Salted Caramel Brownies

I try to make it a rule not to buy specialty ingredients for a single recipe, especially if it’s a rather expensive ingredient. But sometimes you stumble across a recipe that makes you forget your guiding baking principles. For this recipe, that ingredient was a $9 jar of flaked sea salt. It was worth it given that these brownies fall squarely in the “to die for” category of baked goods, and I think the salt makes a difference—it has just the right flavor and just the right balance of bitterness that having salt on your brownies tastes wonderfully intentional rather than a terrible baking error. I’ve made these brownies twice now: once for a department potluck and once for a small dinner with friends. They were a hit both times—in fact, the second time, our party of four managed to kill half the pan in a single sitting.

Salted Caramel Brownies via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

These are a grown-up brownie. By that, I don’t mean that kids won’t like them, but I do mean that they hit a very different note than your typical brownie. These are a rich, fudgy brownie with a dark, deep chocolate flavor that is brought out by the coffee called for in the recipe. (Okay, I admit it. I also bought instant coffee just to make these brownies. I regret nothing.) The addition of both the caramel and the salt help to really bring out the bitter flavor in the chocolate, which means that if you are a fan of dark chocolate, you’ll probably also be a fan of these brownies. This a dessert for people who really love chocolate and for people who shy-away from overly sweet things. The basic brownie recipe from the back of the King Arthur flour bag is still my go-to, but these brownies are running a very close second.

Flaked Sea Salt

Now that I have a 9$ jar of specialty salt sitting in the cupboard, every time I think about baking now I wonder: should I make the brownies? I will, of course, keep making these brownies because they are fantastic. But if you’ve got any other recipes or recommended uses for flaked sea salt, I’m eager to hear them!

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Salted Caramel Brownies (Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

Note: This recipe makes a 9×13″ pan of brownies, which can be cut into 12 generous slices or 24 smaller servings, making this a good recipe to make when baking for a crowd. My flaked sea salt had some very big flakes in it, so I crushed it between my fingers a bit while I was sprinkling it on the brownies.

  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter
  • 8 oz plus 6 oz Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tbsp instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 c plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 c plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5-6 oz of caramel sauce
  • 2-3 tsp flaked sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease and 9×13” baking pan.
  2. Melt the butter, 8 oz of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When the mixture is completely melted and smooth, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  3. While the chocolate cools, stir together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar in a large mixing bowl using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. In a separate bowl, whisk together the 1/2 c of flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Then stir in the flour mixture. With both steps, stir just long enough to fully combine the ingredients. Coat the remaining chocolate chips with the reserved 2 tbsp of flour and then add them to the batter. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, warm the caramel sauce until it’s a consistency that will allow for drizzling. Drizzle the caramel over the brownies (be generous!) and then sprinkle with sea salt, crushing the salt between your fingers a bit if there are very large flakes. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting.

Dark Chocolate Mint Chip Brownies

We had friends stop by and stay the night on their way home from spending Thanksgiving in New York City, so I did the two things you do when you have company coming: clean the toilet and make brownies. Actually, that’s a lie since it was really Aidan who cleaned the toilet, but I’m sure I did other kinds of cleaning. The point is that regardless of what Oprah and Miss Manners have to say about playing hostess, I say you should try to get things reasonably clean, throw a little somethin’ in the oven, and call it a day. The rest will sort itself out.

While I was wandering through Target this morning on the lookout for a new air mattress (only the finest of sleeping accommodations will do here at Chez Arnsley), I swung by the newly arranged aisles of Christmas candies and baking supplies to see if they had the Toll House Limited Edition Dark Chocolate and Mint chips that I read about recently. They did. In fact, they only had one bag so of course I had to buy it.

Really, the plan for these brownies has been in the works since I found out these dark chocolate and mint chips even existed. I basically followed the recipe for King Arthur Flour’s Best Fudge Brownies Ever (the recipe that comes on the back of the KA all-purpose flour bag), except that I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder in the place of the dutch-processed cocoa and substituted the dark chocolate and mint chips for regular chocolate chips. Thus the dark chocolate mint chip brownies were born and proved to be as amazing as I had imagined.

