Just as there are ‘process’ killers and ‘product’ killers, I like to think that there are process bakers and product bakers. Process people take comfort and joy in the execution of their favorite hobby, where product people are in it for the result. Like Jeffrey Dahmer, I’m a product person, but our goals are very different. Dahmer wanted a comatose sex slave; I just want some brownies.
Before college—before years in a lab, measuring powders—I was a process baker. I was fairly new to cooking in general, and I found the exactness of the recipes to be soothing. But as I grew older, more confident in the kitchen, and much more tired, I enjoyed being told what to do less and less. All of this could be why I enjoy the almost-instant gratification of a boxed mix brownie, or it could be that because—in most cases—the Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate brownie mix simply tastes better than most homemade brownies, especially when you consider the effort-to-payoff ratio.
When I expressed this opinion a few weeks back , both my Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Editor reacted with abject horror. “Which homemade brownies have you tried?,” Alice wanted to know. I could not remember, because none of them had been memorable. “Have you tried the Katharine Hepburn brownies?,” she wanted to know. I had not, but I promised her I would, and then I did. I also made A.A. Newton’s One-Bowl Brownies for Bad Days .
Obviously, none of these brownies are bad, because they are all pastry squares made of chocolate, sugar, and fat, but neither of the homemade recipes convinced me to give up my box of Ghirardelli mix for five very specific reasons:
Again, none of these brownies are bad. They are all brownies, after all. But in the wee hours of the morning, when I stumbled into the kitchen half-asleep for something to grief-eat over the sink, what pan did I reach for in the dark? Which chocolate treat was I able to identify by touch, so familiar with the chewy corners and shiny crust was I? That’s right reader, the boxed mix brownie.
Dahmer never achieved his dreams of making a zombie sex slave that would never leave him, but my dreams are much more simple. All I want is a chewy, gooey, aggressively chocolate brownie that requires less than five minutes of my active time. Is there a recipe out there that makes a better brownie? Yeah, probably. But why keep searching for something “better” when guaranteed happiness can be purchased for two dollars?