Yep, here they are, finally. My brownies, which became a little bit of a sensation a few years back. I loved making them and then, a few years in, they took over my life — my weekends and evenings, anyway. People have asked me over and over, will you ever sell your brownies again? The answer to that is maybe. For now, I am publishing the recipe so that YOU CAN MAKE THEM and make your people happy.
Salted caramel became a food flavor darling several years ago. You’d see it used in ice cream, desserts, candy. It was everywhere…and I was intrigued. As much as I dislike things that seem like trends (I have a love/hate thing with avocado toast) I could not hate salted caramel because to me, it is pretty close to perfection. One reason salted caramel is so popular with so many people is that it’s both salty and sweet. I’m not a big sweets person. Give me some salty onion dip and potato chips…that’s a guilty pleasure for me. At a party a few years ago, someone brought dip made with layers of dark chocolate, peanut butter, potato chips and bacon and I nearly fainted. Salty + sweet always works for me and I was on a mission to make a salty sweet dessert, and I worked on this recipe over and over and over, tweaking, adjusting, tasting, sharing. My colleagues at work tasted a bunch of versions and while most of them were not quite what I wanted, you’re still eating brownies and well, that’s just not terrible.
Around this time, I had a friend who worked on House of Cards, which filmed in Baltimore for six seasons and the craft services folks would buy trays of desserts from me. I also made them Ina Garten’s peanut butter and jelly bars, as well as my bourbon blondies and dark chocolate pretzel saltine bites. I also baked for the set of Veep for a little bit. I will never forget actor Michael Kelly (he is ONE MILLION times nicer than Doug Stamper, thankfully) saying “these are the best damn brownies I have had in my life.” Later, after the show wrapped, I sent some to Michael and his wife Karyn in NYC and he texted me “You are the best. Will wait for Karyn to destroy these…” Thanks, MK, you are a wonderful human.
Then, I decided to take them to the retail market and my friend Susannah Siger of Ma Petite Shoe very kindly agreed to sell them in her shop. My friends and I would meet at a commercial kitchen on a weekend day every few weeks and we’d make as many as we could in about four hours. (It was incredibly cool to have my brownies for sale in my own neighborhood!) They’d sell out as soon as I stocked the shelves. Then, Parts & Labor started carrying them…and eventually, I had to make a big decision. Did I want to really take the baking thing and run with it as a full-time business or was this truly a fun side gig? I was honestly not able to balance my full-time job and baking and then paperwork/business part of baking (ugh, the taxes and bookkeeping made me so unhappy.) Around this time, I was featured in Baltimore Magazine, Style Magazine and The Baltimore Sun and it just felt like too much. I decided to take a break from being a baking business. I did promise some very good friends, Jeremy and Heran that I’d make my brownies for their wedding and that was honestly a pleasure. Jeremy played for the Ravens at the time and it was pretty fun to sit at my table as a guest and have Joe Flacco smile and say “Wait, you made these?” Yes. Yes, I did. That’s the thing I loved the most about making these brownies…they genuinely make people happy. I still make them for friends every once in a while. Handing a little package of these brownies to a friend or someone at a favorite restaurant…that’s the stuff. They say things like “Is this what I think it is?” Oui, chef.
This recipe is very simple – AND is 100% better the next day. The brownies become more like fudge. Hellouuu. I am a huge texture person with food, so I actually prefer to eat these when they are very, very cold and firm. You will have leftover salted caramel sauce, too, and you can add more (warmed slightly) to the brownies when cold or room temp. Or use it on ice cream, pound cake or my favorite? Leave a jar in the fridge and when you’re having a bad day, grab a very large spoon.
I recommend making them exactly as they are in this recipe the first time. Then, feel free to adjust the balance of types of chocolate to suit your taste, like swapping out the bittersweet for unsweetened, or using all semisweet, etc. I’ve also made them with King Arthur gluten-free flour and they were still good.
One more last note: these brownies are extremely rich, so cut them into bite size pieces. THEN YOU CAN HAVE MORE. The perfect little sweet salty bite. Or five bites. Whatever. No judgment ever.
SALTED CARAMEL BROWNIES
Makes 24 brownies
10 oz semisweet chocolate (chips or chopped)
4 oz unsweetened chocolate (chips or chopped)
1 TBSP instant coffee
16 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into quarters, room temp (2 sticks)
6 TBSP cocoa powder
6 eggs, room temp
2 C granulated sugar
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp kosher salt
2 C all-purpose flour
SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE
2 C granulated sugar
12 TBSP unsalted butter (room temp)
2 tsp fine sea salt
1 ½ C heavy cream (room temp)
1 TBSP flaky salt (I use Maldon)
Making the salted caramel sauce:
I highly recommend making the salted caramel sauce few hours ahead if you can. I usually make it the day before and just warm it up a bit. It just makes it easier to know you have this already done when you start making the brownies.
In a Dutch oven (or other pot with a heavy bottom), heat the sugar over medium (or medium-high, depending on your stove) and whisk as the sugar begins to melt. Some of the sugar will harden into clumps, keep whisking, it will all melt eventually. Continue to cook the sugar until it reaches a light amber color. Do not walk away — not for one second. This can burn so, so easily. Add the salt and whisk, lower the heat to low and add the butter all at once (it may bubble up, don’t be scared) and whisk until it is completely incorporated. Remove the pot from the stove – I put it on a kitchen towel on the counter. Pour in the heavy cream (it may bubble up a little more depending on how hot your pot gets) and continue to whisk until smooth. Set aside.
Allow to cool for an hour before using in the brownie recipe. The leftover sauce can be kept (preferably in a glass jar with tight lid) in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.
Making the brownies:
In a medium heat-proof (metal works best) bowl set over a pan of almost-simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring with a silicone spatula. Switch to a whisk and then once the chocolate is smooth, add the coffee and mix in. Then, once smooth, add butter and whisk quickly. Once the butter is incorporated, add in the cocoa powder and whisk again until smooth. Set aside. Do not chill.
On your counter in another medium metal bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until combined. Add the warm chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and mix well. Then stir in the flour one cup at a time until combined evenly. Using your spatula, add about half of the brownie mixture into the prepped pan and make sure you get it into the corners, too. Using a plastic squeeze bottle (to help distribute the caramel evenly), squeeze salted caramel sauce on top of the brownie batter. Add half of the sea salt evenly across the top. Top with the rest of the brownie mixture and smooth the surface with a spatula. Squeeze more salted caramel sauce on top of the brownie batter and then add more sea salt. Bake at 350 degrees for 34 minutes. Cool on a wire rack at room temperature. Once completely cooled, cover the entire pan tightly with your choice of wrap (plastic, foil, etc) and put the pan in the freezer for at least four hours. Remove from freezer and pop brownies out of the pan onto a clean surface, like a cutting board. Cut into 2×2″ squares. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temp or in your fridge. (About 2 weeks in the fridge.)