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    Caramel Brownies

    Brownies.

    I love brownies.

    I’m not much of a sweet tooth person, but I am a total sucker for a good brownie. Tell me I can make brownies  in a small batch and you’ve won me completely.

    Most of my brownie recipes call for an 8×8 pan, so to me these aren’t really small batch, but still totally worth it.

    I am totally addicted to Dessert for Two … not just desserts, but dinners for two as well. With just the Dear One and I at home these days, I always have a hard time cooking for just two people. Christina is the solution for everything … desserts, mains, drinks, cookies! It’s all there!

    We invited our dear friend Dave for dinner and while dessert isn’t usually on the menu, one of the dear daughters brought chocolates, lots of chocolates to the house. One of the selections was Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Caramel squares. The stars aligned. Tonight we needed dessert and this had to be the one.

    • 10 T unsalted butter, diced
    • 1 1/4 C granulated sugar
    • 3/4 C + 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
    • 1/2 t espresso powder
    • 1/4 t salt
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1/2 C all-purpose flour
    • 9 caramel-filled chocolates

    NOTE: I used Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate & Salted Caramel squares.

    Preheat the oven to 325, and make sure an oven rack is in the lower third of the oven.

    Line a 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper in two directions, overlapping. Leave enough excess to make handles so it’s easier to pull the brownies out once they’re baked.

    NOTE: My parchment paper is really wide, so I just used one piece and tucked it in. I always find it hard to keep the paper in place and those large metal clips do the trick.

    Next, in a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar and cocoa powder.

    Microwave for 30 seconds, stop and stir, and microwave for another 30 seconds. The mixture will be quite hot.

    NOTE: So we don’t have a microwave. I know. I know. I’ve been living int he woods for far too long. But when someone who will remain nameless put something with metal in the microwave, she did us a favor. We really only use it to start potatoes and melt butter. Why take up all the cabinet or counter space? I did this on the stove top and it was fine.

    Let the mixture rest on the counter for a few minutes to cool, stirring occasionally.

    When the mixture feels warm, not hot, stir in the vanilla, espresso powder and salt. Finally, stir in the eggs.

    Add the flour to the batter, and using a spatula, vigorously stir the mixture for 50 strokes. This activates the gluten and makes for a rich, chewy brownies.

    Spread the batter into the prepared pan evenly.

    Bake for 23-26 minutes, until the top is dry.

    Unwrap the squares while the brownies are still hot, and press into the top of the brownies evenly. Slice and serve.

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    Caramel Popcorn

    I try not to make this often. I cannot help myself when this is in the house. Every, single time I walk past the bag, I open it up and take a little bit.

    This is simple to put together and really yummy. Great for snacking on, or – as I do – scarfing down as fast humanly possible.

    Be careful while making the caramel not to have the flame too high or it will burn … learn that the hard way almost EVERY time!

    • 8 C popped corn (1 bag microwave popcorn. I use PopSecret Homestyle)
    • 3/4 C brown sugar
    • 6 T butter
    • 3 T light corn syrup
    • 1/4 t salt
    • 1/4 t vanilla
    • 1/4 t baking soda
    • 1 C dry roasted, unsalted peanuts (optional)

    Preheat oven to 275 degrees

    Pop the corn and place on a large, rimmed baking sheet, stainless steel mixing bowl or baking dish, removing all the unpopped kernels. If you’re adding the peanuts, add them into the popcorn at this point.

    Add the brown sugar, butter, light corn syrup and salt in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, melting the butter and stirring to combine with a wooden spoon. keep stirring until the mixture comes to a rolling boil.

    Once it boils, STOP stirring, set  timer for 5 minutes, letting the caramel boil, undisturbed.

    After 5 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. It will bubble up.

    Quickly pour over the popcorn (and peanuts, if using) and mix thoroughly.

    Place the popcorn mixture in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes.

    Remove from oven and separate any large clumps, if you used a baking sheet. If you  used a bowl, pour the caramel corn onto a baking sheet to separate the popcorn.

    Store in zip-lock bags, squeezing out as much air as possible. Will keep for up to 3 weeks – HA!