Arsip Tag: brownies
When I first saw this recipe on the homepage of marthastewart.com last month, my first thought was “ooh, how perfectly fall!” but then a second later, “wait, this can’t be right.” I mean, chocolate and pumpkin together? I have to admit, it sounds off to me.
In my overly-analytical head, pumpkin goes with nutmeg and cinnamon and ground ginger and pecans and bourbon and cream cheese and gingersnaps; chocolate, however, goes with a whole different slew of things, like scraped vanilla beans and walnuts or mint or peanut butter or cream cheese and maybe occasionally some chipotle powder. They’re different, you see, different, different, different.
And then? Then I said “my god, Deb, you’re such a square!” and I made them anyway. Because seriously, can one possibly have too many recipes for brownies? There’s no way. I worry too much about these things. Every single person who tried them, loved them and in a way, they’re the quintessential fall indulgence.
Well, everyone but me. Oh, I like them. I think they’re incredibly tasty. It’s just that every time I try a bite of one, I find myself wishing they were either all pumpkin bars or all brownie bars. Oh, and I’d like either version to have a cream cheese swirl. So, in the end I would say that if this combination sounds good to you, it will taste good to you. And me, I’ll get working on that pumpkin bar… as soon as I get back.
One year ago: Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Deb and Alex went to Paris and all I got were these lousy brownies! Yes, it’s true. Alex and I have flown the coop this week and are (hopefully) wandering around ancient cobblestone streets in a wine and butter-induced haze. Comment responses will be slow–if at all–this week, but I have fortunately been cooking up enough of a storm that you should never be left without your smitten kitchen fix! We’ll be back before you know it.
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar (the original recipe calls for the larger amount; I think it could be dialed down a bit)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Cut a length of parchment that will cover the bottom and two sides (makes it much easier to remove), and line the pan with it. Butter the lining as well. (Deb note: I used an 8-inch square, because it was what I had. It works, too, but the brownies are crazy thick and take much longer to bake, just to give you a heads-up.)
2. Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.
4. Pour half of batter (about two cups) into a separate bowl and stir chocolate mixture into it. If you find that it is a little thick (as mine was) add a little more batter (a few tablespoons or so) until it is more pourable. This is important because mine was quite thick, and the pumpkin half was quite thin, so I had trouble swirling the two together.
5. In other bowl, stir in the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don’t set.
6. With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Be sure to get your knife all the way to the bottom of the pan–I didn’t, and ended up with a chocolate base, not that it is such a bad thing. Sprinkle with nuts, if using.
7. Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.
My grandmother was a pretty fly lady, though I am not sure anyone called her “fly” in her lifetime. She loved anything glamorous and I’m pretty sure she saw the point of doing a whole lot in moderation. She’d send my sister and I (beware, frightening New Jersey-in-the-80s references ahead) glittery and puff-painted jaw clips and manes from the flea markets in Florida, she never discouraged the splattered and acid-washed jeans and neon slouch socks I wish someone would have formed an intervention over (shudder) and I specifically remember her finding me a pair of silver moccasins that in my mind couldn’t have been any cooler.
So, it should come as no surprise that when she made brownies, she didn’t just make any old brownies. Instead, they were three layer affairs; one chocolate, one mint and then a chocolate topping and she didn’t just stop there. Nope, Grandma took an Andes Candy, divided it in half on the diagonal, and sank it like a shark fin into that chocolate and her “creme de menthe brownies” were possibly the most glamorous thing I had ever seen and my favorite brownie to eat.
I unearthed the recipe a few years ago — a thin brownie not heavy on the chocolate (which came from a can of Hersheys syrup!), a quick butter/powdered sugar buttercream flavored with creme de menthe and a melted chocolate chip topping — and I am so ashamed to say this, but they just didn’t live up to the memory I had of them. I knew I could make tweak the recipe to make them better somehow, but it just seemed wrong.
