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Product Reviews

The right combinations

Best blenders for mixing, and best mixes for brownies

Consumer Reports / October 2, 2011

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Consumer Reports’ latest ratings of 46 blenders have found that they not only blend, but also chop, juice, process food, and even make soup. While some of the multitasking machines rose to the occasion, others could fail to impress at the next summer poolside party.

For as little as $60, the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004 delivered smooth, icy drinks and topped the ratings of food choppers, making it the only Consumer Reports Best Buy of the models tested. The Ninja also puréed and grated nearly as well as the $450 Vitamix 5200, its top-rated blender.

Paying $200 for the Cuisinart SBC-1000 (Williams-Sonoma) buys superb puréeing and grating, along with the added bonus of a built-in heater that cooks soups right in the blender.

Consumer Reports’ tests revealed some blender models that didn’t cut it, including a malfunctioning model, the DeLonghi 3-in-1 DFP-950, $300, and a model from celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, the Wolfgang Puck WPBLFP50, $90. Both have a separate bowl and blade so they can double as food processors, but had subpar performance as blenders. The Wolfgang Puck model was dead last in the overall ratings. Two samples failed during regular testing, and two more failed during Consumer Reports’ durability test.

Best Brownie Mixes

Inside the labs of Consumer Reports, testers baked more than 100 batches of brownies for its recent taste tests. The winners? Trader Joe’s Brownie Truffle and Barefoot Contessa Outrageous, the only mixes in the tests that come with semisweet chocolate chips and call for butter, instead of oil.

The brownies are chewy and dense, with complex, intense chocolate flavor and a freshly baked impression. Trader Joe’s mix costs $2.99 per package; Barefoot Contessa’s is $10. You get 12 to 20 servings with most mixes, though it’s nine for the Barefoot Contessa.

The tested brownies have about 170 calories, 8 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 17 grams of sugars, and 100 milligrams of sodium, but Barefoot Contessa’s weigh in at 374 calories, 22 grams of fat, and 39 grams of sugars. Outrageous, indeed!

The higher-rated mixes tended to have more chocolate flavor and better texture, but some didn’t taste freshly baked. Three mixes for people with allergies scored lower than the rest. Cherrybrook Kitchen Fudge, labeled as peanut-, dairy-, egg-, and nut-free, was less sweet, somewhat dry, and low in chocolate flavor. Pamela’s gluten-free brownies were dry, gritty, and chalky; the gluten-free version of Trader Joe’s felt greasy in the mouth and had off-notes, such as an almost bacon-like taste.

Consumer Reports made fudge-style brownies; texture may vary if you add another egg to make cake-like ones. Testers used unsalted butter instead of margarine when there was a choice, and vegetable oil when it was called for.

Tasters also tried refrigerated, ready-to-eat Pillsbury Sweet Moments Bite-Size Brownies Chocolate Fudge. They are OK, but pricey at 78 cents per serving. Each serving has 180 calories and 9 grams of fat.

Bottom line. Trader Joe’s Brownie Truffle and Barefoot Contessa were excellent, but cut small pieces of Barefoot Contessa to avoid overindulging. Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge, Market Pantry Fudge, and Betty Crocker Fudge are Consumer Reports Best Buys.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.