Finally Following the Trend – Salted Caramel Brownies

Have you ever noticed how similar the food world is to the fashion world? Certain foods become really trendy just like certain designs and patterns. For example, cupcakes were all the rage several years ago and bacon desserts were pretty hot for a while. I remember a few years ago, salted caramel was super popular. All over the food blogosphere, you’d see recipes for salted caramel ice cream, salted caramel cupcakes, and of course, salted caramels. However, I distinctly remember seeing recipes for salted caramel brownies pop up the most (or maybe I just gravitated to brownie recipes back then).

After making the Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache cake, I had a LOT of salted caramel leftover. To use it up, I decided to finally follow the trend and make those salted caramel brownies that I’d seen so many times before on food blogs. I saw this recipe from She Makes, She Bakes and loved how chockfull of caramel the brownies are. Apparently, the trick to getting a thick layer of caramel is to partly bake half of the batter first, then top it with caramel and the rest of the brownie batter, and bake the brownies again.

I had a little difficulty spreading the rest of the brownie batter on top of the caramel, so some caramel was peeking out from the edges. While the brownies were baking, I noticed the exposed caramel bubbled up a bit. Fortunately, it didn’t burn… although apparently, burnt caramel is rather popular too (or at least, it’s a popular ice cream flavor in the Bay Area). I also lucked out with putting parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, which made clean up much easier.

My brownies didn’t have as thick of a layer of caramel as I’d like, but they still tasted delicious. They were fairly rich, but not so rich that you had to eat them with a glass of milk (though, washing them down with milk was definitely satisfying). A quick tip: topping the brownies with sea salt helped bring out the flavors of the caramel and chocolate.

Also, these brownies were a bit more fudgy than I’d like. This might have been due to me using buttermilk in the place of eggs since we had run out… oops! But nonetheless, they were extremely delicious. In fact, they were so good that a whole plate of brownies was completely gone after only a few hours. So make sure you eat one because these brownies will disappear super fast!

This is a bit off-topic, but look how awesome these brownies look in natural light! I baked them at night, but didn’t photograph them until the next morning. The natural lighting made a huge difference. If you haven’t noticed already, I’m guilty of using instagram for a lot of my photos (don’t judge me too harshly… I just really like some of the filters!) since I think instagram makes them look better. However, with this natural lighting, the filters didn’t really make much of a difference because the pictures were already so beautiful. For instance, take the photo above. The rays of sunlight peeking through my kitchen window add a nice vintage-y feel to it, don’t you think?

Salted Caramel Brownies
Adapted from She Makes, She Bakes

1/2 cup butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped
3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs (or 1 cup of buttermilk/milk if you run out of eggs like I did!)
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt

Salted Caramel (leftover from this recipe or just follow the original recipe)

1. Melt the stick of butter in the microwave and add the chocolate. Stir the chocolate and butter together. Microwave the mixture for another 30 seconds and stir. Repeat until fully melted.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla until incorporated. Add in the butter and chocolate mixture and mix until thick and glossy (about a minute). Stir in the flour and table salt until just combined.
3. Line a 9×9 pan with aluminum foil (I used parchment paper), leaving a few inches hanging over the sides (this foil will turn into handles to lift the brownies out of the pan later). Spray the foil generously with nonstick spray, paying special attention to the corners and sides. (This isn’t needed if you use parchment paper.)
4. Pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and spread to corners. Bake for 20 minutes and let cool for 20 minutes.
5. Pour the caramel over the cooked brownies and spread to the corners.
6. Pour the rest of the brownie mixture evenly over the caramel (be careful not to just dump all of the batter in the center) and spread to the corners.
7. Sprinkle 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of sea salt on top of the brownie batter.
8. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the center is set.
9. Cool completely before lifting the foil out of the pan.
10. Top the cooled brownies with coarse sea salt and devour!

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Impressing Foodies – Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache Cake

I’m very lucky to have a group of friends who love to cook and bake as much as I do. Having these common interests makes it a lot easier to get along with them and share my experieinces. However, it’s a little more challenging when you want to cook or bake something for people who love food as much as you do. Take my friend’s boyfriend for instance. He’s a self-proclaimed foodie who cooks and bakes much fancier things than I do. In fact, he wooed my friend with a three-course meal on one of their first dates. (Which reminds me, I need to find a guy like that.)

Anyways, his birthday was coming up and she wanted to make him something impressive. We all know he loves salted caramel and chocolate ganache, so once I found this recipe from Bon Appetit, I knew it was the perfect cake for him. This cake is the definition of richness with two layers of chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache and salted caramel. It was definitely the hardest cake I’ve made so far since it had so many components.

The first layer topped with chocolate ganache and salted caramel

Since my experiences with caramel haven’t been that great, I was a bit worried about making the salted caramel. It’s really easy to burn caramel, so keep an eye on it when it’s cooking on the stove. Since my friend and I were both a little paranoid about burning caramel, we may have took it off the stove a bit too early. So, the caramel wasn’t as thick as we wanted. To drive off some liquid, we kept it on the stove on low heat for about 15-20 minutes. After that, the caramel was the perfect consistency.