But these… they’re richer. The chocolate flavor is more intense. They’re a bit neater and more compact and I would never call them “better”, I’ll just say that this is the way I had always remembered the others tasting. I don’t think she’d complain one bit if I handed her one of these instead of her version; she’d enjoy them thoroughly. And then she’d tell me to stand up straight, and perhaps wear some colors once in a while.
Lady, you’re killing us with the sweets: I know, I know. We’ve been desserts overboard this month, but I can’t let you all go into the biggest baking weekend of the year without one last totally gorgeous and indulgent confection. A fantastic dinner party dish is coming next (I mean, I hope it is as delicious as the last time I made it!) and then some moderation. Perhaps in the new year. How else will we find cause for resolutions?
One year ago: Austrian Raspberry Shortbread Surely, you still have time to make these, yes? I hope you do.
Two years ago: Robert Linxe’s Chocolate Tart
Grasshopper Squares [aka Creme de Menthe Brownies]
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2005
I have one gripe with these squares: The ganaches are too soft. I honestly don’t know why they require so much cream as they never really firm up, even in the freezer. It makes for a delicious bite but not a whole lot of stackability or transportability. What I would do next time is try to make the ganaches with half the cream and see if they firm up better — they should. If you feel comfortable doing so (you’ll want to chocolate with the cream, rather than pour it over) I have a feeling it will be a nicer consistency. But even if you use the full amounts, you won’t be disappointed in the taste.
Final note: With white chocolate, the quality is especially important. The original recipe’s comments on Epicurious are filled with complaint from people who used Ghirdelli and other white “chocolates” (filled with artificial ingredients) which split easily once heated and never came back together. This has happened to me before when I used Ghiradelli. Although pricier, both Valrhona and Callebaut make exceptional white chocolates; I used the latter.
Makes anywhere from 72 normal-sized brownies to 117 one-inch squares (I think the perfect size)
For brownie layer
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
10 1/2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not extra-bitter or unsweetened and no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
For mint ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream (see recipe notes)
10 oz fine-quality white chocolate, chopped (see recipe notes)
2 tablespoons green crème de menthe (I skipped this and found the mint flavor strong enough; compensated for the tinting with a single drop of green color)
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
For chocolate ganache
1 cup heavy cream (see recipe notes)
10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
Make brownie layer:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang on all sides. Butter foil.
Melt butter and chocolate with brown sugar in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until combined. Whisk in flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.
Spread batter evenly in baking pan and bake until set and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs adhering, about 20 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 1 1/2 hours.
Make mint ganache:
Bring cream to a simmer in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan and remove from heat. Pour over white chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Stir in crème de menthe and extract and chill, covered, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 1 hour.
Make chocolate ganache:
Bring cream to a simmer in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan and remove from heat. Pour over bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Chill, covered, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 30 minutes.
Spread mint ganache over top of cooled brownie in a thin even layer using offset spatula, then chill until firm but still slightly sticky, about 30 minutes.
Spread chocolate ganache over mint and chill until firm, about 2 hours.
Lift dessert out of pan using foil overhang. Run a heavy knife under hot water and wipe dry, then trim edges of dessert (1/4 inch off each side). Cut dessert into squares and peel from foil.
Rumor has it that pregnancy doesn’t just lead to swollen ankles, an insatiable need for peanut butter and a belly that causes what I will have to assume are otherwise polite people to ask if you’re having twins. Rumor has it that pregnancy quite often leads to teacup humans, and those teacup human need to be “delivered” from one world to another. Oh my god, I am going to have to birth a baby, aren’t I?!
Fortunately for all of us, this is not the kind of blog where I would subject you to the details of delivery, in part because I plug my ears and say “la la I can’t hear you” when anyone brings them to my attention and in part because I’m in the practice of encouraging appetites and well… you know.
