Saturday, January 10, 2015

S Is For Sweet And Salty

sip's been awhile.  

And how strangely appropriate that I should resume the ABCs of Baking with the fertile letter S. And, my goodness, fertile it is.  Just think about it...(no, nevermind, you don't need to think about it, I've already thought about it, this is the stuff that I sit and think about, so just keep reading)...sugar, spice, sweet, savory, salty, sour, sourdough, scones, strudel, streusel, sauces, shortbread, spelt, strawberries, and sprinkles.  You get the idea.  The S's of baking are many.  
So why, with the options so plentiful, have I not contributed the products of my oven and my left temporal lobe to the Wonderful And Wacky World of the World Wide Web since October 2011?  The list of possible reasons for this lapse is equally long, but they don't all begin with S, just some of the biggies do.  Suffice it to say that life and its many permutations can, at times, provide a perfect opportunity for creativity and imagination.   And for years the gooey fecund amalgam in the bottom of the petri dish of my life (pardon the somewhat disgusting metaphor) sprouted ideas, pearls, and gluten nearly nonstop.  

But fertilizer is really just shit.  The balance of events that makes life interesting and productive can quickly and easily tip to the bad side.  And just as Salt can kill yeast, two other Upper Case S Words...Stress and Sadness ...are potent creativity suckers.  Even just typing that sentence can stop the flow of ideas.  Don't freak out and stop reading because this is getting serious.  I am not going to go into detail that you don't want to read and that don't want to regurgitate, but neither do I want to be the mysterious and intriguing emo-man who disappears for a few years, then returns, drops a few bombs and moves on with a shrug and a smile.   Upper Case S words exist; they are a reality.  So learn how to deal with them, right?  It may take years, it has taken years, but it is possible to get the Upper and lower case words back in balance again.   Let us put a baking spin on this...sometimes cakes fall, sometimes bread dough doesn't rise.  Get over it, mix another batch, and move on.  Eventually, hopefully, the Salt of Life seasons instead of destroys.  

My absence from the blahggity-blah-blogosphere does not mean that the oven has stayed cold lo these past few years.  Not by any means.  I have continued to bake...a few wedding cakes, layer upon layer of layer cakes, and many trays of morning baked goods to keep my nurse friends happy. But the last couple of  years the oven on Hawthorne Street has produced rich, fudgy brownies more than anything else.  Dozens of brownies.  Dozens of dozens of brownies, in fact.  It began with a plate of plain brownies for my coworkers...I am not afraid to resort to kitchen-based bribery to make and keep friends.  That tray of brownies led to a few orders, which prompted some brownie R & D, so I tried Spicy Brownies, which people started asking for (and paying for) specifically...who knew?  In a judgment that falls into the Going for Broke, Gilding the Lily, More Is More category of decisions, I introduced the current bestseller into the brownie lineup...the Salty Caramel Brownie, which I am sure has more fat and rich chocolatey goodness per square inch than anything else I have ever made.  At this point I must give full credit to Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, of the Baked bakeries and cookbooks.  They are the reigning brownie kings, my brownie idols, and the creator of this brownie recipe.  I humbly bow before them.

It starts with caramel.  Of course it does.  Here's how you make caramel:

Nearly Burn The Sugar
Add Fat
Add Salt

Ok, I can't help myself.  I just can't.  Caramel is the reason that I chose this recipe for the re-emergence of this blog.  What a friggin' perfect culinary metaphor for coming out of the ugly tunnel of the past few years.  It just takes a little patience and a little practice.  And don't be afraid  or timid when things get a little hot.  Fine, I will stop now with the symbolism and the figurative language, but you get the idea, right?  Now...on to the brownies.

Make the caramel first, because it has to cool before you put it in the brownies.

White Sugar           1 cup
Light Corn Syrup    2 Tbl
Heavy Cream         1/2 cup
Sea Salt                 1 tsp
Sour Cream            1/4 cup

  1. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan.  
  2. Stop stirring once the mixture is combined.
  3. Cook over medium heat until it begins to turn a medium brown.  
  4. Remove from the heat.  Add the heavy cream and the salt.  (Be careful: it will steam, hiss, and bubble up).
  5. Whisk in the sour cream.
  6. Let cool.

How can you not love making caramel?   It seems like cooking on the edge of disaster, or on the edge of a volcano, what with all that hissing molten magma, but it really isn't.  Yes, you can take the sugar too far, and it will blacken and burn, but other than that (and the potential for ugly burns from steam and spattering 350 degree sticky stuff), it is really very easy to make.  
All-Purpose Flour                          1 1/4 cup
Salt                                              1 tsp
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder          2 Tbl
Dark Chocolate, chopped              11 ounces
Unsalted Butter                             8 ounces
White Sugar                                  1 1/2 cup
Dark Brown Sugar                          1/2 cup
Eggs                                              5 large
Vanilla Extract                               2 tsp

  1. Heat the oven to 350.
  2. Butter a 9x13 baking pan.
  3. Melt the chopped chocolate and butter over a double boiler. 
  4. Remove the melted mixture from the heat and whisk the sugars into it.
  5. Let cool to room temperature.
  6. Whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder.
  7. Lightly beat the eggs.
  8. When the melted mixture is at room temp, whisk in the eggs in two parts.  Do not overmix.
  9. Fold in the dry ingredients.
  10. Pour half of the brownie batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly.
  11. Drizzle the battter with approx 3/4 of the caramel.  Avoid the edges of the batter.  You don't want the caramel to burn against the edge of the pan.
  12. Cover with the remaining brownie batter and smooth the top with an offset spatula.
  13. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and fleur de sel.
  14. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  (When poked with a cake tester, it will have some moist crumbs but it will not be wet with batter.)
  15. Let cool before cutting.  I refrigerate them overnight before cutting them - the cuts are cleaner that way.
The added benefit of this recipe (thank you Baked boys!) is that it makes just a little more caramel than you need for the brownies.  And it is too good to throw it out (as if) grab a spoon, or a bowl of vanilla ice cream, or a few slices of Granny Smith apple and wipe that bowl clean.   

Spiced Brownies:
  1. Omit the caramel (What?! I know, but this is just a suggestion of what I do.  It's your kitchen; you can do whatever you want.)
  2. Add 1 Tbl ancho or guajillo chile powder, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger to the dry ingredients.
Spicy Brownies:
  1. Omit the caramel.
  2. Add 1 1/2 tsp chipotle chile powder, 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper to the dry ingredients.
Malt Brownies: 
  1. Omit the caramel.
  2. Add 3 Tablespoons barley malt syrup to the chocolate/butter mixture as it is melting.
  3. And/Or fold 1 cup crushed malted milk balls into the batter before pouring it into the pan.  
For a little bit of crunchy texture, coat the bottom and sides of the buttered baking dish with turbinado sugar before pouring the batter into it.  


Sharlyn said...

Help, I'm caught in a decade of salted caramel, and I just don't like salt with my sweets! Back in the 70s, I took the plunge with white chocolate covered pretzels, and that had to admit that was good. Sea-salted caramel is just a continuation of that craze,right? Ah well, no matter how much I reason it out, salt with chocolate and caramel just isn't working for me.

Sharlyn said...

Help, I'm caught in a decade of salted caramels, and I just don't like salt with my sweets! Back in the 70s, I took the plunge with white chocolate covered pretzels, and had to admit they were good. Sea-salted caramel is just a continuation of that craze,right? Ah well, no matter how much I reason it out, salt with chocolate and caramel just isn't working for me.
I will keep your brownie recipe though, and might even try the spiced version. Glad to see you back Baking Boys!