How to Make Boxed Brownies Taste Better

A splash of vanilla and a dash of espresso powder are just two ways to make a box of brownie mix better. With these hacks, you'll have yourself a shortcut dessert that tastes like it's made from scratch.

Air Fryer Fudgy Brownies TMB STUDIO

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 canned 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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Butter with knife
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Fall Back on Butter

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

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Milk in a glass
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Use Milk Instead of 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. The extra fat from the milk will turn a normal box of brownies into a moist and gooey treat.

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Salt Shaker
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Add Salt

If you’ve ever found boxed brownies to be too sweet for your taste, stir a pinch of salt into the batter before baking. This’ll help bring out the deeper chocolate flavors. You can even try sprinkling some flaky sea salt on top of the brownies as soon as they come out of the oven.

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Coffee brewing in glass kettle
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Use Brewed Coffee

Just like milk, brewed coffee also works in replacing the water typically used for boxed brownies. This morning delight adds interest to the dessert by enhancing that chocolaty flavor without creating an overly indulgent end product.

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Crank Up the Cocoa

If you like a fudgy brownie (sans mix-ins) but 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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Ground coffee in spoon, natural coffee background, macro
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Stir in Espresso

A jolt of espresso powder is just the thing to amp up plain ol’ brownies. Stir a 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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Close-up of vanilla extract being poured onto a teaspoon
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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 this 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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Basic homemade brownie or chocolate cake raw dough in baking pan. Cooking (baking) homemade chocolate cake or brownie.
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Choose Chocolate Chunks

The most obvious way to enhance brownie mix is with, 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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Pumpkin Brownies
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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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Fudge Nut Brownies
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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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Frosted Fudge Brownies
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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 butterb 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.

Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes, cooks and travels from her home base of Chicago. After going gluten-free over a decade ago, Kelsey turned to home cooking and baking as a way to recreate her favorite foods. Her specialties include gluten-free sourdough bread, pizza and pastry. When not wrangling her toddler, she enjoys reading, watching old movies and writing. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, was published by William Morrow in 2019, and her second is forthcoming.
Annamarie Higley
Annamarie is Taste of Home’s Shopping Editor and previously worked on the brand’s magazine and special issues. It was during this time she tapped into her love language, gifts, and spearheaded the print holiday gift guides in 2021 and 2022. She’s thrilled to continue creating gift guides full time for the shopping team, in addition to testing and reviewing products, spotlighting viral gadgets and editing freelanced content. A midwestern transplant from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, crafting and—you guessed it!—shopping and cooking.