I am also, or at least currently, in the practice of bribery; shameless, unapologetic, unequivocal bribery. I am Deb, I publish the Smitten Kitchen, and if I cannot make brownies good enough that no labor and delivery nurse would even consider passing my room by when I’m ringing a buzzer, then I might as well turn in my URL right now. I might not have a crib or changing table for this baby (4 weeks! or so!*), any great skill in the unbitchy-while-functioning-without-sleep department and I might (might! I admit nothing!) have demanded that my epidural request be put on file the day my third trimester began but I have made killer cheesecake-marbled brownies, individually wrapped them in the freezer and added the item “Baked Goods Bribery For Nurses’ Station” to my hospital packing list. This I can do right. They’ll be a hit.
* And yes, I know that newborns don’t actually need a crib or changing table, or so the Internet tells me, which is why we have lined an empty drawer with softly shredded newspaper to use in the interim.
One year ago: Braised Romano Beans
Two years ago: Apple-Yogurt Cake
Three years ago: Giardiniera
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2007
It’s true, I have made these before. Well, not these, a different recipe and they’re good, great even, but I’ve always wanted to fix it up a little. That brownie recipe is wonderful, but not simplified enough for a two-step process and there was never enough cheesecakiness (oh yes, it is a word) to balance it. Also, my mother has always made hers with chocolate chips swirled into the cream cheese and although I feel that a good brownie should not need extra chocolate in the form of frosting or chips to make it work, it sure cuts fantastically through the cream cheese swirl. Thus, three changes and a new recipe was warranted. Make these instead.
I added the aforementioned chocolate chips and more unsweetened chocolate to the brownie recipe, as commenters seemed to feel it was not chocolaty enough. I don’t think anyone could make the same argument about these.
Makes 16 2-inch square, thick brownies
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces cream cheese, well softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Make brownie batter: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart heavy saucepan — though I did mine double-boiler style, placing the mixing bowl I was using over simmering water, thereby creating one less dirty dish and melting the chocolate more gently — over moderately low heat, whisking occasionally, just until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined and spread in baking pan.
Make cheesecake batter: Whisk together cheesecake batter ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Dollop over brownie batter, then swirl in with a knife or spatula.
[I actually like using a butter knife because the tip of it is round enough that you can use it to fold bits of the brownie batter over the cheesecake batter for a more visibly marbled effect. Try it!]
Sprinkle chocolate chips over cheesecake/brownie batter swirl. Although it might be more logical to just mix them into the cheesecake batter (and feel free to do this, it will have no ill-effect) I thought it might interrupt the swirl-ability of it.
Bake brownies: Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Slicing tip: I like to chill my brownies until they’re almost frozen before cutting them. It makes it much easier to get a clean slice. I also like to eat my brownies super-cold, but that’s just personal taste.
People who really, really love chocolate are dubious about cocoa. Even if you buy the most resplendent cocoa in the world, baking things with it that taste as rich as treats with bars of 70% is a rarity. Thus, if you’d told me about a killer recipe for cocoa brownies a couple weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed you, but since then, two things have happened.
The first is that I had one. It was a tiny square, scattered among little tears of homemade marshmallows, near a puddle of homemade hot fudge sauce and carousel-ed around a cocoa nib buckwheat panna cotta at 10 Downing last week that nothing short of blew my mind because did you know that the opposite of sweet in the world of chocolate needn’t necessarily be bitter? Sometimes it’s just not very sweet, period, so you can really taste the chocolate. It was awesome*, all of it.
The second is that I looked up a well-regarded cocoa brownie recipe and the description did me in. Here cocoa is not listed as a compromise — something to use just because might already have in your pantry, something shelf-stable for a brownie mix longevity, etc. — but as an intention. For the “chewiest, candylike top”, the only fat in Medrich’s brownie is from butter, not a mix of butter and the cocoa butter that comes in bar chocolate and all of the sugar is pure granulated sugar, and not a mix of it and the milled sugar used in commercial chocolate production. I had never considered either thing before, but there I was nodding along, eagerly agreeing.