Assembling the cake was both the funnest, but the messiest part. First, we spread a layer and piped a ring of chocolate ganache on top of one of the cake layers. Then, we filled with ring with a generous amount of salted caramel and placed the second cake layer on top. Lastly, we frosted the cake with chocolate ganache and decorated it with toasted almonds and drizzles of salted caramel.

The cake was decadent and delicious, but extremely rich. So much that I could only take a few bites at a time. You’ll definitely want to have a glass of milk nearby to help wash down the cake. The caramel could have been slightly saltier, so don’t be afraid to add more salt. If you’re looking for a rich, decadent cake, definitely try this one. However, be warned, it’s a fair amount of work, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit

For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup hot water
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
1 1/4 cups almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped

For the caramel filling:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Large pinch of fine fleur de sel (we used fine sea salt)

For the chocolate ganache:
1 1/2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups heavy whipping cream

For the chocolate cake:
1. Mix the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl.
2. Add the milk, eggs, and melted butter and beat at low speed until blended.
3. Increase the speed and beat for 2 minutes.
4. Dissolve espresso powder in 1 cup hot water and add to the batter.
5. Beat until blended (batter will be thin) and divide batter between 2 pans greased and lined with parchment paper.
6. Bake the cakes at 350F until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes.
7. Flip the cakes onto cooling racks. Peel off parchment and cool completely.

For the caramel filling:
1. Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup in deep medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves.
2. Increase heat to medium; cover pan and cook 4 minutes.
3. Uncover the pan and increase the heat to high.
4. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber.
5. Remove from heat and add cream (mixture will bubble). Then, whisk in butter, then sour cream, lemon juice, and pinch of sea salt/fleur de sel. (We noticed that our caramel was pretty thin still, so we left it on low heat for 15-20 minutes to thicken up.)
6. Let cool completely.

For the ganache:
1. Place chocolate in large bowl.
2. Bring cream to a simmer in medium saucepan.
3. Pour cream over chocolate and let chocolate soften for a minute. Whisk until chocolate is smooth. Cool, then cover and chill.

To assemble the cake:
1. Spoon 1/2 of the ganache into pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch plain round tip.
2. Pipe a ring of ganache around edge of layer.
3. Spread 1/2 of the caramel filling evenly inside ring.
4. Sprinkle the caramel with large pinch of fleur de sel and some almonds.
5. Top with second cake layer, ganache, ganache ring, caramel filling, fleur de sel, and almonds.
6. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Press remaining almonds onto sides and drizzle with caramel. Basically, just decorate it how you want to. 

Backup Babka – Chocolate Cinnamon Babka

I never really watched Seinfeld, but I have heard of some of the more famous things on the show, like the infamous Soup Nazi and chocolate and cinnamon babka. This recipe from the Purple Foodie combines both chocolate and cinnamon babka, and perhaps elevates the “lesser” cinnamon babka.

I hadn’t even planned on making babka. I was set on making Makowiec, a Polish poppy seed roll, for my friend’s Easter dinner that was featuring many traditional Polish dishes. But because I couldn’t find poppy seed filling at the grocery store and was too lazy to make my own, I had to come up with another Polish-ish baked good. Babka seemed to be the best choice due to its aesthetic qualities and tastiness.

I made two smaller loaves, one shaped in a twisted ring and the other a more conservative ring with slits. The babka was delicious and reminiscent of cinnamon rolls. Because I ran out of chocolate and forgot to add sugar to the filling (oops!), I decided to add a cream cheese glaze to one of the rolls, which made it even more like a cinnamon roll. Fortunately, despite my mistake, no one seemed to notice and everyone praised the babka. (However, it did get overshadowed by a delicious, rich sea salt chocolate ganache.) The babka’s popularity didn’t really matter to me. I was just satisfied with the fact that I had accomplished another yeast bread.

Chocolate Cinnamon Babka
From The Purple Foodie (who adapted it from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Everyday)
Makes 1 really large loaf or two medium sized loaves.

Bread:
2 tbsp instant yeast
3/4th cup lukewarm milk
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
3 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Filling:
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter

(If you run out of chocolate like I did, you can make a cinnamon filling, but be sure to add sugar or else you’ll just taste ground cinnamon.)

