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9 Tricks to Making Boxed Brownies Better

A splash of vanilla extract and a sprinkling of espresso powder—among other things—make boxed brownies better. With these hacks, you'll have yourself a half-homemade dessert that tastes like it's made from scratch.

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It’s safe to say just about everybody likes brownies. What not everyone can agree on is how they like their brownies. Some people prefer a fudgy, nutty bar; others love ’em chock-full of chocolate chips; still others enjoy the quintessential sweet smeared with frosting. In most cases, though, people want their brownies fast, so they go straight to a brownie mix. Here are some easy ways to make boxed brownies better.

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Fall Back on Butter

Most boxed brownies use canola or vegetable oil. Sub in the same amount of melted butter with brilliant results. This makes the brownies that much richer and more delicious. Bonus points if it’s high-quality butter, like our Test Kitchen’s favorite butter.

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Replace the Water

We’ve encountered mixes in which water is the only liquid. Replace it with a richer, more flavorful liquid, such as milk, buttermilk or coconut milk. Brewed coffee also works, adding interest without creating an overly indulgent end product.

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Crank Up the Cocoa

If you go for a fudgy brownie (sans mix-ins) but you can’t get enough chocolate flavor, stir a little extra cocoa powder into the batter. This produces a super dense, chocolaty delicacy. Yum! Oh, and it helps if you start with a good mix; our Test Kitchen uncovered the best brownie mixes.

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Stir in Espresso

A jolt of espresso powder is just the thing to amp up plain ole brownies. Stir 1 heaping teaspoon into the dry ingredients before adding the liquids, then bake as usual. Espresso not only makes the chocolate flavor more pronounced, but it also adds a subtle touch of beloved java flavor. Try more coffee-infused desserts.

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Add Extracts

Here’s a small improvement that comes from an ingredient already in your pantry! A teaspoon of vanilla, almond, mint, even rum extract can go a long way in the chocolaty sweet. These flavors, in particular, complement the cocoa goodness. (Psst! Did you know it’s super easy to make homemade vanilla extract?)

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Choose Chocolate Chunks

The most obvious way to enhance brownie mix is, well, more chocolate. What’s not as obvious is which chocolate to choose. These semisweet chocolate chips are our Test Kitchen’s favorites. (When it comes to baking, we recommend semisweet chocolate over dark or milk varieties.) Chopped semisweet bar chocolate also adds texture and richness to the batter. And that’s not to mention these seriously fun flavored baking chips.

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Swirl in Some Good Stuff

This trick makes your brownies stand out in more ways than one. Dollop cream cheese, fruit jam, pumpkin puree, peanut butter or caramel over brownie batter. Spoon it into the pan, then cut through the batter to create this wow-worthy effect. Your dessert will be prettier and tastier than every other treat on the table.

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Go Nuts

Nuts and chocolate are a flavor combination made in heaven. In addition to scattering nuts on top of brownies, you can also add them directly to the batter, then bake as usual. Walnuts, pecans, almonds and peanuts all work beautifully. Just be sure to toast the nuts beforehand for extra depth.

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Opt for a Topping

Want to perk up the brownies without interfering with the basic recipe? Add a topping. (This is fun for kids to help with, too!) Think a coat of frosting, peanut butter, or caramel or chocolate ice cream topping. Once you’ve slathered on a thick layer, sprinkle it with nuts, jimmies, toasted coconut, even flaky sea salt for some extra texture and fun.

Here are more ways to hack boxed brownies.

Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes articles and novels from her home in Milwaukee. She's an avid cook, reader, flâneur, and noir fanatic. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, will be published in June 2019 by William Morrow.
Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.