The result is something that could convert those that believe the all roads to fudgy, dark and rich brownies must be paved bricks of tempered chocolate. And now I’m going to say something that will surely make a good lot of you turn away from this recipe and never look back, although you shouldn’t: I believe these brownies will be especially beloved by people who enjoy box mix brownies. They share a moist, dense crumb, though fortunately — for me at least, who finds the taste of boxed brownies to staggeringly lack — not a flavor. Because the only wet ingredients are eggs, butter and vanilla (and the vanilla could be swapped with a scrape of a fresh bean segment rubbed into sugar), they’d also be ripe for a Homemade Brownie Mix Gift Kit. You know, if you were feeling generous enough to share, which may not be your first reaction.
* Speaking of “awesome”.
Brownies, previously: [I cannot pick a favorite. I have no brownie loyalty, and frankly, if I did, how would I ever discover new recipes like this?] Classic Brownies, Peanut Butter Brownies, The Baked Brownie, Spiced Up, Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake, Pumpkin Swirl Brownies, Belgian Brownies, Outrageous Brownies, Cheesecake Marbled Brownies, Grasshopper Brownies and Brownie Roll-Out Cookies
One year ago: Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad
Two years ago: Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree
Three years ago: Icebox Cake
White chocolate brownies have it tough. They share a name with a baked good that needs no improving on; their chocolate is rejected by self-titled “real” chocolate eaters for being a pale imitation of the rich, nutty and bittersweet awesomeness of darker chocolates; this same chocolate is so sweet that you must dial back the sugar in your brownies to adjust for it, removing moisture, risking leaving them cake-like and if it couldn’t get much worse, they’re barely white. More like, pale-yellowish-beige. Yum, right?
I was one of those white chocolate rejectors for a long time but I finally made peace with it when I stopped judging it through the lens of chocolate — which is bitter and complex in ways that white chocolate cannot be — and accepted it for what it is, a buttery sweet confection that, when used carefully, plays exceptionally well with others, like mint, berries, nuts and, well, dark chocolate. And since I’d come full circle with my reasoning, I made a batch of white chocolate brownies and a batch of dark chocolate brownies and hadn’t figured out what I was going to do next, only that nothing bad could happen from there.
I don’t know what came over me next — maybe the extreme cuteness that has descended upon our apartment for the last 16 months has finally drained me of any remaining trace of sarcasm, eye-rolling or groans around treacly twee things, but suddenly I was digging out a tiny cookie cutter and making heart-shaped belly buttons in my brownies:
And swapping bellies:
And encouraging you to do the same:
So, how long until I can start contributing to bake sales at the kid’s school? Because I think I’ve found my calling at last.
One year ago: Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes with Mint White Chocolate Cream
Two years ago: Alex’s Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage and Toasted Coconut Shortbread Hearts
Three years ago: Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
Four years ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Meringues
Elsewhere: There’s more cute on Bon Appetit, where I made Heart-Stuffed Shells in a Ricotta Sauce as part of a Valentine’s Menu. If you’re an artichoke fanatic like I am, you’re going to melt over these. Instead of being stuffed with 16 cheeses (okay, I’m exaggerating) and swimming in more cheese, as I remember shells from the 1980s, these are stuffed with a bright lemon-Parmesan-garlic-artichoke filling, and the ricotta is saved for a bechamel-like sauce.
White and Dark Heart Brownies
So about the light brownies: as I said above, white chocolate brownies are tough. I looked at every recipe that I could find for them and rejected each on different accounts. (Those that had reviews were never reviewed well.) I finally started reverse engineering my old fallback, the one-bowl brownies I’ve been making since grade school that despite their absence of browned butter, imported chocolate, Dutched cocoa and paragraphs of direction, are really spectacular. I increased the chocolate, knowing that the flavor of white chocolate is hard to find in confections, even in larger quantities and top qualities. I decreased the sugar. I increased the thickness, just a tad. But I left the important part there, that it’s a one-bowl brownie, something that’s doubly important because you’ll be making two batches. Two bowls; we can manage that, right?
