I’m under the impression that some days require overindulgence, with allowance for that to be okay. I’m not always good about the second part of that. Other times, I’m very good at it. Regardless, let us come to the conclusion that this recipe was born out of one of those days.
I saw this recipe from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen and immediately decided a version of this had to be made in my kitchen. Now. Next thought: oh man, those salted honey caramels I made in December would work nicely with a dark gooey brownie… Then, when it finally came time to experiment with throwing the ingredients together, I decided that if I used nutty flavored brown butter in the brownie batter, there’d be another layer of flavor and I couldn’t contain my excitement. Or soothe my arteries and insides, which were thinking this was all going to be overkill.
As I told my husband, these brownies aren’t for every day baking. They are indulgent. They are rich. They are really dang moist, chocolatey, and fulfill your sweet tooth cravings immediately. But those things are okay in moderation. I fully give you permission to run into your kitchen and make these as soon as you’re inclined. (Now?)
Brown Butter Brownies with Salted Honey Caramels
Makes one 9×9-inch pan of gooey, delicious brownies
For the salted caramels:
¾ cup unrefined cane sugar
¼ cup good quality honey
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, scraped
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
For the brownies:
¾ cup unsalted butter (1½ sticks)
1 cup unrefined cane sugar
1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ cup dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
Prepare the caramels: Lightly grease a 9×9-inch square pan, then line with parchment paper. In a medium-large non-reactive pot, combine the sugar, honey, and vanilla. Bring the mixture up to a boil over high heat before reducing the heat to medium-high, continuing to boil until the sugar mixture caramelizes into a deep brown color (12-15 minutes). Watch the sugar closely, as it goes from caramel-brown to burnt pretty quickly.
While the sugar mixture is cooking, bring the vanilla extract, heavy cream, and scraped vanilla bean to a simmer in a small pot, over medium heat.
Once the sugar mixture reaches a deep, brown, copper color, whisk in the butter until combined. Whisk in the heated vanilla cream mixture – use a long-handled whisk or wooden spoon, as the cream will cause the sugar mixture to splatter.
Let the mixture cook over medium-high heat, whisking continuously until the color deepens to a dark, rich caramel brown. The caramel will also begin to thicken noticeably. If you have a candy thermometer, allow the mixture to cook up to 260°F. If you’re like me and you don’t own a candy thermometer, there’s another way candy makers can test the doneness of their caramel. As the sugar and cream mixture is cooking, occasionally test it by dropping a small spoonful (1/4 tsp. or so) into a bowl of cold water, then check the hardness. When it forms a solid lump that is the texture you want, or just slightly softer, stop cooking it and pour it into your lined pan. Sprinkle the top of the caramel with the coarse sea salt. Place the pan into your freezer until the caramel hardens completely (30-45 minutes).
Prepare the brownies: Once the caramels have hardened, preheat your oven to 350°F, then line a 9×9-inch baking dish with parchment paper, so that it hangs over two of the edges. Prepare your brownie batter. Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook the butter until little brown bits start appearing in the saucepan. Once this happens, the butter will brown quickly, so pay attention – brown butter and burnt butter are far from the same thing. Remove from heat.
Stir the sugar into the brown butter, until well combined. Stir in the vanilla, then the eggs one at a time.
In a bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder until well combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until everything just comes together.
Cut the hardened caramels into one inch chunks. Spread half of the brownie batter into your prepared pan. Scatter half of the salted caramels over the brownie batter. Pour the remaining brownie batter over the caramels, using a rubber spatula to spread the batter evenly. Scatter the remaining caramels on top, then bake the brownies for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the brownies sit in the pan for about 5 minutes, then lift by the overhanging parchment paper and transfer to a cooling rack, allowing the brownies to cool completely. Once the brownies have cooled, you can cut them as large or as small as you like (I opted for 1½-inch round brownie bites plus squares of approximately the same size).