salted caramel brownies

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You know those times where you’re just standing at the kitchen counter, gulping nibbling alternately on chips of both the chocolate and potato varieties?  There’s something about each taste that makes you want the other – not in a “grass is greener” sort of way (let us not suggest that, at any point, we would fail to appreciate a delicious plate of, well, anything) but more like the way a good beer enhances a plate of tacos.  Or…the way salt makes you crave something sweet, creamy, gooey.  Because it does, and there’s no way around it.  We’ve all had those dark nights with a bag of Snickers bars.

Another lesson learned:  “Gooey” is a word that perhaps should not be used repeatedly in the company of a backyard-full of 25- to 35-year-olds ranging from mildly buzzed to “[snicker] Did you just say…gooey?”

Yes, these are indeed [sigh] gooey; they are also not for the faint of heart.  After I moved out of my parents’ house, I also lost access to my favorite tried-and-true brownie recipe, and I’ve been auditioning new ones ever since.  This one, while delicious, may need a bit more time in the oven than I gave it.  It comes, as have many of my recipes lately, from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and while I’ll absolutely give it another go, I plan on 1. baking these guys for 7-10 minutes longer than recommended and 2. continuing to hold tryouts.  However, if you’re looking for an excuse to dive into a pan of caramel-drizzled, unabashedly gooey, salted chocolate batter-masquerading-as-brownies…stick with this.

Salted Caramel Brownies
Adapted generously from Deb at Smitten Kitchen

The original recipe (from Cook’s Illustrated, I believe) is for classic, non-caramel, non-salted brownies.  This is my gussied-up version; I’ve also added a recommendation on baking time.

For the brownies:

1 cup (4 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (optional) [Allison’s note: I didn’t add these.  I like my brownies nutless.)
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) cake flour [Allison’s note: I used all-purpose.]
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the caramel:

1 package caramels, unwrapped
½ stick butter
1 cup brown sugar

sea salt, for sprinkling

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.

Transfer batter to prepared pan.  Using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter; bake 25 minutes.

While brownies are baking, melt remaining butter and brown sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning.  Boil 2 minutes.  Add caramels; reduce heat to low.  Stir until caramels have melted and are incorporated with the butter and sugar mixture.

Remove brownies from oven; drizzle with caramel mixture.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Return to oven and bake 10 to 15 more minutes, or until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached (35 to 40 minutes total). Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve.

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