Seriously Elevate Boxed Brownies With A Splash Of Red Wine

You may have heard about some of the most popular ingredients to upgrade brownies – cayenne pepper, espresso powder, citrus zest, etc. — but one lesser-known addition to try is red wine. Chocolate and a fruity wine may seem like an risky pairing due to their high tannins – those tart, sharp flavor compounds that make your mouth feel dry. However, it is possible to pair these ingredients well, and it's not just their individual flavor notes that make this combination so special.

If you've ever had vodka sauce or a bourbon peach cobbler, you might know that alcohol can enhance our perception of other flavors. This can be a big benefit for your chocolate desserts. The complementary wine will make you think you're tasting the brownie-est brownie ever, as the fruity notes boost those chocolate flavors and the alcohol stimulates and opens up your nose and tastebuds. You just have to use the right wine in your baked treats.

Most brownie recipes and boxed mixes use unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, which has bitter notes, so you'll want to pair it with a drier wine that's lower in tannins. Cocoa powder also has a strong flavor, so choose a wine that's equally bold. For instance, you might use a Merlot, Zinfandel, Chinato, or certain varieties of port. Once you choose a wine, adding it to your brownies is as simple as swapping out the water in the recipe in a one-to-one ratio.

Pairing wine with other brownie ingredients

Though unsweetened dark chocolate is popular to use in brownies, some recipes use white chocolate, milk chocolate, and additions like nuts or fruits. When choosing a wine to add, it's important to take these different flavors into account.

In terms of using white or milk chocolate, your first step is to balance the sweetness. White chocolate is much sweeter with no bitterness to speak off, so it should be paired with a sweeter wine that won't overwhelm it – any red dessert wine or even a rosé will do. Conversely, milk chocolate is the more mild middle ground between sweet white chocolate and bitter dark, so it works well with low-tannin pinot noir, ruby port, and sherry.

If you use any tasty ingredients to boost your boxed brownie mix or a homemade recipe, coordinate your wine with those flavors. Fruits, which pair well with brownies using unsweetened cocoa powder or dark chocolate, should be accompanied by fruitier wines. Peanuts, hazelnuts, and almonds are an ideal pairing with dark chocolate and a nuttier wine like sherry. Walnuts complement milk chocolate, as do burgundy reds and port, while macadamia nuts complement white chocolate and rosé. And if you prefer a swirl of caramel in your brownies, try an Argentinian Malbec with enough tannins and fruitiness to cut through the richness.

Does the alcohol cook off in red wine brownies?

When you bake your wine-infused brownies, keep in mind that not all of the wine will burn off. Most brownie recipes take about 30 to 45 minutes to bake, leaving them with somewhere between 35% and 25% of the original alcohol content. Smaller baking pans will also expose less of the batter to the heat, hindering evaporation of the alcohol. A larger pan's greater surface area promotes evaporation, but the brownies won't become alcohol-free by any means.

Wine brownies should be reserved for adults who can safely consume alcohol. You won't get a buzz from eating one or two, but try to be cautious and enjoy them in moderation. If you want everyone to be able to experience these heightened chocolatey desserts, you could easily swap out your regular red wine for an alcohol-free or non-alcoholic wine. Just be sure you know the difference between these terms, as they actually don't mean the same thing, and you don't want to serve even a minuscule amount of alcohol to those who abstain.