Okay. Allllllll right. Deep breath.
Ever since I can remember, I have adored the combination of chocolate and caramel. I grew up in a house where my mom cooked good and healthy food almost every night. But there were also cabinets that housed candy bars, chips, and cookies, and there were always several kinds of ice cream in the freezer. For dessert each night, we could have candy if we chose and I knew where my priorities lay. My favorite was a Marathon bar (whatever happened to those?) but I would gladly settle for Rolos, or the Rice Krispie studded $100,000 Bar. Once in a great while, there would be a gigantic Carmello from which I was allowed to break off a row. My mom favored Cadbury chocolate with nuts (something I still don’t understand), so the Carmello was mine and I loved every square of it.
Now, I don’t know who started the salted caramel frenzy but I think it might have been Fran. Do you have Fran’s chocolate where you live? She of the Gold Bar or the truffles or the simple salted caramels. Fran started her empire in a small shop located in the neighborhood where I went to school. There was no bus service and both my parents worked, so I had to wait until about 5pm if my mom could pick me up and until after 7pm if it was my dad. On those long days, more often than not, I would walk up to Fran’s and treat myself to something. Sometimes it was just a truffle (although nothing is ever just a truffle in my world) and when I was feeling flush, I had a mini chocolate torte. This mound of heaven was a crisp chocolate shell with a layer of dark chocolate ganache inside and topped with a generous amount of chocolate mousse. It was garnished with the most delicate of candied violets and it was served on the cool side so you could eat it out of hand without leaving tell-tale traces of mousse on your face.
Ahem. Let’s bring it back around to the brownies, shall we? I find brownies difficult to photograph. And there is no way to make you understand through pictures how amazing these are. Are they so very different than the original Baked brownies? Not very. But different enough for me to make them, write about them, and plan on making them again next week. The caramel is subtle here but so welcome against the backdrop of the rich chocolate. Maybe I’m not clear. If I were to be offered a last meal, I would have a bit of a hard time deciding an entrée but dessert would be a brownie. I love chocolate cake but there is something pure about a brownie. And this brownie is the best. At least I think it is. Maybe I should have another one to make sure.
Oh, and by the way. I have a back log of things I need to tell you about. I’m thinking a post a day until Christmas. What do you think?
For the filling
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
½ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. fleur de sel
¼ cup sour cream
For the brownie
1¼ cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1½ cups sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the assembly
1½ tsp. fleur de sel
1 tsp. coarse sugar
Make the caramel
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with ¼ cup water, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350ºF, or until the mixture is dark amber in color (keep a close eye on the caramel at all times, as it goes from golden brown to black and burnt very quickly), 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and slowly add the cream (careful, it will bubble up) and then the fleur de sel. Whisk in the sour cream. Set aside to cool.
Make the brownie
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light-colored metal 9-by-13-inch pan. Line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper, and butter the parchment.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder.
Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl of the double boiler set over a pan of simmering water, and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler, and add both sugars. Whisk until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.
Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or the brownies will be cakey.
Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate. Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until there is just a trace amount of the flour mixture visible.
Assemble the Sweet & Salty Brownie
Pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Drizzle about ¾ cup of the caramel sauce over the brownie layer in a zigzag pattern, taking care to make sure the caramel does not come in contact with the edges of the pan or it will burn. Use your offset spatula to spread the caramel evenly across the brownie layer. In heaping spoonfuls, scoop the rest of the brownie batter over the caramel layer. Smooth the brownie batter gently to cover the caramel layer.
Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Remove the brownies from the oven and sprinkle with the fleur de sel and coarse sugar. Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving. The brownies can be stored, tightly wrapped at room temperature, for up to 4 days. (DT: I find them easier to get out of the pan neatly when they have rested a bit in the refrigerator.)