Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good Desserts: Chocolate Caramel Brownies

The best thing about blogging for yourself is that you can take some time away and not feel like you’re letting your readers down.  I know there is a small number of folks that check out my site, but to be certain, the main reason I blog is because I want to:  A. keep a record of my recipes as well as baking adventures; B. I have opinions about things and want a venue to express them; C. I love photography and want a place to present my work.  I do it because baking, having opinions and shooting photographs always seems a waste if you don’t do something with them.  Even if I never try to make this blog into a big deal, I know my thoughts and work are here for me to review later, or, if she is ever interested, my daughter, little GT.
That being said, it has been awhile since I’ve last posted, and while I’ve been busy cooking and baking during that absence, it just hasn’t been high on the priority list to get those things posted here.  But, I’m feeling an urging that it was time to get things going again, and so, I return.
Today’s post features an amazing recipe.  Since most of what I’m seeing out in the blogosphere right now is centering on pumpkin-based desserts, I wanted to slip in an alternative.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the wide variety of pumpkin goodies out there, in fact I will make my fair share.  But this particular recipe is a star of the show in 2011, so I couldn’t let it go by any longer.
Let me say that I am a huge brownie fan.  Let me also say that I am a bit of a brownie snob.  Side note: according to Mrs. GT, I am becoming a food snob in general.  I resent that remark.  I simply know what I like and how I like it.  Is that truly snobbery?  I think not.  When it comes to brownies, I’ve had the displeasure of putting some pretty lousy representations of the genre into my pie-hole (brownie hole?).   Just as there seems to be distinct sides in the cookie debate – crunchy vs. chewy (I am definitely a chewy), there are at least 2 sides to the brownie debate – cakey vs. dense/fudgy.  As for me, I have to say I enjoy the merits of both, but in the end, I am more of a dense/fudgy guy.  I’m sure Mrs. GT would love to have fun with that last comment, but this is my blog, not hers. J
So it was with great pleasure that I discovered my first ‘favorite’ brownie recipe a few years back.  While I’ve never posted about this recipe, it is my go-to recipe any time I need a standard, knock-em-dead brownie.  It’s not fancy.  It’s not even all that pretty.  But whip up a batch of these and I guarantee they’ll be gone in a heartbeat.  I can honestly say I’ve never had leftovers when I make those brownies.
I am very picky about what I will call a ‘favorite’ recipe.  I’m kind of always on the lookout for a ‘favorite’ of each type of baked good.  Favorite pie crust.  Favorite scone.  Favorite Snickerdoodle (still on the search for this one).  It seems even when I find a ‘favorite’, I just can’t keep my cheatin’ eyes from wandering about the web looking for something even better.
Thus arrived in my life, the following recipe.  It was obviously popular because many bloggers had posted about this same recipe, many originating with one particular site.   We had a gathering of friends coming up and I was looking to do something different than my usual.  This looked like it could work.  I copied the recipe down and got to work.
The first thing I can say about this recipe is that I was a bit uncertain about it.  I am always concerned with multi-layered creations.  It just seems like there is too much that can go wrong.  I am also hesitant about desserts that layer multiple flavors and textures together.  I start to wonder if one part of the dessert will really stand out and the rest is just there for fluff?  Honestly, I thought all those things about this dessert.  Then I made them.  I realized I had nothing to worry about.
Just look at the photos.  I dare you to look at them and, if you have any honesty in your bones about loving chocolate and caramel, deny that you wouldn’t eat those photos if you could.   From a photography standpoint, these babies were made to be in front of the camera.   I think it’s that caramel, slowly dripping down the side.  It’s like every commercial you see for a candy bar featuring caramel.  If it’s running, oozing, you know you want it.  Fortunately, while this caramel does run, it only runs just enough to make you want it, not enough to make a big mess and ruin the dessert.
As for the overall taste, let’s just say that these brownies just work.  The whole combination of a fudgy brownie, creamy caramel and chocolate chips just come together in a great flavor/texture combination.  After having made these twice for various gatherings, I can honestly say this recipe goes into the ‘favorites’ file and will definitely be made again. 
Now please, stop licking the screen…it’s embarrassing.

Chocolate Caramel Brownies
Original recipe from Annie's Eats, slightly modified by me (brownie stacking idea by Annie too!)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsly chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate chips
14 oz caramel candies, unwrapped or 14 oz homemade caramels
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp kosher salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9x13 cake pan or brownie pan with foil, being sure to leave extra foil over-lapping the edges to help remove the brownies from the pan.  Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray, set aside.

Combine the butter and chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water.   Heat, stirring occasionally until completely smooth.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  Whisk in sugar, eggs and vanilla until well mixed.  Add the flour and salt and stir just until combined.  Spread about 1/2 the batter in the baking pan, spreading evenly.  Bake this first layer for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you make the caramel. 

Place the caramel, evaporated milk and kosher salt in a small saucepan.  Melt over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.  Once you have a completely smooth mixture, remove from heat and immediately pour over the first brownie layer.  Spread caramel evenly.  Next add the remaining brownie batter over the caramel layer.  It's best to drop spoonfulls of batter evenly over the caramel, then using an offset spatula, spread evenly over the caramel.  If the batter seems too thick, prior to adding to the pan, briefly warm the batter in the microwave for 1 minute at 50% power.  This should make the batter a bit easier to spread.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the final brownie layer.  Return the brownies to the oven and bake an additional 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool completely.

To cut brownies, first lift them from the pan using the foil tabs and place on a cutting board.  Cut into squares and serve or store, covered, for up to 3 days, if they last that long.