I’m not going to call this the best brownie I’ve ever made — in fact, I was so convinced that it wouldn’t work, I didn’t even take photos of the process of making them — but it exceeded my expectations. They’re chewy, their sweetness is not completely out of control and they each taste enough like their primary ingredient to earn their titles. But? They’re so much better in the context (or as the belly button) of their darker brownie compatriots. Also, cuter. Once a year, you can make something just because it’s cutest thing to do.
This recipe makes 16 2-inch square white or dark chocolate brownies. To make a pan of each and reverse the middles, you’ll need double the ingredients listed below. You will end up with 32 reversed-center brownies.
3 ounces (85 grams) semisweet or good white chocolate*, coarsely chopped
1 stick (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 1/8 ounces or 175 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
1/4 teaspoon table salt or 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt (about 2 grams)
2/3 cup (83 grams) all-purpose flour
1-inch heart or other shaped cookie cutter
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over opposite sides of pan. Repeat with second piece of foil in opposite direction. Butter foil.
Melt white or dark chocolate and butter together in a large bowl over a simmering pot of water (or in the microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring between each) until it is 90% melted; remove from heat and stir the mixture until it is smooth. (I do this too keep things from getting too hot.) Whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Add flour and salt together, stirring until just combined. Spread into prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes (for the dark chocolate version) and 30 to 35 minutes (for the white chocolate version).
Repeat this recipe with the other kind of chocolate and a second 8×8-inch square pan. If you don’t have two matching square pans (understandably) simply wait until you can remove your brownies from the pan as directed in the next step, and start again.
Cool pans on a wire rack in the freezer if you’re going to make cut-outs; frozen brownies are much easier to make clean cuts from. Once solid, transfer brownies in their foil “sling” to a large cutting board and cut each pan of brownies into 16 even squares, about 2×2 inches each. Still cold (and if they warm up and soften too quickly, pop them back in the freezer for 5 minutes), carefully, slowly, gently, press your cookie cutter into the center of each brownie and set the cut-out aside. Insert the dark cut-outs into the centers of the light brownies, and vice-versa. From here, you can let them warm up to room temperature or wrap them up in the freezer until you will need them.
* I generally dislike the qualifier “good” in recipes; it suggests that if you don’t use the very! best! olive oil, butter, wine, etc. your recipe will be terrible. Feh. But good white chocolate is a world apart from the cheap stuff. Namely, it is white chocolate, and not “white baking chips” which will melt into a yellow-oiled chunky… ugh, trust me. You’ll be glad you used something better.
I understand that when a website but 5 11/12 years old boasts not one or two but a dozen or so variations on brownies that it’s possible, perhaps, or at least worth considering that the brownie category: it’s been exhausted. The brownie beat reporter can retire. The archives are full. I get it, I do. Shouldn’t we be discussing blueberry pie, summer harvest tians or backyard grillery? Probably.
But the thing is, I really wanted a brownie. And more so, I wanted my favorite brownies. And despite having an alphabet of brownie recipes on this site from Adorable Hearts to Baked Bakery to Cream Cheese, Cocoa, and Creme de Menthe, I actually haven’t shared my go-to brownie recipe in its purest form, what I dub my Forty Minute Naptime Brownies. And for that, we need to talk about, well, Jacob.
I don’t mean to shock you, but my son, the light of our lives, and don’t even get me started on how I plan to gaze adoringly at the photos from shirtless “pig-sketti” night last week long into my rocking chair days — were he to have a singular flaw, it would be that he’s just never been that into sleep. He was 18 months old before he took a nap longer than 40 minutes and I am not allowed to talk about the oh-so recent age when he started mostly sleeping through the night because it scares my friends who haven’t had kids yet, and I promised to stop doing that. Lest you think this post is going to become a disposal ground for my parental woes, fear not. The upshot of this is that when you have a child who takes short naps, you learn to excel in short baking projects, and I can now make these in my sleep. You know, whenever it is granted.
