and reinvert. Crumb-coat and frost with Marshmallow Buttercream. Serve immediately or store under a cake dome or an inverted pot; the frosted cake will keep for up to 24 hours at room temperature. After cutting, wrap leftover slices individually and store at room temperature for up to 2 days more.


The Great Ingredient Pie Bake-Off

Before the ink was dry on The Great Ingredient Brownie Bake-Off trophy, someone shouted: “What’s next?”

“Cookies?”

“Nah, we already did chocolate chip.”

“Something savory?”

“The hot dish bake-off was kind of a flop.”

“Plus, we do chili in the fall.”

“Sweets seem to draw more entries…”

“Pie?!”

“YES! PIE!”

We kept the rules loose for the 1st annual Great Ingredient Pie Bake-Off. Sweet or savory. Pie, tart or galette. Baker’s choice.

  • Total entries: 6
  • Sweet: 6
  • Savory: 0
  • Pies: 5
  • Tarts: 0
  • Galettes: 1

 old fashioned blueberry key lime sour cream apple blueberry peach galette

It was a fierce competition, but in the end, Emily Tritabaugh’s Salty Honey was awarded the tarnished-pie-server trophy.

pie bake-off voting trophy salty honey pie

Salty Honey Pie

From Melissa and Emily Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds

The crust

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 8-10 tablespoons ice water with cider vinegar, or more as needed (combine 1 cup cold water, 1/8 cup cider vinegar and ice)

Directions:

  • Whisk the dry ingredients together and blend with a hand-held pastry blender the chopped, cold butter, being careful not to overwork during this step. The butter should be in pea-sized chunks, not too big, but not completely incorporated.
  • Slowly add the ice water and vinegar mixture and bring the dough completely together by hand, again being careful not to overwork. Aim to create a marbleized effect, so that the butter is still visible.
  • Divide into 2 discs, wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour or more before use.
  • Roll one disc of crust out to fit a 9-inch pan, about 1/4 inch thick. Place in a buttered pie pan, and crimp the edges as desired. Allow to rest and cool in freezer or fridge for at least 20 minutes.
  • Line the rolled-out crust with tinfoil or unwaxed parchment paper, add pie weights or about a cup of dry beans if you don’t have pie weights. Distribute them evenly.
  • Bake in a 375 F oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before filling with custard.
  • Freeze second disc for another day

The filling

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter melted
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons flake sea salt for finishing (Maldon is a good choice)

Directions:

  • All of the mixing can be done by hand, or with an electric mixer.
  • Melt butter and combine with the sugar, salt and cornmeal to make a thick paste. Add the honey, vanilla and vinegar and mix together. Fold in the eggs, add the cream and blend.
  • Pour the filling into a pre-baked pie shell and bake at 350 F for 45 to 60 minutes. The filling will puff up like a marshmallow and the center will be just slightly wobbly. Once cooled (at least one hour), finish with a sprinkling of flake sea salt. Slice and serve with freshly whipped cream.

The Great Ingredient Brownie Bake-Off

Everyone likes brownies.  Even people who say they don’t like brownies actually like brownies because they’re obviously kidding and otherwise what kind of Mad Max hellscape do we live in?

Brownies sound like a straightforward endeavor – everyone has a picture of the standard brownie in their head.  But what makes the best brownie? That devil is in the details. Chewiness? Robust chocolate flavor? Structurally sound so that when you sneak one and run behind the laundry room door it doesn’t crumble into an evidential trail of shame?

That’s the kind of mystery Ingredient likes to get to the bottom of. And the Great Ingredient Brownie Bake-Off was born.

Nine brave contestants submitted their creations. There were no rules. Mint? Oh yes. Sea salt?? Oh hell yes. Possibly more of a bar than a brownie??? Pass. My. Smelling. Salts.

BrowniesBrownie close-upBrownie lineup

“Fortune befriends the bold.” – Emily Dickinson (likely referring to baked goods)

Once the brownie entries were all lined up, it was a truly awe-inspiring sight. So much so that little work took place and eventually the entire company just stood around waiting for the contest to start.

Brownie tasting

The testing was rigorous. People hummed and hawed over their findings, went back for seconds, and wished for milk.

Truthfully, everyone was a winner because we ate nine different types of brownies for lunch. But the official winner was the Yummy Bar Brownies (aka Wake & Bake Brownies). Full disclosure, they were my entry. Gooey caramel and chocolate chips sandwiched between two layers of chewy brownie. Make a batch for yourself!

yummy bars

Yummy Bar Brownies

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15 ¼ ounce) package of German chocolate cake mix
  • ¾ cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 6 ounces (about ½ a package) chocolate chips
  • 40 caramels
  • 1/3 cup evaporated milk (separate from above)

 

Directions:

  1. Mix together cake mix, melted butter and 1/3 cup evaporate milk. Spread half of this in a lightly greased 8 in square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 6 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle chips over top of mixture. Melt caramels with remaining evaporated milk and drizzle over chocolate.
  3. Crumble and pat remaining mixture on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.