I made a different brownie recipe earlier this year that I enjoyed a lot, but this recipe is definitely my new favorite. Like the other recipe I made, this is an easy, one-bowl deal. But this recipe yields something a lot like a brownie from a box mix, what with it’s shiny top crust and it’s rich chocolate-y texture that falls somewhere between a super dense fudge brownie and a more cake-like brownie. Really, it’s all the best of boxed brownies without the greasiness or the fall-apart crumble factor.

Plus, the combination of dark chocolate and mint? Insanely good.

Dark Chocolate Mint Chip Brownies

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I just now noticed that the recipe calls for a tablespoon of vanilla. I only had a teaspoon on hand, but I think the brownies turned out well anyway.)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 bag Toll House dark chocolate and mint chips
  1. Using the microwave, melt the butter in a large mixing bowl. I did this by putting the bowl in the microwave for about 45 seconds, stirring the butter, and then repeating the process until the butter is completely melted. When the butter is melted, stir in the sugar. Put the sugar mixture back in the microwave for another minute and then stir the mixture again. According to the people at King Arthur, this process helps you get a nice, shiny top on your brownies.
  2. Add cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla and stir until well combined.
  3. Add eggs and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Add flour and chips and stir until well combined.
  4. Spread batter evenly into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake brownies in a 350 degree oven for 28-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the edges of the brownies and allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting.

Brownies Done Right

Immediately after I finished yesterday’s post, I resolved to make brownies. What I wanted were regular, fudgy brownies that would compensate for the lack of deliciosuness that was the brownie pudding. I briefly considered the fudge brownie recipe on the back of my King Arthur flour bag (also available here), but it calls for Dutch process cocoa and chocolate chips, neither of which I had. Also, after reading about the difference between Dutch process cocoa and natural cocoa (which is what I have in my cupboard), I felt a little wary of recipes that only called for Dutch processed. I feel like there are situations in which they could be easily subbed for one another, despite what the article I linked above claims, and people have made the King Arthur recipe with natural cocoa without any problems. But it was the kind of day where I needed a sure brownie thing.

Step One

Butter, cocoa, sugar and salt, ready for some melting action

Enter the recipe for the best cocoa brownies, originally published (or so I’m told) in Alice Mendrich’s book Bittersweet, and featured (where I first encountered it) on Smitten Kitchen. This recipe was the perfect because it specifically calls for either Dutch process or natural cocao and required nothing more than what was already in my kitchen. I whipped these up pretty quickly while Aidan was watching a baseball game, and they had baked and almost entirely cooled by the time the game ended.

Post Melting

... out of the microwave and ready for the eggs ...

I followed the recipe exactly as its written on SK, except that I decided to opt out of any nuts and I melted the butter in with the cocoa, sugar and salt using the microwave. I just cut the butter up into individual tablespoons and stirred it together as best I could with the other dry ingredients. Then I popped it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, pulled it out, stirred it and then repeated the whole process until the butter was completely melted and I had a soft, grainy, well-combined mixture on my hands. From there, I just followed the instructions as written.

oven ready

Shiny brownie batter

All in all, these brownies are a definite WIN. They are seriously chocolately and seriously delicious. Deb from SK wrote that these brownies would appeal to fans of box mix brownies because they share a similar texture, which Aidan and I can both testify to. But, as Aidan said last night, they are a lot richer than your basic Duncan Hines mix. They are about as far from a cake-like brownie as a brownie can be, but they aren’t gooey at all. In fact, they almost have a kind of creamy fudge-like texture to them. Also, for the first time in my life, I finally understand what people mean when they talk about coveting the chewy outer edge of brownies. Because the edges of these brownies are, indeed, delightfully chewy–miles away from the crispy, over-baked edge of brownies that always has me reaching for a piece from the center of the pan.

Brownies

Warning: brownies in photo are darker (and richer) than they appear

I put a lot of pressure on Aidan when I make him try the things I make. I have to force myself to look away while he’s eating because otherwise I will watch his face waiting for a reaction, which is high on his list of “Really Annoying Things Anna Does.” Last night, as we were sampling these together, I asked him if he thought they were good enough to make again and again. To which he replied, “Yeah . . . but I don’t think you should give up the pursuit of the perfect brownie yet.” Which made me stubbornly think, if I feel like never making another brownie recipe again that is exactly what I’ll do and you will like it. But I’m apparently already over being obstinate, because as I was looking at the aforementioned King Arthur recipe, I thought to myself, I seriously need to try these. And so I will heed Aidan’s advice and not give up the search for the best brownie just yet. But until a worthy challenger steps up, this recipe will continue to wear the crown.