My favorite brownies take 10 minutes to put together and embody everything I love in a brownie; they’re bittersweet and chewy, where so many brownies are excessively sweet and fudgy (or worse, the dreaded cakey and chocolaty in color only). Like many of my favorite recipes, they’re defined not by what they have in them but what they don’t; there’s no brown sugar or brown butter, baking powder, Dutched cocoa, cake flour, nuts, coffee granules, chips or frosting. Seriously, I think if a brownie needs frosting to sing, it probably wasn’t a great brownie to begin with. There are seven ingredients and the most important one, as it should be, is the unsweetened chocolate. Why unsweetened chocolate? If you want a baked good with deeply rooted chocolate intensity without using a half-pound or more of chopped bars (these use just three ounces of chocolate, which means you can splurge on the best stuff), you’re going to have to start with unsweetened chocolate, every time. These brownies understand that.
And although they take well to all to all sorts of dolling up (from cream cheese to white chocolate mint ganache to being cubed and buried in cheesecake, true story), they need none of that to make for a speedy in preparation, cooking and clean-up time square of mood management, one you can tuck into even before your resident Nap Conscientious Objector (no more Malcolm X board books for you, kid!) wakes up. Because I don’t know about you, but when I decide I want a brownie, I want it exactly then. These brownies will not make you wait.
One year ago: Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart
Two years ago: Raspberry Limeade Slushies, Sweet Corn Pancakes and Eggplant Salad Toasts
Three years ago: Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad, Lobster Rolls, Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting and Grilled Eggplant and Olive Pizza
Four years ago: Grilled Eggplant with Caponata Salsa, How to Poach An Egg, Smitten Kitchen-Style, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Five years ago: Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake and Plum Almond Tart
A couple months ago, someone requested that I try my hand at caramel brownies. Amazingly, this person was not my husband, but he endorsed this idea so wholeheartedly that I suspect he might have paid this person off. Then again, in most people’s minds, who doesn’t want to make caramel brownies? What kind of strange person considers what would happen when sea salt-flecked deeply copper-colored homemade caramel meets a chewy, rich homemade brownie and then shrugs it off, “Eh, I’ll pass.” Guys, it’s me. It’s not that I didn’t think that a salted caramel brownie could be delicious, it’s just that I imagine it’s well-trodden territory, which to me translates as “people who want to make this already know how to” and then I figure my time would be better spent making other things, like weird egg salads and silky hummus.
But then, as I did a quick search or two, I discovered things that caused me to make that crooked face that I made when I’m thinking really hard, because sometimes after a day of explaining to a preschooler why we have to wear pants when we leave the apartment when I fully understand the desire to simply not wear pants sometimes, thinking is really hard. The first is that a whole lot recipes started with store-bought caramels or caramel sauce, which made me sad, because the homemade stuff requires three ingredients that you probably have, is really easy to make and the flavor comparison (especially if you add a fourth ingredient, salt) … well, there is none. They barely deserve to share the same name. The next thing that gave me pause was that they all looked achingly sweet, as if little consideration was given to the fact that dousing an already-sweet brownie with caramel sauce might cause teeth to hurt/dentists to buy new vacation homes.
By now, I already accepted that any further resistance would be futile. I mean, if you were to distill any given Smitten Kitchen blog entry into the simplest formula, most of the time it would roughly = 2 causes of furrowed brow/piqued curiosity + 1 polite request + 1 borderline-begging request + a notable absence of willpower. But as I got into the kitchen, I found a third source of drama, which was in how the caramel-brownie merger should be approached. Spreading half the batter in the pan, covering it with caramel, and then adding the second half of the brownie batter was kind of difficult, and the caramel filling all but disappeared into the brownie. A marbled attempt not only led to vanished caramel, but it left trenches in the brownie tops where the caramel had once been, like some sort of sad memorial. And the thing I realized was, if I’m going to eat something called a caramel brownie, what I’m really hoping for are parts instantly recognizable as either; I want the caramel to tangle around the brownie and vice-versa, not just dissolve into a caramel-flavored brownie.
