blondies and brownies: what is the difference besides chocolate
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Recipe developer, baker, and blogger Samantha Merritt knows a thing or two about the difference between brownies and blondies: Her blog Sugar Spun Run features over 25 different recipes for these sweet treats. Where others might be content with a simple answer of “the chocolate,” she instead responded, “I love talking about this sort of thing,” revealing that there is indeed nuance here, beyond just the obvious difference of color and flavor.

Both brownies and blondies technically qualify, according to Merritt, as cookie bars, and “should be quite similar in texture (to each other)” though both are slightly different texturally than other types of cookie bars.

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“I personally feel that blondies (and brownies) must be rich and chewy, while cookie bars have a little more leeway and can be a bit cakier or slightly more dry,” she says. Beyond texture, however, there are several important differences between them.

Related Reading: A Comprehensive Guide to Baking Brownies

The Taste

There’s just no better word to describe brownies than “chocolatey,” so when that component is missing, what flavor are you left with? What does blonde taste like?

“A subtle butterscotch flavor, with slight caramel undertones and a hint of sweet vanilla,” says Merritt. She acknowledges that the subtlety between butterscotch and caramel  is a little blurry for some, being that they are from the same family of burnt sugar variations. (In short, caramel starts with white sugar where butterscotch starts with brown sugar. No Scotch is actually involved.)

Related Reading: 11 Ingredients to Up Your Baking Game

“A good blondie should be sweet, but not overbearingly so,” she says. “Many can be improved with a sprinkle of sea salt over the top.” Because of their inherently caramel flavor, this emphasizes that classic salted caramel vibe.

The Brown Sugar Factor

are brown and white sugar interchangeable in baking?

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Whether you’re working with a brownie recipe that utilizes melted chocolate, cocoa powder, or both, you can’t just leave it out and have the resulting mixture produce acceptable blondies.

“Because of the missing chocolate the flavor of blondies needs to be enhanced in other ways— typically with brown sugar and a bit more vanilla,” says Merritt. “While brownies will be inherently more ‘fudge-like,’ both should be dense, rich and chewy and definitely not cakey. This is usually accomplished by using a higher ratio of butter to flour and little to no baking powder or soda.”

But the brown sugar is really the deal maker with blondies. Merritt explains: “Not all brownie recipes use brown sugar—even though my favorite brownie recipe does—but blondies should have a butterscotch-esque flavor that comes from blending together melted butter and brown sugar. Brown sugar is a must for blondies.”

Related Reading: How to Soften Brown Sugar

Light brown and dark brown sugar also produce different results. Dark brown sugar contains more molasses, which gives it more moisture and acidity and produces a stronger flavor. Many blondie recipes call for light brown sugar, but Merritt’s Best Blondie Recipe calls for a mixture of both. This is another way in which the blanker slate of blondies can express subtleties better than brownies. Feel free to experiment with using all dark brown sugar, or also notice a slight nutty flavor comes through if you brown your butter.

The Possibilities

Variations for both blondies and brownies are part of the fun of making either of these types of desserts. This is where Merritt is able to feature as many recipes as she does with the inclusion of different mix-ins. While some additions are interchangeable whether you are working with blondies or brownies, there are certain components that Merritt believes do work better in one over the other.

 Dried fruit like cranberries or cherries works better in blondies than in brownies,” she says. “Other than that, most mix-ins work great in either recipe. Nuts, chocolate chips, M&Ms, or peanut butter candies are great add-ins for both recipes.” Not to mention peanut butter proper, caramel, Nutella, other types of baking chips…

Both blondies and brownies come together easily in the space of about an hour, so perhaps the only difference that really matters is which one you hopped off the couch to go make right now.

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Pamela Vachon is a freelance writer based in Astoria, NY whose work has also appeared on CNET, Cheese Professor, Alcohol Professor, and Diced. She is also a certified sommelier, voiceover artist, and an avid lover of all things pickled or fermented.
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