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.)

 


Red hot chili cook-off

It’s that time of year again…when we enthusiastically pull out our slow cookers, grab our spoons and gather together in the kitchen for our annual chili cook-off! This year’s competitors included a Queso Chicken Chili, Vegetarian Chili and Spicy Chorizo Butternut Squash Chili.

chili cook-off 2017 allchili cook-off 2017 veggiechili cook-off 2017 tastingchili cook-off 2017 chorizo

We loaded up our bowls with chili and piled on the toppings: cheese, green onions, cilantro, sour cream and avocado. And of course, there were plenty of chips for dipping! As we stuffed our faces sampled the chili, we debated the merits of chips vs. cornbread (both awesome) and had a hearty discussion about which Fritos are better: regular or scoops (scoops, obv).

After we had all enjoyed seconds and thirds, we cast our votes and went back to our desks to take Tums wait for the results.

And the winner was…Kelsey’s Queso Chicken Chili!

This cheesy white chili is packed with chicken, beans and chili peppers for a Mexican twist. It’s flavorful, but not too spicy – chili perfection! Another successful chili cook-off in the books, and another great chili recipe to add to your collection. Try it for yourself and you’ll thank us later.

queso chicken chili

Kelsey’s Queso Chicken Chili

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 2 poblano peppers, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cans Great Northern beans (2 cans mashed, 2 cans whole beans)
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chiles
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 8 ounces queso cheese, shredded

 

Directions:

  • In large stock pot cook chicken in butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Remove and let cool. When cooled enough to touch, shred with two forks and set aside.
  • In same pot, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté onion over medium heat until softened. Add poblano peppers and garlic; sauté until onions are browned.
  • Rinse and drain beans. Mash 2 cans of the beans, leave 2 cans whole. (The mashed beans give the chili a wonderful creaminess!)
  • Add beans to the pot, along with the chicken stock and spices; simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes.
  • Add shredded chicken, green chiles and lime juice; simmer for 20 more minutes.
  • Add queso and stir until cheese is melted.
  • Top with your favorite fixings!

 

Topping suggestions:

  • Sour cream
  • Avocado
  • Cilantro
  • Tortilla strips
  • More shredded queso!

 

 


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.

5th annual chili cook-off

It’s one of our favorite work events of the year – our annual chili cook-off. This year we had six worthy contenders, ranging from classic Grandma-style chili to a noteworthy Thai-inspired vegetarian lentil chili.

All six competitors lugged their crock pots into the office that morning with high hopes of victory; the rest of us pitched in by supplying an impressive amount of chili toppings. Stomachs were growling all morning long as delicious smells wafted from the kitchen throughout the office. The struggle is real, folks. #foodmarketingproblems

Chili Cook Off Topping PrepChili Cook Off ToppingsChili Cook Off Serving

By lunchtime, we all bolted into the kitchen for some serious chili sampling. Avocados were chopped. Sour cream was scooped. Cheese was sprinkled. And don’t even get us started on the to-die-for cornbread croutons. Bowls were loaded up and refilled multiple times – proof that we’ve got some talented chili makers in-house!

Every employee voted for their top three chilis, but only one could come out on top. The winner: Tim Souther’s Chipotle Adobo Chili, filled with savory grass-fed ground beef, pinto beans and peppers, with just enough spice to keep things interesting. Try it for yourself!

Chili Cook Off Tim's Winning Chili

Tim’s Award-Winning Grass-Fed Chipotle Adobo Chili

Servings: 10-12
Preparation time: Around 6 hours

Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces dried pinto beans
  • 1 (12-ounce) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sweet white onions, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 ¼ pounds grass-fed ground beef
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans fire-roasted tomatoes

Directions:

  • Quick soak the dried beans.
    • Dump beans into colander. Check for, and remove, any stones or debris. Rinse.
    • Transfer to the saucepan and cover with 2 inches cold water. Bring the water to a boil, cook for 2 minutes. Remove them from heat and cover with lid.
    • Soak for at least 1 hour. Drain.
  • Remove chipotle peppers from adobo sauce and mince them. Save the sauce.
  • Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; sauté onions and red peppers until the onions are soft.
  • Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds or so.
  • Add the minced chipotle peppers and cumin.
  • Add ground beef; brown the meat, leaving the pieces fairly large. Season with a few pinches salt and pepper.
  • Dump in the tomatoes, pinto beans and adobo sauce.
  • Simmer for however long your heart tells you (I let mine go for about 5 hours, then transferred to a crock pot and let it go for another few).

Topping suggestions:

  • Cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Avocado
  • Cilantro
  • Cornbread croutons
  • Green onions

We love our taste tests around here.


That time we did a chocolate chip cookie contest

It’s a question as old as time (well, almost): What makes the perfect chocolate chip cookie?

Some people like them chewy, some like them crispy, some load ‘em up with nuts – and some like to add random ingredients (what?). So in the spirit of science, we held an entire-office chocolate chip cookie bakeoff, complete with cold, palate-cleansing glasses of milk.

Our finest bakers went forth, baked their favorite chocolate chip cookies and brought them in to share. To make sure each baker had a fair shot, the batches of cookies were each assigned a number and displayed anonymously.

Chocolate chip cookie contest SamChocolate chip cookie contest winnerChocolate chip cookie contest Tina

Then came the taste testing! Everyone loaded up their plates, sampled the goods and voted for their top three cookies.

In between bites, we all participated in a simple poll (science!) to see our overall chocolate chip cookie preferences. Turns out, it doesn’t matter if the cookies are thick or thin, as long as they are big and chewy. And the people have spoken: NO NUTS.

As for the final results of the bakeoff…here’s the winning recipe (#9!) submitted by Steph Ward:

Note:  Works best with an automatic mixer so mixer can mix while you pour in ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 sticks butter
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 egg
  • Vanilla to taste (1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon dependent on your like)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 bag Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Directions:

  • Heat oven to 375º F.
  • In bowl, combine milk, eggs and vanilla (wet ingredients).
  • In another bowl, combine baking soda, flour and salt (dry ingredients).
  • Melt butter and pour into mixing bowl.
  • Add both brown and white sugars to mixing bowl.
  • Turn on mixer and start mixing in wet and dry ingredients alternating between both. (Works best by taking half a cup of wet ingredients, half a cup of dry, wet, dry, etc).
  • On ungreased cookie sheet, put cookie dough on sheet in small quarter size.
  • Bake until edges are cooked but center looks wet.