The only idea I had left was the craziest one, wherein you kind of fake-make caramel candies that are cold and big enough that they take longer to disappear into the the batter than the batter takes to bake. The results, however, are madness, and I urge you not to make them. Why? Why take you this far only to send you home? Because no good can come of them. They’re ludicrously rich but not icky sweet, so it’s easy to forget that you should never, ever eat more than one. They’re so loud with dark chocolate and salted caramel flavors, they might even be better than either part. Worse, they’re structurally unsound. Those squares of caramel melt into puddles that trickle out when you slice them, leaving a weak, almost gooey, chocolate foundation behind. I mean, trickling salted caramel? Gooey chocolate? Yuck. It’s okay guys; I’m happy to audition these terrible things so that you do not have to. What a relief, right?
One year ago: Lasagna Bolognese
Two years ago: Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
Three years ago: Ginger Fried Rice
Four years ago: Whole Lemon Tart and Alex’s Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage
Five years ago: Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
Six years ago: Sour Cream Bran Muffins
Salted Caramel Brownies
I used my standard approach to salted caramel, but I dialed back the heavy cream so that it would be less soft, and therefore better able to hold up in the batter. The brownie is my one-bowl favorite, with less salt and sugar to compensate for the sweetness and extra salt in the caramel. The result is a soft, messy brownie that it much, much, much easier to cut neatly if placed in the freezer until semi-firm.
Makes 1 8×8 pan of brownies which you can cut into 16 2-inch squares, 25 smaller squares, 32 2×1-inch bites or a mess of hearts from a cookie cutter.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted, but then ease up on the sea salt)
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or 1/8 teaspoon table salt, more to taste)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 ounces (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/8 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour
Make caramel: Set a square of parchment paper over a medium-sized plate. Lightly butter or coat the parchment with a spray oil, just as an added security measure.
In a medium, dry saucepan over medium-high heat, melt your sugar; this will take about 5 minutes, stirring if necessary to break up large chunks. By the time it is all melted, if should be a nice copper color; if not, cook until it is. Remove from heat and stir in butter. It may not incorporate entirely but do your best. Stir in cream and salt and return saucepan to the stove over medium-high heat, bringing it back to a simmer and melted again any sugar that solidified. Cook bubbling caramel for a few minutes more, until it is a shade darker.
Pour out onto parchment-covered plate and transfer plate to your freezer. Freeze until solidified, which can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes in a decent freezer to 40 minutes in my terrible one.
Meanwhile, or when your caramel is almost firm, make your brownies: Heat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment, extending it up two sides. Butter the parchment or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula.
Assemble brownies: When caramel is firm, remove it from the freezer and chop it into rough 1-inch squares. Gently fold all but a small amount of caramel bits into batter. Scrape batter into prepared pan, spreading until mostly even. Scatter remaining caramel bits on top. Bake in heated oven for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool thoroughly — a process that can be hastened in the freezer, which will also produce cleaner cuts — and cut into squares or other desired shapes.
I realize that the sugar level seems high here but promise it won’t taste excessively so. Unsweetened chocolate requires a lot more sugar than sweetened would, and the peanut butter volume here is substantial enough that it needs to be sweetened as well. Don’t forget the salt, however; it brings out the flavor of the peanuts and adds a great accent to the whole pan.
- 3/4 cup (190 grams) smooth peanut butter
- 2/3 (135 grams) cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extra
- A few pinches of flaky or coarse sea salt
- 3 ounces (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup (115 grams or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
- 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon flaky or heaped 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt
- 2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (40 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips
Peanut Butter Batter
Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment and coat the bottom and sides with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
Make peanut butter batter: Whisk all ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
Make brownie batter: In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula.
Assemble brownies: Spread a thin layer of brownie batter (about 1/3 of total batter, but no need to be exact) in bottom of prepared baking pan. Dollop peanut butter batter all over in big spoonfuls. Dollop remaining brownie batter in pan, aiming, if you can, between the peanut butter dollops. Use a butter knife to swirl the batters together in loose figure-8s. Sprinkle chips all over.
Bake: For 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free.
To keep: Brownies keep well at room temperature, in the fridge or freezer.