Homemade Brownies: A Healthier Alternative To Box Mix

I got to thinking about homemade brownies as they compared to cost, labor, and nutrition, compared to cooking out of a Pillsbury box.  Finding recipes online can be a real frustration.  I recently went looking for a homemade brownie recipe, as an alternative to typical store-bought “Box Brownies” that are both not necessarily available everywhere (particularly in certain other countries I find myself in from time to time) and questionable, health-wise; I was faced with around a dozen different recipes, just off the first page of Google.

The biggest problem was isolating recipes that even seemed plausible – some of them had such preposterous ratios that it was clear they would result in sticky sugary bricks – after that, I organized the recipes’ ingredients into the same order and adjusted the amounts to result in the same batch amount.  Yes, it was just as involved as it sounds.  The only major difference between them was the amount of sugar and the amount of flour.  So, I went about creating a hypothetical Test Batch, which was as follows:

2 cups sugar

1.25 cups flour

.66 cups cocoa

.5 teaspoon baking soda

.5 teaspoon salt

Added to those dry ingredients were:

2 eggs

.5 cup water

.5 cup oil

2 teaspoons vanilla


This recipe worked OK, but it wasn’t quite perfect.  They were too sweet, to the point where the sugar on the surface of the homemade brownies caramelized and left a 1mm crust.  So, I changed tactics – my full recipe (which I recommend making in bulk and then using two cups at a time, in half-batches) is as follows:

2 cups sugar

1.5 cups flour

.75 cups cocoa

.5 teaspoon baking soda

.5 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

.75 cup water

.5 cup oil

2 teaspoons vanilla


Put the in the oven at 350°F (175°C) for anywhere from 30-50 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, batch, elevation, humidity, etc.  I found that an 8”x5” glass dish half-recipe took 35 minutes; a 10”x7” porcelain dish full-recipe takes closer to 45 minutes.  I like my homemade brownies make cakey than gooey, so if you want them more gooey, put in 4 eggs and no water (instead of 2 eggs and .75 cup water), and it should do what you want it to do; if it’s too thick, add a little water until it looks about like it should.  You can also increase cocoa up to a full cup, and make them “darker chocolate,” but then you will want to use 4 eggs and .5 cups of water.  Don’t think of my recipe as “the end:” see it as your beginning to creating the type of brownie you like best.  Learn from my early experiments and then experiment on your own.

My dorkdom having no real end, I decided to compare a box of Box Brownies…so the rest of this really only matters to people who care about nutrition and some interesting things I learned about Box Brownies.  The wet ingredients are the exact same outside of my addition of three times as much water as the Box Brownies call for.  I can only conclude their use of fats and enriched flour changes the amount of water needed, and can probably be blamed for the calorie loss and fat gain seen in the Box Brownies, as well.  Let’s look at the nutritional statistics…


Pillsbury Brownies:

2200 calories

50g of fat

1600mg of sodium

380g of sugar

80g of other carbohydrates

20g of protein


jsphfrtz Brownies:

2380 calories

10g of fat

750mg of sodium

402g of sugar

176g of other carbohydrates

33g of protein


Brownie Breakdown:

jsphfrtz Brownies have 8% more calories

Pillsbury Brownies have 400% more fat

Pillsbury Brownies have 55% more sodium

jsphfrtz Brownies have 5% more sugar

jsphfrtz Brownies have 55% more other carbohydrates

jsphfrtz Brownies have 40% more protein


So, my hypothesis was right – there is significantly more fat in Box Brownies.  They simply use flour that’s been sucked-clean of nutritional value (which is why there’s less protein and real carbohydrates) and add around 40 grams of partially hydrogenated soybean oil (which you simply don’t need).  The bottom line is, because they do this to their recipe and I don’t, each Box Brownie has 7 grams of fat and each jsphfrtz Brownie has 5 grams of fat.  So it’s a pretty big difference, considering the average suggested daily fat intake is only around 20 grams a day.  Do you want that brownie to be more than a third of your fat for the day or just a quarter of for your for the day?  I rest my case.  Stop eating out of boxes.

Because I know you’re dying for me to end this brownie dissertation, here’s the final breakdown, post cooking:


Batch of 24 Brownies:

3500 calories

130g fat

425mg cholesterol

750mg sodium

402g sugar

176g other carbohydrates

45g protein


Single 2”x2” Brownie:

(approximate values)

145 calories

5g fat

18mg cholesterol

31mg sodium

17g sugar

7g other carbohydrates

2g protein


As an added bonus for those who read through all that nutritional stuff, I’m including my personal chocolate frosting recipe that uses granulated sugar, just like the homemade brownies (since we all know most call for confectioner’s (powdered) sugar), as a reward, but confectioner’s sugar does make it easier:

4 Tablespoons butter

.5 cup milk

2 cups sugar

1 or 2 Tablespoons cocoa (depending how sweet you like your frosting)

Heat the butter/milk mix almost to a boil – I use a medium heat, but it will depend on your stove – a double-boiler is even better.  Add the cocoa and sugar and stir it until it mixes together and appears smooth.  I use both a rubber spatula/scraper (to keep the frosting off the bottom of the pan)and a whisk, otherwise the frosting is not creamy enough.  Take it off the heat and add a dash of vanilla and a cold water bath to reduce the temperature (or put it in the fridge), but do not stop stirring it until it is slightly less than room temperature.  If these things do not happen, you will be left with grainy sugary frosting with a layer of butterfat on top.  Follow what I say and it will be both fine and “taste homemade” due to the texture – even if it’s a bit grainy, it adds to the “Hey, Muffy, this didn’t come from a can!” reaction you’re looking for, from people.  If you want to make the frosting top-notch, toss in a few marshmallows once it’s boiling, to make the frosting have that nice whipped consistency.

Both recipes given will bake up a fine 13″x9″ tray of 18 larger homemade brownies, but I still recommend making two 8″x5″ pans, as I think they bake better and are easier to size and cut (and you have a pan to eat and a pan to give away).

The frosting adds another 2600 calories, 100 grams of fat, and 400 grams of sugar to the mix.  It nearly doubles everything “bad” about your homemade brownies.  So be aware of that.

And now that I did all that, and you read through all that, added bonus to the added bonus:

Don’t add cocoa to the frosting and step-up the vanilla instead, and have vanilla frosting instead of chocolate.  In fact, you could use this frosting base for most any flavor you cared to add to it.

Enjoy your homemade brownies!

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