I like baking things to give away. The reasons? One, receiving something delicious and homemade thrills even the grumpiest people (unless they’re anorexic), and two, I won’t eat all of it in one sitting.
So, I decided to bake brownies for a friend. But not just any brownies—smitten kitchen’s salted caramel brownies. I wanted something a little unique, and I’m discovering more and more that sea salt is the perfect addition to any otherwise-too-sweet dessert.
The source blog includes tasteful photographs of perfectly sliced caramels and comments about the caramel being “really easy to make.” For an experienced food blogger, yes. For someone with spastic hands and zero patience? Not quite.
I kind of fucked a few things up. Like, the process of cooking and slicing the caramel was a total bitch. I didn’t think I’d make it through—kind of like when I’m in hot yoga trying to bend my torso backwards and feel like I might vomit. But, just like in yoga, I persisted and finished the job without throwing up. Or farting in front of a bunch of people.
Here’s how to make the caramel:
Prepare a medium-sized plate for the caramel with a square of parchment (I used wax) paper sprayed in cooking oil. Melt 1/2 c sugar in a dry pan until it’s liquid and caramel-colored. This could take a few minutes. Then, stir in 4 tbsp. unsalted butter.
And so begins the endurance test. You’ll immediately think to yourself, Why, I can’t stir in this butter! The sugar has solidified into immovable clumps! Ignore the protesting thoughts of your rational mind, and add in 1/4 tsp. sea salt and 3 tbsp. heavy cream (I used whipping cream…I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume they’re pretty much the same thing).
This will all melt together, eventually, but the process blows major dick. I started trying to un-stick the sugar from the bottom of the pan and ended up flinging droplets of boiling-hot butter all over myself (I wasn’t wearing an apron—I don’t own one). The sugar became one with my plastic spoon, so I switched to metal, which attracted the remaining clumps of sugar like a magnet and quickly became too hot to hold.
Sometimes I wonder about my brain.
My tip is to use a rubber spatula, if you have one. Once this bullshit finally liquifies, and it will, pour it onto your parchment paper and freeze it for about 20-30 minutes. Don’t freeze it too long, or it will shatter (I’m speaking from experience, which I’ll expound upon later).
While your caramel’s hardening, you can gather the stuff for the brownie mix:
• 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I used bittersweet and cut down on the amount of sugar I used by about a third)
• 1 stick unsalted butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 1/4 tsp. sea salt
• 2/3 c all-purpose flour
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper, or, if you don’t have any (I’ve learned my lesson about putting wax paper in the oven…), just grease the shit out of it. That worked fine for me.
Melt the chocolate and butter together. I simply stuck them in the microwave for two 30-second sessions, stirring in-between. You can also heat them in a heat-proof bowl over hot water, but I think that sounds too labor intensive.
I snickered to myself when I looked in this bowl. It’s like Paula Deen’s version of cereal (JK Paula—I ❤ U!)
Once the chocolate is melted and fully incorporated with the butter, add in your sugar, then each egg one at a time (why? I don’t know. Just do it), then the vanilla and finally, salt. Stir in the flour slowly until it’s all nice and smooth, like poop the morning of a wine hangover.
Chop the caramel into 1-inch squares when it’s firm enough. The squares on smitten kitchen’s blog are, of course, perfect. But as soon as I pushed my knife into the sheet of sugar, it cracked like glass.
See if you can guess which one is hers and which one is mine:
Well, fuck it! That’s my motto. Just break it up into little pieces and stir these into the batter. Save some to place on top. Pour the batter into your greasy pan, top it with the remaining caramel chunks and maybe a few pinches of sea salt for good measure, and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
Not surprisingly, my god-forsaken EZ-Bake burned the edges for no reason.
You’ll want to refrigerate the brownies before trying to cut them. Even though these are a gift, I tried a bite…which turned into a corner…despite the burned bits, these brownies are a major winner. Salted caramel should be on everything—that’s my takeaway.