Brownie Pudding Fail

I have been really out of whack lately. I blame it partially on starting a new part-time job at the beginning of the month which entailed a two-week training period where I had to be there every night during the week. That schedule managed to disrupt the productive routine that I had gotten myself into during the first part of the summer. And when things get derailed, I am not particularly good at getting them back on track. Plus, its been hot and humid which has not only made baking seem seriously unappealing, but more generally inspires a sense of laziness and grumpiness in me. I think I’m getting  back into the swing of things now, which is good because I have a ton of work to do. But things didn’t get back to normal before I had to deal with this baking fail.

One of my most used cookbooks is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 75th Anniversary Ed. that someone (maybe my step-mom) bought for me when I moved out on my own. It is filled with a lot of really good recipes that have served me since I was 19 and has lots of tips that have helped me become a better cook and a better baker. But one of my favorite things about this cookbook is that it flags certain recipes as “Best Loved,” which have always proved to be seriously good things that I end up making again and again and again. To me, the “Best Loved” symbol says: this recipe cannot fail you–its a surefire win. Not so this week when I finally tried a recipe for Brownie Pudding that I’ve had my eye on for quite awhile now.

Dry ingredients

Mixing up the dry ingredients. You can already tell there isn't enough chocolate in here.

This recipe that apparently first came out in the January 1944 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine and became one of those instant family favorites. (I’ve been reading a lot of craft blogs lately where people have been making vintage-inspired clothes that look really good on them but that I could never imagine wearing. This is where I embrace vintage–desserts.) The basic idea behind brownie pudding is that you first mix up a basic brownie batter and spread it in the pan, and then you pour what it more or less hot cocoa (boiling water, sugar, and cocoa powder) on top of the batter. When it bakes, the brownie batter rises to the top and the hot cocoa business turns into a rich chocolate sauce at the bottom of the pan. You serve it warm and it is essentially a more humble version of a chocolate lava cake. Sounds good, right? And it only took about 15 minutes to throw together one evening while I was bored and Aidan was napping.

Batter

Brownie batter ready for its sauce

Saucing

Pouring in the sauce

Despite being easy to throw together, great in concept, and flagged with the “Best Loved” label, this just wasn’t that good. Aidan and I ate it warm with scoops of vanilla ice cream on top and both agreed that the brownie part wasn’t chocolate-y enough and there wasn’t enough of the hot fudge stuff at the bottom. This isn’t really on my list of complaints, but it also seems worth mentioning that the brownie in this is definitely a cake-y brownie and not fudgy brownie. The real moment I knew this recipe was a fail was when, the day after Aidan and I first sampled it, I scooped out a small piece of this as a snack, took two bites, and then went back to the kitchen to make some toast instead. It’s unheard of. Never before in my life have I chosen toast over chocolate. To be fair, it was rosemary garlic bread–its not like I was just reaching for your run of the mill sandwich bread. Still it’s a testament to how lackluster this dessert was. The real sadness is that as I was reaching for the flour while making this, I saw the brownie recipe on the back of the bag and briefly thought about making regular brownies instead. But I didn’t. I’m still kicking myself.

out of the oven

Out of the oven . . .

in the bowl

. . . into the bowl. A la mode.

Nonetheless, I’m including the recipe here just in case any one sees fit to try to improve it because I’m still convinced that brownie pudding is a great concept. As is, this recipe just doesn’t deliver. Maybe I’ll return to this and try to make some changes when the sting of my disappointment has gone away.

Brownie Pudding (From Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook)

  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c chopped walnuts (I didn’t have any, so I left them out)
  • 3/4 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 c boiling water
  1. Stir together the flour, granulated sugar, 2 tbsp of cocoa powder, the baking powder, and the salt. Stir in the milk, oil, and vanilla. Stir in walnut if using.
  2. Pour batter into greased 8×8 baking dish. In another bowl, stir together the brown sugar and the 1/4 c cocoa powder, then stir in the boiling water. Slowly pour the water mixture over the top of the batter.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.