Eat these and tell me which one you like better.

It was a short sentence, only four words, so it couldn’t help but get right to the point: “blind taste test, please.”

This concise articulation was the work of Anonymous, who posted the comment on the 10/6 entry, in which I confidently waxed on about the tastier, chocolatey-er, and superior-in-every-conceivable-way brownie the expensive Scharffen Berger chocolate produced. Anonymous wasn't so sure I was right. She was skeptical. She wanted scientific proof that I wasn’t swayed by my snooty, foodie, preconceived chocolate notions in turning my schnozz up at the supermarket stuff. She had a point, I never actually did a side-by-side, blind taste test. Anonymous totally busted me.

So lets do it, let the grocery store Baker's chocolate face off, mano a mano, against the artisanal Scharffen Berger. Gloves off, blindfold on, let's find out if the pricey chocolate is worth it. Let's prove to "Anonymous", if that's her real name, that I like what I like because I really like it, not because I like the idea of it.

In one corner, we have young upstart Scharffen Berger, only on the chocolate scene since 1996 and produced in small batches by producers who keep a close eye on every single cacao bean that finagles its way into the bar.

And in the other corner, we have the widely available Baker’s, owned by Kraft. Baker's doesn’t include a single fact on its website about the quality of the chocolate or the origin of the cacao beans used, instead choosing to share relevant tidbits like: “The amount of the Baker’s Chocolate consumed in a year (lined up in squares) would span the length of the Grand Canyon nine times!” Superfluous exclamation marks really steam me.

I don’t think you have to ask who my money was on. But let the games begin.

The guidelines were simple: two batches of the same brownie recipe (Baker’s one-bowl brownies ), one using each brand of chocolate. It's a pretty good recipe, super fudgy, which made it a bit messy and difficult to cut attractively (although that could just be the fact that I'm completely lacking in food presentation skills.) All the other ingredients (butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour) would be identical. No nuts, no coffee, no other flavorings.

A friend administered the blind taste test, taking extra care that I didn't peek. I tasted one brownie. I cleansed the palate (Poland Spring). I tasted the other brownie. They were shockingly close. But I tried them both again and decided one had fruitier and caramell-ier notes than the other. It turned out to be the Scharffen Berger.

But I really was surprised at how close they tasted. I detected the subtle differences, only because I was looking for them. Could it possibly not be worth shelling out the big bucks for baking chocolate?

I decided to take the question to the masses. A random sampling of 15 coworkers happily partook of the blind taste test and chippped in their two cents. It was a mix of men and women, foodies and non-foodies. I was really surprised that 11 went for the the Baker’s as the tastier chocolate treat and only 4 opted for the Scharffen Berger. And most seemed like they could go either way. Either I'm spending too much money on chocolate, or working in advertising may be harmful to the taste buds.

The moral of the story is pretty much the same as the moral of this story:: homemade brownies are delicious. But this moral includes the addendum that you can get away with the cheap chocolate if your audience is a bunch of hungry, pre-lunch, baked-goods-starved advertising creatives. Or pretty much anyone else.

I have been duly smacked-down, Anonymous. Keep those comments a-comin'.


Carolyn said...

1. I can't believe I didn't get any brownies.

2. I mean, that was the whole reason I suggested the taste test in the first place. I'M ANONYMOUS!

leena! said...

Hey, I liked this post. I am constantly making two versions of one recipe to find the superior methods and ingredients, and its brownies. Even when they're bad, they are still pretty damn good.

Andrea said...

Oh, Carolyn, Carolyn, Carolyn. Has I known it was you masquerading as "anonymous", your life would have been a shower of rich, chocolatey brownies. I guess I'm not the only one who learned something from this little experiement, eh?

Anonymous said...

In a cookbook I was just reading, I found an explanation for this, in that when baking (or otherwise being held at high temperatures, particularly mixed into other ingrediants) chocolate loses a lot of it's distintive flavors. So the expensive stuff is good straight off the bar, or gently tempered and used for dipping cookies, but if you are baking something up, go ahead and use the cheap stuff. This is also why it is absolutely imperative not to overbake chocolate cookies, more so that other kinds: you don't want to lose depth of flavor. The higher and longer, the worse off the chocolate will be in terms of flavor complexity.

This information came from either "The Dessert Bible" by Christopher Kimbel, or "The New York Times Dessert Cookbook" by Florence Fabricant. Don't remember which.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention, you can also significantly boost the brownies by adding cinnamon. Or you can go crazy and add both cinnamon and ancho chili powder. Or other spices (black pepper? ginger? parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme?). Because nothing makes brownies better than a little flavor complexity.

And cinnamon in brownies is GOOD.