1. Whisk the yeast into lukewarm milk and set aside for about 5 minutes. (For some reason, the yeast didn’t like it when I mixed it with milk, so I used water instead)
2. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter until smooth.
3. Add the yolks to the bowl, one at a time, mixing constantly for 30 seconds between each addition.
4. Add the vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.
5. Add the flour and salt and continue to mix until it all comes together.
6. Now mix in the milk + yeast mixture and let it mix until it forms a soft dough.
7. Knead by hand for another 2-3 minutes. You will have a soft, supple and golden dough.
8. Let the dough rise for about 2 hours, or refrigerate overnight, making sure to remove it from the fridge two hours before baking.
9. For the filling: mix the chocolate, butter and cinnamon together in a bowl.
10. Once the dough has risen, roll it out into a sheet with a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch.
11. Spread the chocolate mixture over it.
12. Roll the sheet of dough and then pinch the seams to seal it. Roll it to a length of about 24 inches. Either you can keep it this big if you’d like a big loaf, or cut it into half for two medium loaves.
13. For the gorgeous twisty shape, cut the log down the middle lengthwise, making sure to keep the top end attached. Twist over each other to get the braided look.
14. Let the loaves prove for another 2 hours. (This isn’t necessary since The Purple Foodie skipped this step and her loaf turned out fine).
15. Preheat the oven to 350F and bake for 15-20 minutes for medium sized and 20-25 minutes for the large loaf. The babka tends to brown quickly because of the high(er) sugar content.
16. Cool for an hour (painful) or eat it right away (delightful!)
The bread stays good for 2-3 days in an airtight box.

This post has been Yeastspotted.

In Search of the Perfect Cookie – Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Lately, I’ve been struggling with baking the perfect cookie, which in my opinion is a slightly chewy cookie that’s crispy on the edges. How could something so simple be so difficult to accomplish?

In my first attempt, I ended up with cakey cookies, probably because I tried to substitue butter with oil and applesauce and was too lazy to break out my hand mixer.  Although they tasted good, they weren’t the right texture. I then realized that my laziness and attempts at being healthy weren’t going to get me what I really wanted.

Determined to bake the perfect cookie, I searched the internet for answers. My research taught me that the creaming the butter and the sugar was an essential part of cookie baking. Through creaming, pockets of air are created in the butter, which helps the cookies rise. Also, the type of fat (i.e. butter or shortening) is critical. Butter helps the cookies spread more since it has a lower melting temperature than shortening. Another important component is the type of sugar used. Apparently, using brown sugar results in more chewy cookies while white sugar results in more crispy cookies. Brown sugar retains more moisture during baking, which yields softer cookies. Furthermore, the amount of ingredients that hold moisture (eggs, flour, and sugar) affect the crispiness of the cookies. Who knew cookies were the perfect example of how much of a science baking is?

After educating myself in the ways of cookie baking, I decided to try again. Since I was adamant on baking the perfect cookie, I didn’t take any shortcuts. I used a whole stick of butter (which made me cringe a bit) and searched all over the kitchen for my misplaced hand mixer. I wasn’t going to let laziness be my downfall again. I carefully followed the recipe, making sure to cream the butter and sugar to the right consistency. I had diligently followed the recipe’s instructions to a T, until I realized there were no chocolate chips in the house! After fighting with myself on whether or not running to the nearest Safeway was worth it, I decided to make do with white chocolate chips I saw laying in the cabinet. After a bit more searching, I found macadamia nuts and voila, I had macgyver-ed my way out of a sticky situation… literally. So, after deciding to make white chocolate macadamia cookies instead, I finished making the batter and spooned out a sh*t load of cookies. Now came the hard part. Baking the cookies fully without burning them. For some reason, this is the part that always seems to trip me up whenever I bake. Ovens can be finicky and if you don’t watch them, they can ruin all of your hard work in a minute. The first batch turned out just fine, browned but not too much. Thinking I had gotten the hang of it, I mistakenly left the second batch in a little too long. Although they didn’t get burnt, they did brown a lot, so much that they looked like gingersnaps instead of white chocolate cookies. Despite their color, they tasted delicious. Much crispier than the first batch, which were chewier on the inside but still crunchy on the edges.

And with those cookies, I had finally accomplished baking the perfect cookie. However, I was still not completely satisfied. A few weeks ago, I came across a recipe for chocolate chip cookies using coconut oil. After finally buying a jar of coconut oil from Trader Joe’s, I knew I had to try to bake those cookies.

Again, I followed the recipe diligently (which is usually uncommon for me). Since I didn’t have any coconut extract, I left it out. And still wanting to be healthy, I reduced the sugar to only 1 cup and used white whole wheat flour instead. After learning my lesson from those brown, but not burnt cookies, I watched the oven carefully and took the cookies out once they were slightly brown (figuring they would brown some more once out of the oven due to heat conduction). These cookies weren’t nearly as chewy and didn’t spread as much, perhaps due to the coconut oil. They were still crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The cookies had a slight coconut taste, but not too strong.

On my quest to bake the perfect cookie, I realized that cookies really aren’t as simple as I thought. Often I ignore cookies, having eaten so many in my life so far and being able to make them as a kid. However, cookies are just as difficult to perfect as any of those fancy French pastries or desserts. Along with my new appreciation for the cookie, I realized that you can’t use shortcuts to get what you really want and that failure is almost always inevitable, but it’s also what makes success as sweet as the perfect chocolate chip cookie.