Baked Sunday Mornings: the Sweet and Salty Brownie

When I saw the schedule for the BAKED Sunday Mornings bake along, I was psyched to see that the Sweet and Salty Brownies from Baked Explorations were on the schedule for today. I love this recipe. This was the very first recipe I tried from the cookbook after it arrived from Amazon two months ago. I liked the recipe so much that I had already made the brownies four times before the bake along began, and I was all too happy to have an excuse to make them again.

I have learned a few things during my multiple iterations of making this recipe. First, I've figured out how to make the caramel without burning it. You cook the caramel in this recipe to 350 degrees on the stove; the temperature of the caramel rises very rapidly when it gets close to 350, and you definitely have to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn. I make this caramel in a heavy All-Clad pan with a fairly small diameter; the thickness of the pan helps ensure even heating without hot spots, and the small diameter means that the scant volume of liquid in the pan is still deep enough to reach the bulb on my candy thermometer. I also stand by the stove with my heavy cream at the ready, and the instant that the mixture on the stove reaches 350 degrees, I dump in the cold cream, which immediately brings down the temperature. To me, it always smells like the caramel is burning by the time it reaches 350, but I have learned to have faith -- the caramel definitely has a smoky flavor, but if it doesn't pass 350, it won't be burnt.

The pictures below show the caramel at various stages: 1) the mixture of sugar, corn syrup, and water when it's first put on the stove; 2) as it begins to boil; 3) as it gets hotter and begins to turn golden brown; and 4) as it bubbles up after the heavy cream is added.

The second thing I've learned is that you definitely have to let the caramel cool before assembling the brownie. Right after you add the sour cream, the caramel is very thin, as you can see in the picture on the left, below. After it cools down to room temperature, it thickens up quite a bit, as you can see in the picture on the right.

Third, I've learned that you can completely ignore the warning accompanying the recipe that you shouldn't use all of the caramel, or some of it may seep out and burn. The first time I made these brownies, I heeded the warning and only used 3/4 cup of the salted caramel as directed, throwing away the rest (if I had kept it, my husband Tom and I would have just eaten it all by the spoonful). Some of the caramel still seeped out, but since I had lined the entire pan -- including the sides -- with parchment (not just the bottom, as is specified in the recipe), there was no burning problem. I always line my pans with parchment (I have previously posted about my parchment pan-lining habit here), and I don't understand why someone wouldn't line both the bottom and sides of a pan when making brownies. Anyway, if the sides of your pan are lined with parchment, go ahead and use all of the caramel and don't worry about what will happen if any of it leaks out on the sides. It's harmless.

Fourth, my brownies are never done in 30 minutes, even though I know that my oven is at exactly 350 degrees since I use an oven thermometer. Through trial and error, I've discovered that 42 minutes is the perfect amount of time for my brownies to finish baking.

Finally, I've learned that chilling the brownies makes them much easier to cut. Usually, I bake these in the evening and put them in the refrigerator overnight. I still need to rinse and wipe the knife blade between every cut, but I'm able to get very clean edges. (Also, in the picture below, the right side of the brownie on top was along the pan edge, and some caramel seeped out -- if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you will see that there is some solid caramel there, but definitely no burning.)

Everyone loves this brownie. I love the fact that the entire brownie has a complex smoky, salty, caramel flavor, even though there is no visible layer of caramel inside. The caramel seeps into the entire lower half of the brownie, even reaching the very bottom. The brownie's luscious creamy texture is both rich and decadent and yet not overly heavy. This brownie is truly exceptional.


Elaine said…
I needed your tips before I made these! Yes, I definitely could have used a trial run, but I love these brownies. Yours look wonderful. In addition to getting a 9 x 13 inch pan I am going to have to get a heavy-bottomed pot like your All-Clad just so I can make caramel.
mike said…
Wow.... what perfectly cut brownies! They look fantastic - just as they should! Love your caramel testing - I've made the same discoveries - (I just wait until it starts smoking a bit, instead of a candy therm. - then remove and pour in warm/hot cream). The warmed cream blends with the sugar more easily and doesn't clump when you add cold liquids (don't know where I learned that) - but it works great, just warm it a bit in the microwave. What a wonderful post!
Anonymous said…
Do you prefer this to your other salted fudge brownie recipe? I have tried that one several times and love it!
Melanie said…
Another beautiful batch of brownies! I'm definitely chilling mine before cutting next time. Mine are always a MESS!
Mrs. Hope said…
I loved these, and will definitely be making them again. I didn't line the sides of my pan, and did use a little more than the 3/4 c called for and did not have any burning, even in the spot or two that the caramel seeped.

I always chill brownies and bars now before cutting - it's the only way I've found to get nice clean edges.

Roadtrek Girl said…
Beautiful brownies and I'm with the rest of the group -your tips are very good and very helpful. I like how you post your progress photos too. Nice blog.
Anonymous said…
LOVE your pictures - and how you discussed the caramel making process ... it certainly is the part of the recipe that freaks me out (or did on attempt #1, but not so much on the successful attempt #2). love the pictures of the stages too. and totally agree with Mike - perfectly cut brownies.
Bri said…
Thanks for all the tips, and I love your step by step photos! I can see how you could make these over 4 times and not get sick of them; I'm about ready to make them again already!
@ Anonymous -- It's hard to say, as this brownie is completely different from the salted fudge brownie recipe ( that I also make often. The salted fudge brownie is strongly chocolate, with a salty flavor accent. The sweet and salty brownie is more complex, and the caramel adds a completely different dimension of flavor. I plan to keep making both!

@Mike -- Thanks, that's a good tip about heating the cream. The caramel recipe for the Sweet and Salty Cake in the first Baked cookbook is the same as the caramel for these brownies, except that it tells you to add the salt to the cream and heat the cream and salt mixture to boiling before you add it to the rest of the caramel. I never knew why the recipe included that extra step!