Good news, treat-loving locavores. Our little corner of the country is home to a surprising number of chocolate cake and brownie mix makers. Always looking out for her fellow local-food lovers, expert recipe tester Jess Thomson tried out nine of their products—plus one from Utah (it’s not that far away)—in her own desserts lab. Here, her findings on which to buy, which to avoid, and tips on what to do to make your quick mixes taste like you’ve been baking for hours.

Brownie Bakeoff in our Shopping Guide

Top Mix Picks

Firenza Chocolate Ecstasy Cake
Locavore brownie points: 2.5 out of 5
Made 181 miles away in Beaverton, Oregon, this cake wouldn’t qualify for the 100-mile diet. But it earns points for coming from a neighbor state. 
Prep time 9 minutes
Prep difficulties None
We’re sweet on The fact that directions call for a mixer, so you can con yourself into thinking you’re actually baking.
The test kitchen suggests The mix puffs up into a dome when baked as directed, in a nine-inch pan—not ideal for double-layer cakes. We say: Embrace the dome. Plan for a single-layer cake and glaze with drippy chocolate ganache. For a coffee­scented version, add three tablespoons of freshly ground espresso powder. 

 


Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix
Locavore brownie points: 4 out of 5
It is manufactured just 17 miles away in Kent.
Prep time 5 minutes
Prep difficulties None
We’re sweet on The chocolate chips in the mix, which offer decadent little hits of chocolate flavor.
The test kitchen suggests These almost taste too real for boxed brownies, so stir in a handful of imitation chocolate chips, if you can’t handle the truth. If you want people to believe they are homemade, just keep quiet.

  

Ghirardelli Chocolate Syrup Brownie Mix
Locavore brownie points: 4 out of 5
It’s another Ghirardelli product made nearby in Kent (17 miles from Seattle). 
Prep time 6 minutes
Prep difficulties None
We’re sweet on The crinkly-wrinkly layer that forms on top.
The test kitchen suggests Real-food advocates will find much to disapprove of in the ingredient list, so we suggest you toss out the chemical-loaded syrup pouch and stir in a quarter cup of melted dark chocolate instead. Throw in one cup of chopped toasted walnuts or pecans for added crunch and flavor.

 

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Brownie Bakeoff in our Shopping Guide 

Mixes in the Middle  

Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Chocolate Cake
Locavore brownie points: 3 out of 5
Packaged 179 miles away in Milwaukie, Oregon, Bob’s Red Mill is a Northwest business all the way. 
Prep time 8 minutes
Prep difficulties None
We’re sweet on The ingredient list that’s made up of real foods with names you can pronounce.
The test kitchen suggests This cake will taste and smell suspiciously healthy to all but the most fastidious of health nuts. We urge you to slather it with salted caramel buttercream frosting. Lots of it.

 

Krusteaz Fudge Brownies
Locavore brownie points: 4 out of 5
Who knew so many baking mixes were manufactured 17 miles from Seattle in Kent?
Prep time 3 minutes
Prep difficulties Stirring entails a serious arm workout.
We’re sweet on The crunchy crust on the top and around the edges.
The test kitchen suggests So few steps are involved, the oven will still be heating when you’ve finished mixing. Be sure to give it a head start. Also, consider breaking up big chunks of a chocolate bar and stirring it into the batter.

 

 

Kodiak Cakes Big Bear Brownies
(Whole Wheat and Double Chocolate)
Locavore brownie points: 1 out of 5
It’s made in Salt Lake City, Utah, 839 miles from Seattle. 
Prep time 7 minutes
Prep difficulties None
We’re sweet on The way the sugary top almost sparkles.
The test kitchen suggestsThese brownies didn’t rise much and possess a grittiness that comes from whole grain flour, which also makes the batter heavy. Covering with any sort of frosting will help moisten the mouthfeel.

 

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Brownie Bakeoff in our Shopping Guide

Mixes We Can’t Fix

Firenza Triple Chocolate Brownie
Locavore brownie points: 2.5 out of 5
These come to us from Beaverton, Oregon, 181 miles from downtown Seattle. 
Prep time 7 minutes
Prep difficulties The batter has a cementlike consistency; we resorted to spreading it in the baking dish with our fingertips.
We’re sweet on The decadence of three chocolates in one mix.
The test kitchen suggestsThe decadence of three chocolates in one mix entices, but the weird dimpled texture and lack of finish makes it a dud. We recommend leaving this one at the store.

 

Nature’s Path Organic Double Fudge Brownie Mix (Whole Wheat)
Locavore brownie points: 2 out of 5
Nature’s Path sends these to us from Eugene, Oregon, 285 miles away.
Prep time 4 minutes
Prep difficultiesNone
We’re sweet on Whole wheat! In brownies!
The test kitchen suggestsThe results had a grainy texture and a funky dry aftertaste when warm. Add two eggs for a moister outcome.


Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Brownies
Locavore brownie points: 3 out of 5
A product from Milwaukie, Oregon; 179 miles from Seattle.
Prep time 8 minutes
Prep difficulties Consistency is gluey before baking, and they never quite look done.
We’re sweet on The fact that the mix calls for real vanilla extract.
The test kitchen suggestsWe were excited to bake up this celiac-friendly product, but were turned off by the strange near-black color and greasiness. The baked mix didn’t hold together when warm and cracked into bricks when cool. We say keep searching for a good gluten-free product or start experimenting from scratch.

 

Krusteaz Fat Free Fudge Brownies
Locavore brownie points: 4 out of 5
These get high marks for being manufactured 17 miles away in Kent.
Prep time 3 minutes
Prep difficulties Even with considerable stirring batter doesn’t combine evenly.
We’re sweet on Brownies that taste good. (Read: not these.)
The test kitchen suggests There is a reason “fat free brownie” sounds like an oxymoron. The noxious chemical smell that wafted upward while we were mixing and baking disturbed us. Cut calories somewhere else.
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