While many of us were gearing up for the evening's highly anticipated, next nail-biter episode of this season's Game Of Thrones on Sunday, I was preparing for a different type of thrill-seeking: brownie baking. Baking is scary for me, so the attempt was outside of my cooking comfort zone. While you crushed the couch and watched a White Walker battle, I crushed the kitchen and pitted culinary master Ina Garten's best brownie recipe against Gordon Ramsay's, in an epic event I will hereafter refer to as Game of Brownies (or GoB, in shorthand).
The GoB began with a scan of the recipes: Garten's "Outrageous Brownies" and Gordon's the "World's Best Brownies" (no pressure). I discovered, upon this reading, that not all brownies come from a Betty Crocker mix. So out to the store I went, in order to purchase many ounces of chocolate, in dark, semi-, and bittersweet, and pounds of butter, both salted and unsalted. I started off with Garten's recipe, assuming that it would be as easy it is for the Barefoot Contessa to coo "How easy is that?" I was very wrong. The "from-scratch" brownie-making process is involved. I sweated it out as I melted massive amounts of butter and chocolate in the double boiler method. I burnt myself with brownie mix in the form of molten lava while "rapping" the pan halfway through the cooking time (for proper air bubble release). When I finished, my kitchen looked like one of Daenerys' dragons had spewed chocolate all over it. The brownies baked, and onward I pushed to Ramsay's recipe.
Although his instructions also required double boiling to achieve proper melting, along with some half-way through chocolate additions, it felt more manageable the second time around. Perhaps I had grown numb to the ravages of burning hot brownie batter, but both batches survived, came out of the oven unburned, and headed to their showdown — where they would be eaten and judged.
Garten's recipe called for more butter, eggs, and sugar than Ramsay's; therefore they tasted richer. Taste-testers agreed that the Barefoot Contessa's brownies, which contained traces of coffee and walnuts, had a LOT going on. They were more moist, chocolatey, had a cake-like consistency, and would be better served in smaller doses — preferably with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or a cold glass of milk.
Ramsay's had a lighter and fluffier texture because they contained fewer eggs and less butter. Another difference with his take on brownies was the use of strictly dark chocolate (i.e., instead of incorporating bittersweet and semisweet morsels into the mix). He also used less white sugar and threw in a bonus addition of brown sugar. According to the taste-testers, Ramsay's recipe resulted in a velvety finished product that was smoother with a less overpowering, chocolatey finish.
Which brownie was victorious? Just as the rightful heir to Iron Throne is still up for debate (although [spoiler!] maybe less-so after the most recent episode), so goes the GoB. Results were varied for both batches. Some testers preferred Garten's richer and cakier brownie option, while others preferred Ramsay's light, but sophisticated take.
At the end of the day, I learned that there is more than one way to make a good gourmet brownie from scratch. But, in the future, I would probably rather just pick up a box mix, add in a few of my favorite touches (like walnuts and dark chocolate chunks), and park it on the couch. I'll leave the real battles to White Walkers and dragons.