Vosges Caramel Toffee Chocolate Chunk Brownies

It was one of those nights. Too much homework to cook an elaborate meal, too cold to order out, too antisocial to go out to a restaurant. As though through telepathy, Keepitcoming and I looked at each other and confirmed each other’s darkest suspicions with three magical words.

“Brownies for dinner.”

The only brownie mix I had on hand was the Vosges Caramel Toffee Chocolate Chunk brownies. Life’s tough, huh? But be warned, fellow dessert diners, these aren’t just brownies you can whip together as a sweet counterpart to Parks and Recreation. (Team Ben! Team Ben!) Our total cooking time added up to over two hours including cooling. Was it worth the wait?Serious Eats’ Mixed Review correspondent, Lucy Baker, proclaimed these to be some of the best brownies she’s ever had. Big words from a leading cookbook author. Looking at her photos and musings gave me a serious hankering while I waited. The toffee on my brownies didn’t sink down to the middle of them and wound up crunchy on top in oozing puddles that seeped halfway through the batter, leaving craters of goo all over the brownies. They also took a half hour longer than the recipe said they would, but I kind of anticipated that.
One unsettling detail I noticed about these before cooking was the scent of the toffee. When you can smell something so hyperspecifically bad that you can identify the exact nature of the scent, in this case, canned fish and old milk, it can’t be good, can it? Originally, I thought this was the scent of the bag and I poured the toffee into a bowl to air out, but it lingered. Turns out that was the toffee’s natural aroma. After cooking, we waited an anxious hour to bite into them.In this case, looks aren’t everything. While in texture, the brownies were everything I’ve dreamed of and then some- puddles of chewy caramel melding with the ultimate gooey innards and cakey crust, the flavor really fell short of my expectations. As I suspected, the two-odd sticks of butter in the mix rendered into a slurry of sugar and oil really dominated the flavor, leaving the chocolate and toffee behind. The vanilla and sea salt I added were lost in the slick. The biggest depth in flavor I got was the occasional sea salt bite, but it was fleeting gratification. The most disappointing aspect was without a doubt the toffee flavor. The strange fishiness, which I expected to dissipate in the heat of the oven, was present and oily in my mouth and gave an overall unpleasant flavor to the mix when consumed in too large a bite as well as a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach minutes after taking a bite.I can’t say I’ve really been wowed by the Vosges line of baking products. For a $20 brownie mix, it should have been better than what it was and certainly should not have had such a strange, chemical flavor in its toffee. We’ve really relished each bar that Vosges comes out with, playing no favorites like a good parent, but their baking mixes seem to be inconsistent across the board.

UPDATE: I have decided to change the rating on these. We gave them a pretty harsh assessment when they were warm, assuming that, like most brownies, they would be at their peak when cooled for about an hour. In reality, they were exceedingly better about a day after cooking. The middle of the brownies was drastically different from the edges, harboring a gooey, rich, soft interior while the edges were cakey and mediocre. The pools of toffee remained strangely flavored, but as plain brownies with a thick middle, they were excellent. I’d recommend making these a day ahead of time in a thicker pan while omitting the toffee from the recipe.

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